The Importance of Strength Training During Off Season

During off season one of our top priorities should be to increase muscular strength. Incorporating strength training will improve your performance in all three disciplines, improve recovery, and reduce the frequency and severity of injuries.

Strength training sessions will look different during off season. You can push your body a little harder. For example, I would have an athlete doing some plyometrics (if they are ready for that). In addition, add more strength building (heavier weights) with less reps exercises. This builds strength and muscle mass. The more muscle we have the more mitochondria we have. Mitochondria aids in oxygenating our muscles and that’s a good thing.

When an athlete is off season, their volume is lower which allows them to have more time for strength training. As triathletes, let’s face it, we really never completely have an off season. We are always doing something, and that something, should have a purpose. During his described reduced training season, an athlete can focus on building muscle and gaining strength.

During reduced seasons you want to maximize your strength, so do strength training four to five times a week. Spend most of your time doing three to seven repetitions for your exercises (this builds strength). You want to focus on compound exercises: bench press, pull ups, squats, lunges, and deadlifts. Instead of doing three sets of twelve, try ten sets of two for one week and four sets of five the next week. You should be lifting heavier weights which will increase power and strength.

Strength Training Benefits

When one reaches the age of 35, sarcopenia begins at a loss of approximately half a pound of muscle per year.  Sarcopenia is the natural loss of muscle mass. Strength training can and will build muscle which assists in combating sarcopenia. It also improves body composition (muscle mass versus fat mass) and increases in metabolism.

Strength training helps develop better body mechanics as balance and coordination will improve, as well as your posture.  Strength training can reduce the risk of falling by 40 percent.  This is even more beneficial as we get older.

Psychological benefits are also a byproduct. Studies have shown that strength training and exercise can help with depression. Exercise will raise your levels of endorphins (natural opiates produced by the brain).

Strength training also contributes to disease prevention. Studies have shown that it can be as beneficial, or even more beneficial, than medication in those diagnosed with arthritis.

Strength training translates to more calories burned: you burn calories during strength training and your body continues to burn calories afterwards.

It also improves bone density. As we age this becomes even more important. 

Strength Training Periodization

One challenge that multisport athletes typically encounter is when and how to implement strength training into their everyday training schedules. The best way to accomplish this is to divide the competitive year into seasons and further into training cycles. Periodization is the process of adapting the training regimen into phases to maximize the body's ability to meet the specific demands of a sport. Through this, there is a gradual cycling of resistance, volume, intensity, and specificity in order to achieve peak levels of performance. It is also important to note that strength training should be cycled in the same manner as training for the swim, bike, and run.

In keeping with the concept of periodization, the annual training period is divided into four phases: off season (or reduced season), preseason, competition (in season), and transition. Each cycle is then planned according to an organized schedule of varying length. A micro-cycle is generally one week, a mesocycle is anywhere from two weeks to a few months, and a macrocycle is the overall training period, usually representing a year or two.

▪ Off Season (November – February)

The off season is the time of the year that triathletes use to make the most significant gains in strength. It is categorized in two sub-phases: hypertrophy and strength phase.

The off season begins with the hypertrophy phase, which usually lasts four to six weeks. The primary purpose of this phase is to build a solid base by performing exercises with low-to-moderate resistance with a high number of repetitions.

The next phase in the off season is the strength phase. This phase lasts from four to eight weeks, depending on the goals and needs of the individual. The primary purpose of this phase is to build overall muscular strength. This is achieved by increasing the resistance and reducing the number of repetitions.

▪ Pre Season (February – May)

The preseason phase is dedicated to power conversion and progression to explosive exercises. It is at this time that the strength gained from the previous phase is converted to sport-specific movements. Plyometrics are introduced in addition to the primary exercises. These movements should be performed quickly and explosively.

▪ Competition (May – October)

The goal of the competition phase is to maintain the strength of the muscles throughout the entire season. All elements of strength training (volume and resistance) are reduced. Primary focus is given to triathlon training. However, it is important to continue strength training because performance will decrease as strength decreases.

▪ Transition

This phase takes place after the competitive season is over. Time off is usually taken during this phase for recovery. Strength training is performed two to three times per week at low workloads. This is done so that the triathlete does not completely lose his or her level of fitness. A new training year begins at the end of the transition phase.

For the triathlete, the off season can be a time of rest, relaxation, and reflection on a demanding and depleting competitive season or it can be a time to make significant improvements in your triathlon game. It’s up to you. Your next year’s performance will reflect what you decide.

KATHY HUDSON is a TriDot triathlon/running coach, IRONMAN certified coach, personal trainer and sports nutrition specialist. She holds two personal training certifications: National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and Professional Fitness and Training Association (PFTA). As a personal trainer, coach, and sports nutrition specialist, she believes it's important to "walk the walk" and not just "talk the talk” and, to date, she has completed numerous marathons and triathlons, including IRONMAN TEXAS

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