As we enter the winter months, most of us take a break from structured training to rest, spend time with family and tend to those honey-do’s we have been putting off. After all, the past few month of training have not only been physically demanding but also mentally draining. Unfortunately, with a fear of losing fitness, many athletes refuse to take the proper time off even though the body needs to rejuvenate. Having been guilty of this myself I have now learned that the off-season should be looked at as an equally important phase of your Annual Training Plan (ATP).
It is a delicate balance to get that important rest but still maintain fitness you have gained from a season of hard work. Even the “off-season”, if managed correctly, can yield tremendous benefits without the stress or rigidity which comes with tough training. I have seen it time and time again with athletes who come back mentally stronger, more injury resilient and able to take on more after the off-season.
Use this time to think back on the last season, jot down what worked and what needs improvement in the new year. This will be the beginning to a road-map where you can set realistic and manageable goals for the coming season.
In the meantime, here are three simple ways you can make the most of the off-season:
Do Something Different:
Get out of your comfort zone and try something new. Check out one of those cardio classes they offer at the gym or better yet, try a high intensity cross-training group class. As runners we tend to focus solely on running and rarely take advantage of the benefits cross training can offer. I would however caution “Cross-Fit” type classes as the competitive nature and improper form may lead to injury. As with all new activities – makes sure you start slow and get the guidance of a trainer to ensure your form does not suffer.
Stretch It Out:
Yoga and pilates don’t just provide great physical benefits. They also help with mental relaxation which we could all use more of. Some yoga poses can serve to stretch the body and stimulate the blood flow within the muscle which aid in the recovery process. Some studios offer heated classes which provide the additional benefits of detoxification. Make sure to hydrate well before, during and after a hot yoga class. Ask around and you might even find a yoga or pilates class which are specifically for runners and cyclists. In these classes the instructor structures the poses to key-in on elements of the body which tend to get overused when running or cycling.
Take A Dip:
The pool can be an intimidating place for some, but the sooner you can get over that, the better. Swimming is not only a great addition to your off-season training but also an essential element to incorporate into your on-season recovery routine. Swimming provides cardiovascular fitness in a low/non-impact environment. Even if swimming is not your thing, grabbing a kick-board will work on strengthening the hip and core muscles as well. In addition, the benefits of the hydrostatic pressure on the body when deep water jogging have been said to be equal to, if not greater than those of compression socks/pants.
Enjoy the off-season, relax and take advantage of this time to try new things. Spring will be here before you know it, so between the yoga classes and pool time make sure you think about your goals for 2017. Find a race with speaks to you and you are passionate about. Consider chatting with a coach, joining a local running group or look into training platforms such as the ones offered by TrainingPeaks to help organize and make the most of the new year. Giving your body and mind a little break is all about setting the stage for a great 2017.