How’s your off season going?

So you’ve hopefully signed up for your first events next year, and you may have even thought about your training plan shapes up. If its anything like most it probably means no serious volume till the new year – time to put your feet up then? You can, but you’re missing a trick.


Most training programmes available online and available through most coaches follow the same general model outlined by Joe Friel many years ago and repetitively followed thereafter. It’s the general phasing of training promoted by organisations like British Triathlon and generally focusses efforts around a few key races within a season. They tend to last between 20-30 weeks and consisting of 3 key phases depending on how you look at it.

Base Phase (12 weeks+) – Increasing Volume

This is where you look to increase your aerobic capacity and the general idea is to add volume until you reach a sufficient capacity to be able to successfully complete the build and race phases of your plan.

Build Phase (8-12 weeks) – Increasing Intensity

This is where you look to take both your aerobic capacity and your faster anaerobic training and apply them together specifically to racing. Think longer intervals and more steady tempo efforts.

Race Phase (2-6 weeks) – Preparation & Recovery

This is generally made up of the taper, race and recovery elements of your programme. The taper looks to reduce training and give the body a chance to fully recover to get it to full throttle for the big day and this generally lasts somewhere between 4 days to 2 weeks depending on the importance of the event and the duration of your training programme before hand. Depending on the event recovery can again be anywhere from a few days to nearly a month depending on the event.





If you’ve got as far as planning your training for next season there is a good chance your training follows this general plan, but remember your year isn’t linear and in fact functions more like a cycle. With the average plan and recovery lasting around 22 weeks and allowing for a 12 week season following on from your first A race you could be under utilising around 18 weeks or 3-4 months of the year. I define this period of the year as development and in your cycle it can actually be one of the most crucial times in a well-developed plan.



If your reading this article chances are it you have just spent at least the last 9-10 months fixated on swimming, cycling and running. These are all fairly similar activities and a bit like sitting at a desk all day your body needs variety. The last thing we want to do which is where the temptation lies and extend the specific phase of your training into the winter. Strong tempo efforts or long turbo sufferfest can easily become the default response to less volume as you seek to maintain training stress levels and keep fit – this feels great and you may even get fitter but your specialising even further and its unlikely to be sustained all the way through the cycle to that next A race.

It’s good to remember that Speed and Endurance do not develop at the same rate and are not intrinsically linked. Usain Bolt famously stated he had never run a mile and stands as the fastest man in the world, you also likely recognise this in the pool where fast 50m times don’t always translate into longer distances. Endurance develops relatively quickly with the ability to conservatively add 10% a week to most training programmes. Maximal speed on the other hand takes much longer and much more effort to develop.

You don’t need to maintain volume through the winter, more is not always better especially when its dark, wet and windy outside with a high chance of getting side swiped. By cutting volume you free up energy/stress to challenge your body and mind in new ways or perhaps refocus on others, your work career might need a boost or perhaps you’ve been wanting to take up rock climbing all year.

Or you can commit yourself to the development phase of your training and work on getting yourself into a better position for the start of the next training season.




Remember that available training stress/energy – now is the time to commit it to Strength and Conditioning. If you focus that energy into building useful muscle, developing strength and increasing your physical capabilities now it will reward you many times over once you get back to specific training.

When the Base Phase kicks off in December/January you’ll then be well prepared to improve your muscular endurance and ability to sustain your new-found strength. Then again when we get into the build phase we can apply that strength and turn it into power on the swim, bike, run. You can therefore see that the strength you develop now is what will see you through the next season.

Trying to develop strength when increasing volume or building power will likely mean over reaching and negligible results in both and you may have experienced this already.

You can include HIIT and work on increasing your speed over shorter distances than you would normally train during the season. Short intervals can have a great effect on Vo2Max without taking up a huge amount of time but can be draining. Again you’ll have more capacity to commit to them now then you will once you get back to base training.

Theres also a good chance at this time of year you may be carrying an injury or niggles from the season, tackle it now before you get back into training. Its best not to think it will heal itself, this rarely happens in my experience and is best tackled by good targeted work indoors. Try working on your Flexibility and addressing any muscle imbalances particularly between left and right side or between your hip flexors/extensors.

Now is also a good time to focus on Nutrition – with the lower training volume your likely not as hungry and able to better manage calories, that end of season drop in energy expenditure can often lead to increased body weight especially if you’re coming off long course racing so now is a great time to get your weight under control.



If you’ve never done any serious weight lifting it might be a good idea to work with a professional or knowledgable friend who can teach you the basics and show you how to safely perform exercises.

Key points for a good off-season programme;

  • 3 x 45-50 min gym sessions should allow plenty of time to get a reasonable rate of development.
  • Focus on your flexibility and using good range of motion through most exercises, particularly when working with heavier weights – half reps don’t count.
  • Improvements in strength are maximised when failure occurs anywhere between 1-8 reps but if you’ve not performed an exercise before work up to this by using lighter weights where failure occurs between 10-20 reps.
  • Constantly vary your gym programmes aiming to hit a huge mix of muscles groups, in different ways across your weeks training session.
  • Track your weights in a book or app such as Strong so that you can progress each time you repeat an exercise.
  • Have no more than 4-5 key exercises you’re working on improving at any one time – big compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, or clean and press work well.
  • Make sure you stretch well and train your core at the end of each workout.
  • Mix in a HIIT session on the Treadmill/Bike after your S&C.



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