Now that your race season is in your rear view mirror, it's time to focus on building a solid foundation for your next season of racing. What you choose to focus on in the "off season" will directly influence your next season. Many people approach the off season with goals of improving something in regards to their swimming, biking and running. This usually takes the form of many hours spent doing drills, working on skills or building strength in the gym. All of those things are important but they are only part of the picture.
What many people don't think about focusing on are the small daily habits that support your training efforts. Things like sleep, prioritizing recovery and mobility. These are the first things to fall to the wayside once training volume starts to ramp up. I am 100% guilty of this, especially with mobility work. I've made a promise to myself to make this a priority in my off season with the goal of developing this into a habit. Here are some of my tips on tackling it all.
Utilize your down time
The biggest stumbling block people face is thinking they need to do an entire routine all at once. That was where I struggled. Now, I break it down. I will do 5 minutes in the morning, then another 5 minutes at lunch. Or, if I don't get the opportunity to do that, I will do it after dinner while watching a bit of TV. There is absolutely no reason you can't foam roll and stretch while watching TV.
Integrate it into another activity
This was one of the best suggestions I've heard. Add 5 minutes of mobility work to a dynamic warm up before a run or a ride and include some more in your post workout stretching. Are you starting a strength program? Doing a short mobility routine BEFORE you start lifting will help to prepare the body for additional load and will enhance movement function and overall performance. It also helps to reinforce neuromuscular connections. I will be working on two mobility routines, one for upper body days and one for lower body days that I will do before I lift any sort of weight at the gym.
So many people treat recovery as something secondary. The older you get, the more important recovery becomes. I'm not just talking about taking a rest day. I'm talking about post workout routines. What you do / eat immediately after a workout directly affects your recovery and ability to perform your next workout.
Many of us skip stretching. I'm guilty of that from time to time. Now I make sure I do at least 5 minutes of stretching post run BEFORE I even go into the house. Because the minute I go inside, I will focus on something else. Sometimes I will break my stretching out into chunks throughout the day. If I know I'm going to be spending several hours sitting, I will make a point of getting up every hour to stretch for 5 minutes or so. The most effective time I've found to stretch is actually in the evening before I go to bed. Stretching before bed helps your body enter a relaxed state more quickly and stay in a deeper sleep for longer periods of time (sleepadvisor.org). And we all know that a good night's sleep is one of the most important keys to recovery.
Once again, you can do this on the floor in front of the TV so there is no excuse. You can find a great series of stretches here
This is the one I struggle with the most. I can go for hours without drinking any fluids. When I worked in an office, I used to have a pitcher of water I'd keep on my desk and make a concerted effort to go through that pitcher twice during the day. Now I'm not always sitting down at a desk so my hydration has become much more sporadic. But guess what? There's an app for that. Just like food tracking apps, there are water tracking apps. I'm using Water Reminder but there are SO many options available. I like the graphics, simplicity of use and the fact that it tracks ALL your beverages, not just water. There is also a hydration tracker on Garmin Connect but I haven't figured how to use it yet. By using this daily, my goal is to stay on top of my fluid intake.
Post season / off season may seem like an ok time to be a little lax with your sleep habits but I would argue that it's even MORE important to make sure you're getting quality sleep. Weeks of poor sleep leading up to when you resume a regular training routine will leave you feeling flat and fatigued before you even get started.
Sleep is an area that many people struggle with. Life stress and environmental stress can play a huge role in the quality of your sleep. All too often we are glued to our phones right up until we go to bed. And we even sleep with them beside our bed. More often than not, we have TV's in our bedrooms, which is another source of stimulation. Sometimes our bedrooms become dumping grounds for laundry that's been folded but you didn't have the energy to put away so it's still sitting in a pile on a chair or on your dresser. This mess can also create feelings of stress.
There several things you can do to promote better sleeping hygiene which should ideally result in a better night's sleep.
1. Ditch the phone and all electronics at least 30 minutes but ideally 1 hour before bed.
2. Use a proper alarm clock vs. your phone. Keep your phone in a separate room. I plug mine in the bathroom overnight.
3. Turn your bedroom into a sleep cave. Cover up or remove any lights from electronics. Buy black out curtains or use a sleep mask.
4. Keep your bedroom free of clutter. If your room is clutter free, you are less likely to be stressed by the piles of stuff lying around as you try to fall asleep. A cluttered room can effectively clutter your thoughts.
5. Turn the temperature down. Turning the temperature down in your bedroom helps to facilitate sleep. Your body temperature naturally decreases as you get ready to go to sleep so making sure your room is on the cooler side helps speed up that process. The ideal temperature is anywhere between 15 and 22 degrees celsius for adults.
6. Keep your bedtime consistent. As with anything in life, consistency is key if you want to see improvement. Our bodies like routine so create a bedtime routine and do your best to stick to it.
I've been making a concerted effort to cut out my screen time at least an hour before bed. We already keep the temperature low and the bedroom dark which has helped immensely. My bedtime is fairly consistent as well. The other thing I've been doing before I go to bed is mixing a scoop of magnesium bisglycinate (I use Metagenics Cenitol) in a half a cup of ice cold tart cherry juice. Magnesium is supposed to help you relax. Tart cherries are naturally rich in melatonin and they also contain good amounts of tryptophan. The combination of the two has been so beneficial to my sleep, especially with my reduced training volume.
Off season is the ideal time to start working on the smaller things that can lead to big gains when you start to ramp up your training again. The best way to create a new habit is to choose one thing and work on it daily until it just becomes a part of what you do. I've found that scheduling it into my day made all the difference for me. Once you've mastered that one small thing, move on to the next. It won't happen overnight. Changes, much like training effect, take time to produce results. Stay consistent, be patient and the results will come.