After the last race of the season, many athletes enjoy a training break. For anywhere from four to eight weeks, athletes might incorporate complete rest with cross training or unstructured triathlon training. It is a good idea to take a real break from the sport and allow your body to rest.
Some athletes avoid complete rest as they believe it will be very difficult to get back to their previous level of fitness, but this fear is unfounded. Taking a break will result in some detraining but aerobic fitness declines slowly. Underlying fatigue from the previous season is more likely to delay improvement than a break from training. The number one priority after every season must be rest, particularly for athletes who race Ironman and can accumulate a lot of residual fatigue, low grade injury and general overload. The minimum post season break should be four weeks and longer if there is injury to resolve. After that time it is good to get back in action.
Here are five tips to have a strong start to your training build after a break:
I am a big advocate of incorporating a functional triathlon training program, particularly for athletes older than 30. The following workout is one I use to keep core muscles and the smaller muscles in the hips strong, while using plyometrics to build greater strength and power. This workout has prehabilitation exercises which are beneficial for supporting muscles that are usually neglected in triathlon movement. Here is an article adapted from one I wrote on functional training for Triathlon Magazine Canada you might enjoy.
Functional training focuses on training movement in the body rather than training to strengthen individual muscles. By using movement in the body through all planes of movement (serial, frontal, and transverse) with a foot or both feet planted on the ground, functional training incorporates stability, balance, coordination, agility and proprioception. This is a better way to mimic the demands of sport and create better preparation. These more complicated movements also incorporate more neurological stimulus which is crucial for muscle recruitment and performance.
The best approach to functional training is to mimic the demands of your sport or your weakness with the exercises. Strong core, lower back, gluteus, and shoulder muscles are all key for triathlon, but having just the individual muscle strong is not enough, they must work well together. Athletes need to be strong from the ground up, as each muscle has a role in the kinetic chain, from your feet to the top of your head. One weak link in the chain can impair a muscle further up the chain.
When building your program, ensure your functional training involves coordination in a similar pattern to the demands of the sport. Simply running in a perfectly straight line is not realistic. You need resilience to turns, broken and uneven ground, and lateral movement. Doing exercises that prepare your body for that demand is functional training.
The exercises below incorporate complex movements that equate to a full body workout when you are finished. Incorporating some weight resistance as you become more skilled at the moments is beneficial if it fits into your periodization. These exercises should be performed with an awareness and engagement of your core and a neutral spine.
This is a great glute exercise. With the resistance band around your ankles keeping your knees locked, walk sideways with locked knees maintaining resistance in the band. Your posture is upright with your shoulders down and back. After you take 10 steps in each direction, with the band in the same place, take a large step forward with your left leg planting at 45 degrees to the left of your body, then lift the right leg and lift it out at 45 degrees to the right, repeating 10 times per leg. This will challenge your glutes and hips in all directions.
2.One legged squat in four directions.
One leg squats challenge balance, proprioception, hip and glute strength. These exercises are a cornerstone for injury prevention in running athletes. Balancing on one leg with your arms at shoulder height pointed directly in front of you, hands together, bend your standing leg as far as you can while maintaining balance and your knee directly over mid foot (no dropping your knee inside) while stretching your other leg back behind you imagining you are rolling it on a tennis ball just 3 inches off the ground. Return to upright position as one repetition. Complete 10 on each side then stretch your leg out to the side, imagining the outstretched leg rolling on a tennis ball 3 inches from the ground and your bent leg maintaining knee position over your foot.
Burpees are beneficial to a functional triathlon training program as the elements are specific to the demands of triathlon.
Vertical jump from the ground: driving downwards quadriceps and glute moment mimics force onto pedals
Plank position: specific strength for aero position
Pushup: builds core and shoulder strength useful in all sports.
Jumping knees to standing: hip flexor driving movement builds power for run stride and cycling.
A bonus benefit of burpees in the offseason is this exercise helps maintain some speed and power without requiring a dedicated workout of cycling or running.
Kettlebells fit into a functional triathlon training program in many ways, these exercises train the muscles of the upper back and torso, which are crucial to posture and
Waiter carry: holding the kettle bell with a straight arm directly overhead, core tight and engaged, walk for one minute with the kb overhead. Then switch arms.
Suitcase carry: hold the kettle ball with a straight arm about 15 cms away from the hips. Walk for one minute each side.
Walking halos: holding the kettle bell with both hands, rotate the weight around your head as you walk with erect posture for one minute.
Heartbeat: hold the kettlebell with both hands and walk while pushing the kettle bell away from your sternum and then pulling it back towards the body. Walk for one minute while doing the exercise.