Post season magic: Set yourself up for success
For many athletes, race season is now over... Is it time for the off season, or is it time for post season? Is there a difference? What kind of training should you do in this time frame? How long should it be?
Lets start by saying that something seemingly small as what you call this time of the season can make an impact, which is why I am often deliberate with the wording I use with my athletes. So many athletes finish their season and then proceed to take several months off, while others do the complete opposite and continue to train as if their season is still on. Both approaches are not ideal... The magic, lies in between.
Finish your season, Take a bit of a break (a few weeks usually does the trick for most), then start a new season. I dislike the term 'off season' as I find it sounds like you should be doing nothing for an extended period of time, which is why I prefer the term post season. Now that we have terminology out of the way, we can move into post season specifics.
The post season length vary based on your goals, how your previous season finished and when your following race season starts. I see far too many athletes take September to January off, then spend January to April just trying to catch up... Not ideal, isn't it?! Consider the post season as the phase of the season where you get to lay the ground work for the race season and work on your weaknesses, to turn them into strengths... Isn't that exciting?! The post season should still be structured, deliberate and focused, just like the rest of the season, which is something that sometimes gets missed. The thing that shifts, is simply what you work on.
The first step is to assess what needs to be addressed after evaluating the previous season. You can work on skill development (ie. technique), range of motion, injury prevention work (ie. strength training) or anything else that you and your coach decided would be beneficial. This is personal, so it shouldn't look the same for each athlete.
Did you have a few nagging injuries throughout the season? The post season is the time to work on making sure those will not happen the following season. This could be through strength work, mobility work, physio/chiro/RMT, or most likely a combination of several things. It can also be looking at external factors like your bike fit, running gait, equipment used, etc. Preparation and prevention are key.
This is also the perfect time to look at technique and movement patterns. If you take a few months off or doing random training, your technique will suffer which could lead to more niggles or injuries down the road. During the post season, there is plenty of time to focus on technique changes that are meaningful enough to stick in the long run.
Things you can work on are swim technique, pedal stroke and posture on the bike, running mechanics, etc. Most also work on endurance and some sport specific strength work in their day to day training sessions. The overall program is typically not very stressful, but you will get a significant return on your investment.
The truth is that there is nothing too sexy about the post season, there are no secrets... And despite this posts title, the magic is pretty straight forward - It lies in consistency and working on closing the gaps between strengths and weaknesses. Remember that despite the fact that you will still have focused training during the post season, you should make time have some fun too... For one athlete it might be playing golf with some friends once a week. For another, it might be doing some cyclocross races, or running some trail races, or going to the track to work on some leg speed on the bike. It could also just mean spending a bit more time with family and friends!
Make a list of the things you want to improve on. Keep it short and to the point: pick 2-3 things and then take action towards achieving your goal, the first being communicating this to your coach! Its our job to help you come up with the action plan and we can help with making a list of things that need work too. For example, we do a lot of evaluation with each of our athletes and video analysis work for swimming at this time of the year and we would love to help you, too.
What does the post season look like for you? I would love to hear some of your experiences in the comments!