Triathlon off-season: cross training and transition

It has been a long and generally cold (compared to summer) winter, and training outdoors is always hard. Getting onto the bike at 5am in the dark is not fun, neither is climbing into an outdoor pool for that matter. As triathletes, this time of year is generally the off-season (if you follow the South African race calendar). Good planning is essential to ensure you do not drift too far from your fitness level, whilst allowing time to recover the mind and the body. A good coach will always plan this time-period in after events or during long breaks between races. Lets discuss how to best tackle this period and overcome the winter laziness. 

The most important thing NOT TO DO is to completely stop training. The aerobic system can potentially lose fitness just two weeks into enough to start losing aerobic fitness. We try to incorporate a transition period during this season. This involves doing something different, which you enjoy, that will allow a mental break and keep the fitness up. A great example is getting onto your mountain bike and hitting the trails over a weekend. This is a personal favourite of mine as it really keeps the legs going, and gives a nice mental break from the long road sessions triathletes put themselves through during in-season training. another benefit is that if you are doing very steep climbing (such as the trails in the Lowveld area) you will work a lot on leg strength. This will set you up nicely for the start of your training season.

On that note, the off season is a great time to get into the gym and work on strength. You don’t need to be a seasoned gym goer to do this, but you need structure and safe/specific exercises. Generally we follow a principle of progression of around 6-8 weeks. This will include endurance, hypertrophy, strength, and power sessions. The specific exercises will need to be discussed with a certified triathlon coach. There is good evidence to support strength training for endurance athletes performance, and the off season is a good time to get onto such a program. Something I really enjoy and see good results from for keeping the cardiovascular system going is the rowing machine. Generally all gyms have a Concept2 rowing machine. The following session can be done once a week during the transition phase to really get the body blowing and again, something different to the usual swim, bike, run.  

  • Warm-up 5min dynamic stretches
  • 4x 4min on level 7 (2min rest intervals)

(try to use average pace per 500m as a guide for intensity/effort. A good effort is around 1:45 to 2:10 per500m…depending on your fitness level)

Other workouts to focus on are long slow distances, such as mountain bike rides or trail runs. Entering into 21km road running events or bike road events is also good idea, ensuring the goal is base fitness and not performance. There is some evidence that a high threshold VO2 max session every other week may also reduce the loss of aerobic fitness; for example 5x 4min at 90-100% HRmax. Simply put, we need to keep the engine going in some interesting way during the off season to minimalize the loss of aerobic fitness.

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