The off season is something that plenty of triathletes struggle to get right. At one end of the spectrum, taking too much of a step back and leaving themselves with a significant amount of work to do to get back to fitness when it’s time to start getting race season ready. On the other, getting swept up in trying to maintain race fitness all year round – resulting in burn out.
With the PTO bringing the exciting 100km race distance to the calendar for age-group athletes in 2024, you might be wondering what your training should look like during the off season to help you maximise your chances of performing well over this distance. We’ll guide you through some of the off season dos and don’ts, and the key training areas to focus on now to help you achieve the blend of speed and endurance you’ll need to excel at the PTO Age-Group Open races.
Off season dos and don’ts
Before we dive into the off season triathlon training you’ll want to focus on to get ready for the PTO’s 100km races. Let’s take a quick look at the basic triathlon off season triathlon training dos and don’ts.
Take a break from structured training
Before you dive into specific off season training sessions, make sure you give yourself a week or two off. This will give your body a chance to recover from the efforts of your race season, your mind an opportunity to reset, and your social calendar a chance to be less swim-bike-run dominated. Taking your foot off the gas might feel counterproductive, but it’s a crucial stage of off season to keep yourself motivated and injury-free.
Use the time to set your goals for next year
Now is the perfect time to reflect on this year’s races while they’re still fresh in your memory. What went well and where could you improve? What do you want to achieve next year and what does that mean you need to work on in training? Use your time to set out specific goals so you can train with real purpose.
Enjoy some time away from triathlon
Try to maintain race fitness 365 days a year
Taking your foot off the gas and seeing your numbers drop can be difficult. But it’s important to take a step back. This gives your body and mind the capacity it needs to take an even bigger step forward. The rest and recovery you take now will play a crucial role in giving you the baseline to train harder and race faster next year.
Let a few weeks off training turn into several months off
Take time off – but not too much time off. If you want to be able to make progress with your triathlon training and racing, don’t leave yourself with too much ground to make up. Off season doesn’t mean sloth season. After a bit of recovery time, get back into an easy routine of gentle training and staying active to keep yourself healthy.
Forget the finer details
Swim training during the off season
While you might be relishing the thought of some time away from chlorine and goggle marks. The off season is actually the optimal time to really make progress with your swimming. Without the pressure of an upcoming race, you haven’t got to worry about hitting certain distances. And with overall lower training volume across the bike and run, you’ve got more time to dedicate to the pool.
Spend some time working on your swim technique
During the off season, your swimming should focus on technique and quality rather than volume. Swimming is the most technical of the three triathlon disciplines, so working on any dead spots in your stroke could be the key to finding extra speed.
Now is the perfect time to go back to basics and really take a look at your stroke. If you can’t get access to video analysis with a swim coach, try asking a friend or team mate to video you swimming instead. There’ll be things you’re doing while you swim that you don’t even realise are happening. Are you crossing over when your hand enters the water? Are you lifting your head too high when you breathe? Is your body nice and high in the water, or are your legs sinking? Knowing precisely what you need to work on will help you to be specific with the drills you perform. That’ll help you to really make the most of your time in the pool throughout the winter months.
Focus on high quality speed work in your pool sessions
If you’re looking to come out of the water with the front pack at the PTO Age Group Open races, then being able to stick with the fast feet in the water will be key. Endurance is still important, given that the swim is 2km/1.25 miles long. But over the next few months, focusing on high quality speed work in the pool as part of your off season triathlon training will be of huge benefit
Focus on drills in your warm up, and then use your main set to practice implementing that technique during fast efforts. That could be 25 metre sprints, 50 metre anaerobic efforts or 100m reps where you incorporate “hard out, easy back” alternating between max effort and cruise pace to practice putting in surges in a race situation.
Want some more advice on speeding up your swim? Check out this video (below) from Brownlee Fitness with some top tips from Olympic pro triathlete Richard Varga.
Focusing on high quality swim sessions and nailing your technique will put your swimming in a far better place to start building the volume up again after off season.
Off season bike training: turbo charge your bike strength and handling skills
The 80km bike split at the PTO Age-Group Open races is likely to prompt some seriously speedy splits coming into T2. It’s an interesting distance, in that it’s short enough to go hard. But still long enough that if you overcook it, you’ll be in trouble on the run. Over the off season, a balance of intensity via indoor training and exploring off road will put your cycling in a great place.
Drop the volume, up the intensity
The key to being able to bike fast without blowing up is boosting your FTP (Functional Threshold Power). Your FTP is essentially your capacity to push higher power through your pedals. The higher your FTP, the faster your tempo-endurance pace will be over distances like the PTO’s 80km bike split.
During the off season when your overall training volume should be lower, make the most of your bike sessions by focusing on strength-boosting workouts. Zwift’s FTP builder training plan is a great option here. Or you can browse the Tri 247 custom Zwift workout library for sessions planned by the pros!
Take the steady outdoor miles off road to improve your bike handling
Slick surfaces, icy roads and freezing wind chill. Cycling outdoors on a road bike during the winter can be challenging. And while turbo training is a powerful tool for increasing your bike strength. It won’t do much for your bike handling. That’s where embracing off road riding as part of your off season triathlon training routine comes into play.
The PTO Age-Group Open race bike courses are likely to feature multi-lap courses which could mean tight turns and sharp climbs. Getting the most out of yourself on these courses will come down to more than just leg strength. Being able to handle your bike and corner quickly could make all the difference.
Off road riding ticks both boxes. You’ll get strong by virtue of pedalling a heavier bike through the resistance of mud and gravel. And the uneven surfaces, bursts of climbing and tight corners you’ll encounter will take your bike handling skills to the next level.
Running through the off season: build a strong base
It’s tempting to use the off season to focus on running by upping the mileage. But running is the highest impact of all three triathlon disciplines. Racking up the miles relentlessly through the off season puts you at risk of starting next year’s triathlon season tired and injured.
For those who want it, the 18km run split at the PTO Age-Group Open race offers up the chance to really test your run legs and see how much speed you can find after the bike. As you dial in for race season, finding that speed is going to involve some pretty tough tempo and interval run sessions.
So what you need right now to put your running in the best possible place is resilience. And that’s something you’re going to find in the gym, rather than out on the roads.
Make the most of the off season to spend some extra time on strength training. Build strength and power in the core muscle groups such as the quads, hamstring and glutes with exercises including deadlifts, squats and hip thrusts. But also focus in on the smaller, stabilising muscles. Step ups and single leg work will help to improve your balance. Meanwhile core exercises, such as planks with shoulder taps, will improve stability, efficiency and promote better run form.
Doing less running, to improve your running might feel counterproductive. But put the work in with your strength training now and you’ll reap the rewards two-fold when it’s time to up the run volume again.
If you’ve got the PTO Age-Group Open races in your sights for next year, then nailing your off season triathlon training will put you in a solid place to perform at your best over the 100km distance. Balance recovery with time spent focusing on strength, form, speed and technique. You’ll come out of the off season ready for your strongest triathlon race season yet.