The Post Season Magic
It is almost December, so for most athletes, the race / event / main season is now a distant memory... Hopefully, most of you already took a bit of time off to recharge, both physically and mentally, and now its time for that weird in between phase.
Is this weird in between phase the off season, or is it the post season maybe? Is there even a difference? What kind of training should you do in this time frame? How long should it be? What opportunities are there? How about challenges? So many important questions and so many factors to take into consideration.
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 very deliberate with the words I use with 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.
So you finished your season, took a bit of a break (a few weeks usually does the trick for most), then you’re ready to 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 the terminology stuff out of the way, we can move on to post season specifics.
The post season length will vary based on your goals, how long ago your previous season finished, how your previous season went and when your following race / event 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?! The opposite is just as bad - Continuing throughout the winter as if the season is still in full swing…. This can lead to injuries, under recovery, burnout and other health complication. The worst part is that sometimes these negative consequences can go unnoticed for several years of following this pattern!
I consider the post season as the phase of the season where you get to lay the ground work for the event 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 decide 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 of these 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 do some baseline physiological testing and look at technique and movement patterns. If you take a few months off or doing random training, your technique will suffer, potentially leading to you developing bad habits, 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, developing more effective movement patterns and establishing good habits that are meaningful enough to stick in the long run.
Things you can work on (depending on your chosen sport) 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 overall, 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 make a list of the action steps you need to take towards achieving these goals. The first action step should be communicating this to your coach! And if you don’t have one, perhaps schedule a consultation with one?
What does the post season look like for you? I would love to hear some of your experiences in the comments! And a shameless plug - If you want to get up a consultation with me, you can schedule one online! (it is done virtually, so it does not matter where you are located).
Note - I did not really get into various training philosophies / methods - That is on purpose as I do not believe in one size fits all…
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