For most, race season is over. It’s now time to relax, take some time away from structured training and enjoy the chill. But unless you’re retiring from sport, you’ll want to find a balance between recuperating and being ready for next season. It’s a fine line and can be tricky to balance, so here’s 10 tips to help you nail your off season
These tips are broken into two phases. That’s because I tend to break off season into two chunks:
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Phase 1: The first couple of weeks is proper downtime. That means no structured training, no worrying about what you’re eating and full immersion into everything you’ve sacrificed to train for
Phase 2: The second phase I still class as off season but involves generally moving a little more. It’s still (mostly) unstructured, low-key and will certainly still allow for recuperation from a long season, but this phase will make your return to training a little easier and prepare you for the upcoming season
Without further ado, here’s tips to nail phase one of your off season.
Off season – Phase 1
Off season tip #1 – Take a chill pill
This metaphorical pill is the first step to nailing your off season. Whether you’ve been hammering it all year long or had a bumpy season and are left feeling a little unfulfilled, it’s really important to hit the reset button and the first step to do this is to mentally relax. Give yourself permission to step away, not think about your sport and engage in other – often neglected – aspects of life.
Off season tip #2 - Do some analysis
When you’ve got a little distance from your season, it’s time to take a look back and – both subjectively and objectively – do some analysis. I’d encourage you to analyse what went well and – importantly – try to find out why certain races or training blocks went well. Identify these and use them next season.
Just as important is to identify what didn’t go so well. Why not? Why did X race pan out like it did? Why were you inconsistent during this phase? Why did you struggle balancing this, that and the other? All of this is super-useful to inform how to approach next year.
Once you’ve objectively analysed the season, take a subjective approach too. Did you have fun? Did you enjoy the races you entered? If so, why? If not, what can you learn to avoid next year? Did you feel you got the balance between sport and everything else in your life about right?
Off season tip #3 - Get your sleep in
Prioritise sleep in off season
We’re huge fans of sleep! It’s just the most incredible recovery tool, both in a training block and during off-season. Use lower training volumes as an opportunity to really prioritise quality sleep (here’s some tips on how to get better sleep). Not only will you recover from your season quicker, but you’ll also reduce the likelihood of picking up illnesses while your immune system is still compromised from the demands of race season.
Off season tip #4 - Don’t watch your diet
Ok so we’re not saying you should completely ignore what you eat, but certainly in this first phase of off season don’t sweat it. Now’s the time to enjoy those treats you’d normally not allow yourself during race season.
Now's the time to enjoy treats from which you normally abstain
You’ll probably put on a little weight as a result of lower training and less rigid eating – that’s totally fine! It’s a good thing. I almost aim to put weight on during my off season because I know it then allows me to lose it again during race season.
Don’t go completely bonkers, but relax and enjoy it!
Off season tip #5 - Give back
If you’re fortunate like me, this race season probably hasn’t been a solo venture. Make a conscious effort to thank those who supported you and help make training more bearable. Give back to family who might have missed you as you pounded the trails, or those who gave up time to crew you at a race.
Do more school runs, cook dinner more often, do the washing and be more available.
Spend more time with the family in off season and give back to those who've helped facilitate your journey too
Off season tip #6 - Set some goals
I love getting the calendar out and searching for next year’s races, which is handy because races fill so quickly these days!
Find events that motivate and excite you - those that’ll keep you working through the winter months once training resumes. Don’t be afraid to set goals at this stage. Sure, your event might be a year away but, based on this year, what do you hope to achieve?
Use the information you gathered during your analysis to inform what races you might like to do next year.
Goal setting is a key part of off season
Off season – Phase 2
As I said earlier, phase two is all about introducing some gentle stimulus to make your eventual return to training more bearable but without adding stress or unnecessary pressure. It’s about getting moving with a little structure but prioritising fun and doing whatever you want to do rather than what you have to do.
Off season tip #7 - Cross train
Do something other than your main sport. If you’re a runner, get on the bike or in the pool. Triathlete? How about trying mountain biking or kayaking or taking the kids on a hike in the hills?
It doesn’t really matter what you do – it’s just about doing something that gets your muscles contracting and your heart pumping.
Hiking with mates - perfect off season activity
Off season tip #8 - Focus on form
When you’re ready to resume your primary sport, off season is a great opportunity to focus on form and technique. When training volume increases during race season, it’s often a matter of ‘getting through’ each week, focusing on hitting specific sessions and working on that gradual overload that training demands for improvement.
But this often means we pay little attention to form and technique – both of which are actually crucial not just for performance but for injury prevention too. Runners will know well the benefits of improved form as speed comes that little bit easier. Swimmers, too, will notice a substantial difference in speed and effort when technique is improved through focused drills. Cyclists can even use the off season to work on peddling technique with single leg drills and spin-ups focusing on high cadence efficiency.
Whatever your sport, see what you can do to improve your mechanical efficiency – you’ll engrain better movement patterns that’ll carry into race season.
Off season tip #9 - Get strong
Getting (re)acquainted with the gym in off season will create a strong foundation for next year
As important as form, the off season is the ideal time to add strength training into your program. With less time committed to your primary sport, use the gym to build strength. We’ve written a lot about strength training so won’t go into it in too much detail here, but check out:
How to schedule a strength training program – here
4 reasons you NEED to do strength training – here
7 best strength training exercises for runners – here
Off season tip #10 - Be efficient
By this I mean, be as efficient with your time as possible. During the season, it’s acceptable to add volume to your session if you feel good midway. Avoid that here. You might feel fresh and dying to push harder or longer but I’d encourage yourself to err on the side of holding yourself back.
Do the minimum amount of work to keep the body ticking over and enjoy the time this frees up to do other things.
Be aware of creating more time for non-sport related activities this off season
Nail your off season – Conclusion
Off season is a time to relax, step back and appreciate how fortunate we are to be alive and partaking in sport. Don’t stress about losing fitness or adding a little weight. Don’t worry that it’ll be impossible to regain hard earned fitness and don’t lose sight of the fact that, for most of us, this time is also about giving back to those who love and support us on our ventures.
There’s no right or wrong duration for your off season. I personally spend a couple of weeks in Phase 1 and then a solid four weeks in Phase 2 before resuming more structured training but do what works for you.
The biggest piece of advice is this: don’t rush your return to training.
It’s so easy to miss what can be a big part of our lives and jump back on the horse too early. Maybe your mojo is there but hold your horses. It’ll pay in the long run.