Coach Steve’s TOP 5 OFF-SEASON Priorities for Endurance Athletes

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with Stephen Kurczewski, CSCS, USAT Level 2, IRONMAN Certified Coach

Now that the trees are almost bare, the days have gotten short and the thrill of our last race has faded, we need to think about how best to prepare for next season’s aspirations.

For most endurance enthusiasts living in the northeastern Unites States, the last 2 months of the year are typically the ‘off-season’.  The off-season is characterized by a break from the structured, high intensity or long duration workouts and no scheduled races of any significance.  Here I briefly discuss 2 of my top 5 goals for this time of year.

1. Complete physical & psychological rejuvenation

As hard driving, type A personality endurance athletes, we tend to push ourselves to the limits in pursuit of our goals.  These limits are physical, emotional, psycho-social, and professional.  We tax our all of our bodies’ systems to the brink of collapse while we test the patience of our family members, co-workers and friends.

A disciplined training lifestyle includes early bedtimes, early mornings, lots of stinky laundry, special eating habits and at times, a less than stellar disposition. We must allow ourselves a period to unwind all this accumulated fatigue and intense commitment.

What does this entail? It means something different for each athlete.  For some, it means 2-4 weeks of complete rest; that’s right – NO training.  For others, it means putting family, friends and work at the top of the priority list to reconnect and show appreciation for all their support.  Stay up late, turn off the alarm, have dinner with friends and be OK with it.

Your body and mind need this to remain healthy and regain a balanced perspective on life.  You’ll know you’re ready when you stop wondering if it’s time to start training again.

2. Debrief & Strategize

I typically discuss race reports with my athletes after each race where we break down nutrition, execution, course and conditions.  I find it vitally important to also sit down at the end of each season to have a 30,000-foot view of long term athlete development.

Did we adequately address your specific limiters? – stroke mechanics, threshold pacing, aerobic endurance, race weight, etc.  Under the guidance of coach who has your long term development in mind, you can enjoy the mood enhancing, health benefits of an endurance lifestyle for as long as you choose… AND get better at it relative to your peers.

A useful tool to achieve this is an annual training plan.  This is a multi-layered plan outlining the yearly, monthly, and weekly focus in each discipline.  Having this plan to reference at season’s end is great guide for this discussion and helps identify what the training priorities for next season are.

3. Address any physical capacity limitations

The off-season is ideal for resolving any painful conditions, movement restrictions and muscular weaknesses.  As competitions approach in the spring months, we must focus our available training time to workouts that develop race fitness.  This leaves little to no time for structural maintenance once the racing season starts.  The repetitive nature of swimming, cycling and running require an appropriate amount of strength, stability and flexibility to avoid overuse injuries.

In the off-season, we can shut down any activities that aggravate painful conditions and seek appropriate professional assistance when needed.  Strength training sessions, yoga classes, and stretching should take priority so you are as resilient and durable as possible when it’s time to ramp up volume and intensity.

4. Manage weight gain and body composition

During the course of my USA Triathlon coaching education, I was introduced to a  fueling concept called nutrition periodization by Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSCS.  The basic idea is that you change the proportions and quantity of foods you eat to support the demands of your current training cycle.

A simple application of this strategy for the off-season is lowering your total energy and carbohydrate intake to parallel the sharp decrease in training time.  While some indulgences are well deserved, be mindful to not develop bad habits that will require crash dieting on January 1st!

I’ve read a few recommendations about healthy weight gain and I like the 7% rule – i.e. if your ideal race weight is 150lbs, turn on the governor when you approach 160 (+6.66%).

5. Improve mechanical efficiency

Swimming and running are incredibly technical activities.  Most athletes I’ve coached underestimate how much speed can be gained or effort reduced by spending time working on their stroke and gait mechanics.

If you’ve ever taken a golf lesson, you can appreciate how frustrating of an experience learning a new motor skill is.  Initially, more energy is required and the activity doesn’t ‘feel’ very smooth.  The best approach is to capture some underwater swimming and treadmill running footage and use an online video analysis system such as

Simple technique drills that ‘write new software’ in the nervous system can be prescribed based on the findings of the video analysis.  If you are cyclist, harnessing more energy in every pedal stroke will also pay ridiculous dividends combined increasing your natural cadence.

We absolutely love helping endurance athletes enjoy their lifestyle pursuits with more ease and less pain.

If you have any particular questions about your own off-season, I’d be happy to discuss them with you privately. You can send me a direct email here.  Thanks for reading!

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