How Off-Season Triathlon Training Works

It's a lot easier to compete if you simply stay in shape during the off-season -- especially if you're a triathlete.
It's a lot easier to compete if you simply stay in shape during the off-season -- especially if you're a triathlete.

Playing any physical, competitive sport too intensely, for too long, is asking for trouble. After several months of training, dietary changes and actual competition, an athlete's body and mind need rest.

If that rest is denied, the athlete risks diminished performance, burnout and even injury. For that reason, serious athletes allow themselves an off-season to recharge, recuperate and rebuild even stronger for the next season of hardcore preparation and competition.

In the sport of triathlon, the "off-season" may be somewhat trickier to define than that of traditional sports such as baseball or football. Some of the factors adding to the confusion: Triathlons are held year-round, around the globe and triathlons come in a wide range of distances and difficulty levels. The time you need to recover from a season of sprint triathlons, a .47-mile (750-meter) swim, 12.4-mile (20-kilometer) bike ride and a 3.1-mile (5-kilometer) run, will likely be much less than the time it takes to recover from training for an Ironman triathlon. The Ironman competitions include a 2.4-mile (3.86-kilometer) swim, a 112-mile (180-kilometer) bike ride and a 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) run.

And some triathletes choose to compete in single-event races when they're not participating in triathlons. In other words, individual running, biking and swimming races serve almost as extended workouts compared to the grueling three-in-one challenge of a triathlon. So where does one competitive season end and another begin?

To answer that, let's first assume that training for a specific triathlon contest(s) consists of the following phases:

  • A base phase (for beginners), in which you establish basic competency and an adequate amount of fitness in each of the categories, swimming, bicycling and running
  • A speed and technique phase, in which you work to increase your efficiency in each event while increasing your capacity to go a longer distance in each
  • The race simulation phase, in which you do practice sessions that mimic the race in terms of distance and transitions from one event to another
  • A tapering phase, typically about two weeks before the event, where you ease back the throttle on training volume and intensity, in order to come into the actual event fresh and full of energy
  • And finally, the event itself

[source: Mora]

The off-season, it could be said, constitutes all times of the year not encompassed by the above description. But is it OK to stray far from fighting-trim when there are no races on the horizon? Keep reading to find out.