If you’re anything like me, you relish your recovery time. Feeling un-tethered to a training calendar, enjoying lazy morning breakfasts, coffee-shop bike rides, and leisurely runs in the fall leaves + chill…there is nothing better. Except, perhaps, when you finally find yourself getting hungry for adrenaline again – setting your sights on what happens NEXT season. As much as we may hate to think about it, next season starts in the off season. This week (after a good three weeks of all the good stuff above) the athlete + coach in me are finally setting some goals for my winter and the racing season ahead. Here are my suggestions for how to enjoy an off-season well spent:
#1: Reflect + Re-train
It is said that “spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation;” which is to say that a great 2014 requires doing some unglamorous work right now. Preparation for sport takes on many forms. Recovering -completely- from your activities, racing and training in 2013 is vital, but so is a crucial reflection on your performance. What were your strengths? Weaknesses? How did you perform? How did you seize opportunities? Use this reflection to plan smart goals for next season. Outline your goals, including your target races/events. In my case, getting enough sleep, planning enough mental downtime after events, and recharging my competitive edge are on the to-do list. With these things in mind, I can set achievable goals for the winter and launch myself into my next season of racing.
#2: Get Rid of Gadgets + Build Your Base
A couple of years ago, I found that packing away my heart rate monitor, power meter, and GPS system in the winter helped me to enjoy my unstructured off-season training. The constant feedback made me feel as if I should always be pushing harder during a time of year when the mileage, pace, and power really didn’t matter much because my body was naturally trying to recouperate. Since most training during this time of year should be relatively low-intensity, this technique helped me keep the stress of “training” at a minimum, and reminded me to tune into my body. Plus, it was so much fun to run, ride, ski, and play for the fun of it without the measurements. These next months, I’m looking forward to being as active as I genuinely want to be (running, riding, skiing, snowshoeing) to keep my base fitness high; the bigger the base, the more full the enthusiasm tank for training and racing, the bigger the achievement.
#3: Work Your Weaknesses
If you’re reflecting on your past season, then you’ve surely identified some strengths and weaknesses in your training and racing strategy. Use this information to work on your weaknesses (and solidify your strengths) through the winter. In my case, I want to reach new heights on the run, so some speed work, and efficiency drills will work their way into my weekly regimen. I didn’t quite find enough time for active recovery (I like to use yoga + pilates for this) last season so want to set a strong standard for working these practices into my training regimen now with the hope that by the time I hop back into a training calendar, I’ll have worked out the tweaks and will be feeling stronger, and more grounded, than ever before.
#4: Strength Training
When the sunshine arrives next spring and summer, you’ll be thankful for workouts spend NOW in the gym. The trainer and “dreadmill” are helpful tools for boosting performance, but pushing weight is one of the best things you can do now to prevent injury and prepare your body for volume and intensity. Unfortunately, the swim/bike/run only require our bodies to move FORWARD; our muscles and joints were built to be dynamic so I try to make sure that I’m building general strength and mixing it up for fun. I have never enjoyed the gym, so asked my strength + conditioning coach hubby to design me a quick and effective workout using kettlebells based on my personal strengths + weaknesses (specifically, I always need to work my hip flexors, and balance my glutes/hamstrings with a strong core.) Then, I keep things interesting by adding plyometric exercises, multi-join combination movements, and exercises that work my full range of motion to repair, strengthen, and re-pattern your muscles to be stronger, faster, and more responsive when its time to GO!
#5: Core Training
The truth is that if you’re running/biking/swimming/lifting RIGHT, you won’t need to parse out your core training as a separate element of your training. But it takes a whole lotta core strength to get to the point where you’re working these muscles in all that you do, all season long. Start by THINKING from the core; you’re not using gadgets so that you have time to feel and think about how your body is feeling and moving. Focus on engaging your belly muscles on your swim. Think about keeping your upper body long, strong and open on the bike. Run tall, with your core engaged. Stability balls, BOSU balls, hand weights and balancing exercises are all super but my favorite way to creatively build my core is through yoga. This book is a great resource for athletes looking to boost their performance with a powerful yoga practice.
Obsessing about nutrition at this time of year is a frustration and sometimes futile affair. But this doesn’t mean you should go gangbusters at holiday parties and festive gatherings during this delicious time of year to make up for deprivation later. Instead, think about managing your weight and practice eating mindfully now — fuel healthy cravings, enjoy seasonal treats, and most of all, pay attention to what you’re REALLY hungry for. If its a rockstar 2014, chances are that third piece of pie isn’t worth it. 😉 For good measure, here’s my list of favorite recipes designed for athletes like us.
So get out there and enjoy the cold. The world could use a whole lot more bad-assery and now’s your time to bring it!