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Rethinking the Triathlon Off-Season

Over the past year we've shared many articles with you on training and racing Ironman triathlon, the very same guidance that our 400 members have used for 200 Ironman finishes, with several age group podiums and wins. We are now transitioning the Team into the OffSeason, the most powerful time of our athletic year, and it's time to outline exactly how you too can make the most of the winter. Don't miss the invitation to our FREE OutSeason seminar at the end of this article!

Warning: You will need to forget what you know or have read about OffSeason training and consider something complete different.

Train Less, A LOT Less
Any coach is really just a time investment manager. This includes you, the self-coached athlete. "Real Life You" gives "Coach You" X hours of training time to work with. First time must be assigned to the more important areas of your life: family, holding a job, personal interests, social stuff, etc. As Time Investment Manager, your job is to maximize the Return on Investment (ROI) of time spent training. Over the last eight years of coaching age-group triathletes we've found that all training time is not created equal. In the winter, training time is particularly more expensive:

  • There is less time available as the days are shorter.
  • It's cold, raining and/or snowing outside = indoor training = training time has a HUGE mental cost.
  • You've been training all year, or at least a long time. You need to give your head a break before you ask it to commit to the work you'll expect of it next season.
  • Most importantly, you've asked your family to sacrifice a great deal as you swim, bike or run for hours and hours and hours every week. You owe it to the people you care about to spend more time with them...and this means less time with your bike or running shoes.

While we completely understand that training is part of your lifestyle and you want to do what it takes to get faster year after year, "November-Thru-March You" owes it to your family and "April-thru-September You" to make that training as time efficient as possible. And the best part is you can still improve on a more focused training schedule. We suggest you achieve this ROI by making your training VERY low volume and VERY intense.

Fitness is the Ability to Perform Work
The physics of you moving your body down the road or through the water, using your hands, your bike, or your feet is simply work. Work X applied to the mass of your body yields speed Y on the course. Your fitness is then simply an expression of your body's ability to perform work. Your body is adapted to perform Work X, yielding Speed Y, but there's only one problem...it's lazy. If you ask your body to do X, it will ever only be an X body. The purpose of training is simply to apply a load greater than X, forcing your body to adapt to this greater load. Over time, your body adapts and is able to perform Work > X, yielding Speed > Y.

You have three variables with which to manipulate this training load across the week:

  • Frequency: The number of swims, bike, and runs you can schedule each week. This is mostly fixed by the constraints of your life (pool times, hours of daylight and road conditions in the winter) and is therefore not a useful manipulation tool to use.
  • Volume: More flexible but much less so in the winter. See our arguments above for why we strongly suggest you keep your winter training volume to an absolute minimum.
  • Intensity: How "hard" or fast you go during each session. This is infinitely more adjustable. For example, I can just run easy for an hour, or I can do endless variations of speed work, pace changes, and other hard running. Two runs, both one hour, but dramatically different in the training load applied to the body.

Intensity is our preferred method for manipulating the training load of our athletes across the training week, particularly in the OffSeason, because Frequency and Volume are largely fixed. This is why we call it the OUTSeason, eliminating the concept of "off" from our vocabulary.

Work is SPEED Entering the Body
We combine these two principles above to create the cornerstone of our coaching: Works is SPEED Entering the Body. It's on our t-shirts, jersey, singlets, and more. Nowhere is it more important than during the OutSeason. Our logic is this:

  • OutSeason training volume should/needs to be as low as possible during the OutSeason, for the reasons outlined above.
  • Ok, I get that, but I still want to become a faster triathlete. If life keeps my frequency and volume relatively fixed, then the only variable I have left is intensity. If my body has adapted to doing Work X while training 12 hours per week, but I now allow myself to train only 6-7hrs per week, I need to dramatically increase the intensity in order to maintain or increase this adaptation.
  • Therefore the OutSeason is the perfect time to train less, and get dramatically faster, by training yourself to bike or run faster by...biking and running faster!

In the end, you earn the right to go faster on race day by making yourself faster in training. The most time efficient method to get faster is...to go faster in training. And nowhere else is time efficiency more important than in the OutSeason. Our athletes realize that the OutSeason is where they build the speed now, that's translated into faster race times next season, when we put FAR on top of this OutSeason FAST. As you read this, they have their noses on the grindstone, putting in the work to get faster, while training far less than their peers.

Interested in learning more? We'd like to invite you to attend our FREE five week "Rethinking the OutSeason" Virtual Seminar. We'll cover these topics above in much greater detail while also teaching you the basics of training with power, pace, annual scheduling, and much more. During the seminar you'll receive our OutSeason, Training with Power, and Training with Pace eBooks (3 total), as well as significant discounts on our training plans. Finally, you'll be entered to win one of three Endurance Nation Season Plans - 40+ weeks of training, a $450 value - for FREE! Learn more and register today! It's FREE!!

Check out our 2010 Outseason training plans.

About Patrick McCrann

Patrick McCrann's picture


Patrick is head coach and founder of Endurance Nation. A 14-time IM finisher (3x Kona) with a 10:01 PR, Patrick lives and trains in Boston, MA.

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