by Coach Joe
While it’s been a long season for most of us and we do need to disconnect both physically and mentally to recharge our batteries, it’s also time to plan for the upcoming year. Often times athletes will put off both the planning and training for the following season until after the holidays. This approach will make achieving higher fitness and racing goals very difficult if not impossible. Research has shown that significant decreases in fitness start to occur within as little as three weeks of no training.1 This is the training principle of reversibility. Basically we build fitness by applying just the right amount of workload (stress) to the body at the right time along with properly timed recovery to ensure growth. Well, if we don’t apply workload and stress to the body, fitness declines. Certainly you can rebuild the lost fitness and maybe do enough training to get a personal record (PR) next season, but why take the chance and why lose your hard earned fitness levels in the first place? When I look across the team athletes, those that are the most consistent in their year round training and execute better than 95% of the workouts in their plan are the ones that are injury free and have the most success in training, racing and life. As my coach once told me, “Ironman comes to the smart and steady athlete, Joe.” Being consistent IS the path to growth.
For this reason, after the race season, I recommend that athletes only take a short transition period of 1 to 3 weeks of unstructured training. This can include swim, bike and run workouts along with other activities but they are done without attention to intensity, duration and frequency. Unstructured training provides a much needed rest from the week after week year long regimen of highly structured triathlon training. It’s also a great period to reflect on the season. To identify areas of your training and racing that went well and those that need improvement. Goals for next season should also be developed so that your coach can properly create your annual plan and monthly training objectives.
Once the goals are set and the transition period is over, it’s time to enter into the off-season base training period. Much of next season’s success will be dependent on the design and execution of base period training. The major goals of the base period are to build aerobic fitness, build strength and improve efficiency (technique) in each triathlon segment. We often talk about the base period building the needed infrastructure or foundation for the body to perform at higher workload levels down the road. Increasing the capillaries, allowing more blood flow and therefore the movement of more oxygen through our systems is why we can go faster with the same amount of effort as last season. Bottom line, we can just get more work done with less effort and this means having a higher chance of getting that next season PR that we all hope for. Another way to see this is in reverse: don’t build the foundation, don’t build the extra capillary action, don’t build the infrastructure and then try to go out and race hard without the ability to flow more oxygen to the muscles. Well, it’s like a house of cards on a weak foundation. The smallest of forces will bring the house (and you) down.
So how do we build the right base and ensure success? ET coaches work closely with athletes in the base period through a custom training plan designed with the right progression of workouts to meet each athlete’s needs. Doing the right workout at the right time while having someone hold you accountable over the upcoming holiday periods and long cold winter months are some of the biggest benefits of having a coach. Additionally, our group training programs such as ET Run to Become, ET Masters swimming in Naperville and Schaumburg, and ET CompuTrainer (bike power), provide a fun, social and systematic way to move your fitness forward over the winter months.
After the longer base period we move into a shorter build period of more race specific and race intensity workouts. These build period workouts will be noticeably stronger for the athlete that developed a solid, high quality base over the winter. The infrastructure or highway is built and the oxygen can flow and more workload can be done. It’s at this point that we see athletes reporting speeds that are 1-3 mph faster on the bike, 30 seconds per mile faster paces on the run, and getting out of the water fresher and with improved stroke mechanics and better aerobic base.
In summary, while it might be tempting to take some time off from training after the race season, it can have a significant impact on your fitness levels and goals. It’s much better to continue a steady, consistent lifestyle of daily fitness than it is to try and get back into a routine down the road after months of minimal training. Success in training, racing and life goes to the smart, steady and consistent.
1 Wilber RL, Moffatt RJ. Physiological and biochemical consequences of detraining in aerobically trained individuals. J Strength Cond Res 1994;8(2):110-124.
Joe LoPresto is the Founder, Head Coach and Race Director at Experience Triathlon LLC. As leaders in the endurance services industry, Coach Joe and the Experience Triathlon staff help athletes of all ages and abilities achieve success in training, racing and life. Learn more about Coach Joe and Experience Triathlon at www.experiencetriathlon.com.