Monday, February 1, 2016

How "Off" Should I Be?

by Justin Daerr

People have different definitions of “off” when it comes to defining an offseason. For some, it truly means a break in any and all activity. For others, it can just mean they do whatever they feel like for a while. For myself, it has changed over the years and what I did 10 years ago is not the same as what I do now.

When I first started the sport in college, I did not take a true offseason for the better part of three years. Instead, I took breaks when time called for it: holidays, finals, etc. I never actually set aside a time of year to do very little activity, but as I was both athletically and physically young, it didn’t seem to be a bad decision in hindsight. I also kept much of my training at a steady state intensity so I was never particularly burned out from a year of smashing myself. As a result, I made a lot of progress without taking long, extended breaks every year.

However, the same cannot be said for the years that followed. For the last 10 years, I typically have a break from training for three to five weeks and over the years I have done less and less in these dedicated offseasons. I usually try to do a few things:

  1. I run 30 minutes on flat terrain at an easy pace every three days.
  2. I do some moderate strength training every three to four days.
  3. I swim 20-30 minutes one to two times per week.
  4. I try to have about a 50/50 ratio of complete off days: 30-45 minute exercise days in this time period.

This amounts to somewhere between 1.5-3 hours of total exercise per week throughout this period. Then, as I return to training I start with what I call “half training.” Through this time period, I gradually increase weekly hours and avoid anything that makes me overly tired. Ideally, by the end of this period (usually the same duration as the break), I am ready to start with a training load that will actually progress my fitness.

A couple years ago I convinced myself that an extended break was not necessary and that I could easily roll into the next season. What followed was a year of numerous illnesses/colds and a lack of consistency as a result. It certainly may have been a coincidence, but after last season I took my scheduled break, had a year with zero illnesses and won my first Ironman. I prefer the latter coincidence.

When making your decisions about the off season, remember to make choices that will benefit your progression year after year. This sport rewards those that stick with it.

Justin Daerr is a professional triathlete and co-owner of Endurance Corner. You can follow him on Twitter @justindaerr.
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