The Off-Season Approach for Runners
New Strength Training, New Cross-Training, New Body, New Skills, New YOU!
Now that the November/December timeframe is upon us, you might begin to see the term "off-season training" pop-up in your readings. The main point of this article is to remind you that if your training from Nov - Feb closely resembles the training you did during the fall, then you're not truly embracing an off-season. Not everyone can be a professional athlete, but there are a few elements of pro athletes' training that we can mimic. One of those elements is that pro athletes not only train hard, but they rest hard. Surely, you’ve seen photos/videos of NBA and NFL stars hitting the golf course for a few weeks immediately after their season ends.
In other words, following your peak fall race season, take 2 - 5 weeks to decompress and recharge the body and mind (i.e., a Recovery Period). The exact nature of the Recovery Period depends on “Who are you, how much training did you do, and for how long?” In any case, take a break and shift your frame of mind, and then when you get back into a routine, make sure the routine is different!
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As peak fall race season ends, winter off-season training typically begins on Nov 1st, Dec 1st, or Jan 1st for most endurance athletes, which is dependent on the timing of his/her final fall race and/or the weather in his/her particular part of the country. It is mandatory that you find something to do in the off-season in addition to running, such that you put an emphasis on new forms of strength training (ST) and cross-training (XT). We can all benefit by being more athletic, whereby improved muscular strength improves athleticism, which is why I am a strong proponent of ST as an endurance coach.
I also want everyone's hand-eye coordination to be in tip-top shape! Sports and activities that force you to be aware of where your body and limbs are in space (kinesthetic sense) naturally improve your athleticism, which allows you to take on more advanced (and, dara I say it: Fun!) exercises for ST. If you value your running performance and want to aid it via ST, then you should want to improve your athleticism! These direct connections should be evident. Therefore, your ST routine in the winter must look different than that of the fall and summer.
Unless you have a peak race in the winter, December is not a heavy run month, especially if you just pummeled your legs with multiple high-intensity races Sept - Nov! “If everything is special, then nothing is special.” So, if every month of the year is special for your long runs or in terms of hitting high mileage, then no month is special in this regard. And therefore, no time of the year is special in terms of strength training. Otherwise, if the Dec run training isn’t dialed-down, then that lends itself to the notion of plateau-ing, or stagnant training, or that “grey area” training that everyone is trying to avoid. So it’s my duty as a coach to move athletes toward the ends of the training-spectrum in terms of “train harder, but also rest harder.”
Your run training in Nov - Feb will still include speed work and long runs, but it’ll take on a different face/shape, as you mentally prioritize other goals/aspects of your training that you had to put on hold for the previous 3-4 months. The off-season is the time to put your emotional stock in other elements of our training and phases of our lives. To reiterate, the focus of the off-season (generally speaking) is ST, XT, new activities, fun activities, visiting your PT (even if feeling 100%), increasing coordination and balance, changing your diet, and experimentation are . For example, increase your frequency of ST to 4-5x per week to correct any muscle weaknesses and imbalances that you have, as well as to improve body composition. Increasing overall/total training volume (not relying on running alone) is a great way to prevent “adding on the pounds” during wintertime.
Depending on what the other months of your year looked like in terms of rest, vacations, and injury, the winter may not be your off-season phase. Perhaps you already had an off-season (break from running) forced upon you due to injury. Whatever the case may be, at some point in the year endurance athletes need to rest the body, mentally recharge, and make key changes. One change is to also do more runs without a watch/garmin, especially if you live in an area where the temps get cold and there’s snow on the ground. Be patient, and save it for the spring race season, and this is one way in which I keep my athletes mentally sharp! Enter next race season a different athlete, not just a runner who ran extra miles.
Train hard (after you rest hard)!