winter cycling

photo courtesy of Edmund White

Most endurance athletes finish their season by October or November, with no significant racing until next spring. What you do during those long winter months can make or break your next block of training.

Train hard all the way through and you risk going into 2019 injured, fatigued or overtrained. Sit on your rear all winter and you risk starting the next season overweight and void of all gains you made.

There is a happy medium! Here are a few suggestions to help you maintain your fitness during the off season and start your next training block stronger than ever.

Take a well-earned break.

Did you finish your year at the ITU Multisport National Championships in Miami in November? Or with the New York City Marathon? Celebrate your victory and take some well-earned time off.

Take a couple weeks off. Really off. Let your body and mind rest from the stresses of hard training and racing. Do some yoga if that’s your thing, get a massage, sit in the sauna and do small bits of activity other than running and cycling. Enjoy your newfound free time with your friends and significant other.

After your R&R time, spend a couple weeks doing light activity. Check with your coach on what’s appropriate for this phase.

Take care of the little things.

Did you tough out the end of the season with tight hamstrings, a painful heel or a fussy IT band? Now is the time to get it checked out. Visit a chiropractor, a physical therapist and/or an athlete-focused massage therapist to work out the kinks. Do those silly exercises the PT prescribes.

I’m doing this myself to address some issues with my running form. Over the past few months, a couple friends pointed out I run with a “limp” or a “hitch.” I haven’t been injured and wasn’t aware I was running lopsided. I’ve had two visits so far with an excellent PT—Ada Jauregui of B.I.O. Consultants—with positive results. I have exercises to improve hip stability, back flexibility and balance. I had no idea my balance was so crappy!

Get stronger.

It’s my belief duathletes, triathletes and other endurance athletes don’t spend enough time in the gym. Hang out with the gym rats during the off season and build strength you can use come spring.

It’s common for endurance athletes to have a weak posterior chain. If that’s you, focus on that. Again, consult with a trainer or your coach to determine what’s best for you (because I am neither). Here are some very general tips if you haven’t picked up a weight in a while:

• Start with bodyweight exercises or lighter weights and higher reps

• Transition to heavier weights and lower reps.

• Focus on single leg exercises

• Think sport-specific

• Choose free weights over machines

• Don’t ignore your core. (You can do core exercises every day if you really want to.)

Mix it up.

If you’re a dedicated road rider, do some mountain biking in the off season. Off-road riding is a great way to improve your bike handing skills and, depending on where you live, get in some killer hill-climbing.

If I lived in a colder climate, I would take up cross-country skiing. It gives you a full body workout and gives you a ridiculous VO2 Max workout without impact. If you can find one, try a biathlon! So many people confuse duathlon with biathlon, might as well see what it’s all about.

cross country skiing

photo courtesy of will_cyclist, Flickr

Don’t ignore speedwork.

After your R&R phase, and after a base phase (consult with your coach on how long this should be), get some speed back in your legs with short intervals. I follow Jack Daniels’s philosophy of starting with a phase of shorter reps and longer recoveries—200s and 400s on the track, for example.

Short reps help you build running economy. They also give you an opportunity to think about and improve running form. You can also do short reps on the bike—think 30-second to two-minute intervals.

Coaches have different philosophies of how to approach this transitional phase. Personally, I keep a little bit of intensity in my plan year-round. How much and what depends on many factors: the races on the calendar, my fatigue level, the weather, and my workouts from previous weeks.

Du some fun races.

A lot of competitive cyclists I know use the off season to do a century ride with their friends. Follow this lead and sign up for a trail race, a century ride (or metric century) or a mountain bike event. It’s a great way to enjoy your favorite sports without getting caught up in the competitive mindset.

What do you “du” in the off season? Share your tips in the comments below!