Winter, for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, is the time of year to reconnect with your non-racing friends, reflect on the past season, and build some enthusiasm for the upcoming year. At the same time, you want to give your body a break. Since this time last year you will have completed hundreds of hours of training and racing, so it is important to take some time off to regenerate not only your muscles, but also your nervous system. You need a mental and a physical break in order to be at your peak training potential.
Since our Xterra season does not end until the end of October, I think it is beneficial to take at least two weeks completely off, meaning NO training. Sometimes this needs to be even longer, depending on your level of burnout. I usually go by feel. If I really don’t FEEL like training, I don’t do it. I wait until I really want to go to a workout or for a ride and until then I drink coffee, hang out and do yoga. This period of time varies from year to year and will vary from one person to another. I think that during this break is a good time to start thinking about what your goals are going to be for the next season.
During this training break, create two lists of goals. The first list should be your Outcome Goals, i.e. what are the results you would like to get (what place in a certain race or what time for a 10km). The second list should be your Process Goals, i.e. how you are going to achieve those goals (what skills do you need to develop, injuries to clear up, muscle imbalances to correct, techniques to improve). For example, one of my goals for 2006 is to defend my world title. In order to do this, I have three process goals. The first is to lower my race weight, the second is to improve my swim technique and the third is to work on my technical skills on my mountain bike in the winter. I invite you guys to share your goals on the forum so that you can all inspire each other next season and help each other achieve that success!
Once you have your goals set, you are likely to be even more motivated. However, I tend to keep it fairly loosely planned when I do want to go back to training. The three workouts a day that I often did during the season is not appealing for the months of November and December. However this time has its place in a yearly training plan, so making the most of the reduced schedule at this time of year is a good idea. I like to think of these months as foundation months. I am preparing my body during these months for the training I have planned in January. There are some specific needs I need to address now in order to succeed in my process goals. At this time of the year there are two objectives: to improve overall strength and to improve technique.
Strength can be improved on the bike by riding bigger gears. However, this time of year is a good time to hang up the bike a bit for awhile and tackle those muscles from a different angle. This is the time of year to put some time in the gym working on your lower and upper body strength with a heavy emphasis on core. It is true that you can get a lot of strength work done on the bike or while running, which I will cover, but some aspects of overall strength should be tackled in the gym.
Everyone has heard about the importance of core strength. You cannot generate a lot of power from a weak platform. In triathlon, all three sports rely on great core strength to have success. Creating a winter strength program with an emphasis on core is a good idea. On top of the core program, include upper and lower body exercises that build strength and focus on parts of your body that might be weak. Enlisting a trainer or reading a book on strength training is a good idea to build your own program. I like to keep in simple, with exercises like squats and lunges that hit a number of target muscle groups all at once. What I am not advocating is becoming a raw-egg-eating-triple-workout-grunting-monster trainer in the gym. 45 minutes to an hour including your core exercises is plenty of time to get this workout in.
The second thing to do to build strength is to add some variation to your routine. Instead of spending all your time swimming, biking and running, spend time playing hockey, cross country skiing and playing racquet sports. Hockey and sports like squash require a lot of lateral movement, which strengthens a lot of stabilizers that might be weakened by all the “straight line” motion we do all year. In addition, these sports help to build some strength and power, since they utilize fast twitch muscles. Taking a break from swimming, biking and running is also the required nervous system/mental break. Fun sports that build general aerobic fitness are good for you. This fitness will transfer over to your biking and running when you need it. You will be training your anaerobic system and not even know it.
If you do want to go for a run or a bike ride, make it hilly trails for running and gnarly mountain bike single track. The trail running will build leg strength both up and down the hills and will be a beautiful change of scenery. I also think this time of year is a good time to do a lot of longer, low intensity runs, so long windy trails with a fun running partner are a good idea. For those who live in snowbound terrain, bust out the skate skis and do some longer skis, or pull out your snowshoes and hike up a hill. Both of these sports use the same muscles as cycling, so you can transfer all of your fitness very well.
For mountain biking, riding tough mountain bike trails will help you work on your technical ability while things are wet and slippery (at least that is what they are like here right now!). Fun rides that challenge your skills instead of your cardiovascular system are the objective. You can’t ride a bike without getting aerobic benefit, so don’t worry about the training side! Use this time to try and ride sections you never have before. Bulk up with some body armor and shin pads, drop your seat lower and put some big meaty tires on your bike. This is the time of year when you can afford to bruise something so take some calculated risks! This is the way of the mountain biker (crazy as it sounds…..).
Powercranks are another good idea for improving cycling strength. I like to use mine in conjunction with my core routine as they allow me to work on specific core strength while maintaining good cycling technique. Even rollers can be beneficial to your pedal stroke so doing one legged and cadence drills indoors on rollers is a good idea if you know you need to smooth out your pedaling. The important thing is to focus a bit on your technique both off road and in your pedal stroke.
I will discuss in my next articles some ideas on swimming, but keep in mind that too long out of the pool will be detrimental to your progress in swimming. You must keep the swimming up while focusing on improving swim technique to progress.
During this time of year I often put on my “winter coat”, a euphemism for “fat”. It is fairly normal for athletes to gain some weight during the off season, especially if they are pushing their weight to below normal levels for peak events. However, in my case, each year I have worked hard to push this weight lower and this year was no exception. Because I am planning to have my race weight be lower next season (one of my process goals), I am trying to minimize the Jan Ullrich effect of weight gain while maximizing my Jan Ullrich racing ability. Jan has until July to get that weight off, I only get until May to be in shape! For all of you out there, being heavier is okay in the off season, as long as you keep an eye on it so that you don’t have a monumental task in the spring of bringing your weight back in line. Most athletes here in Victoria have said that between 5-12 lbs is acceptable winter heaviness. Anything more is just too much to deal with in the spring. Keeping fun activity on the menu through this transition period and through the holidays will keep your weight in line. For those of you out there looking to maybe gain some weight in the off season, focusing on strength training and quality food with lots of protein can help you achieve this goal while you bring the cardio training down a little.
So with all this in mind, hit the gym, ride some fun single track and enjoy all that the holiday season has to offer. Make sure your New Year’s Resolutions include a list of goals and make sure that one of those goals is TO HAVE FUN!
Until next time… M