Updated: Jan 20, 2022
Towards the end of the year, we approach the time when things are getting colder, races are becoming more scarce, competitive seasons are ending, and the desire to train is harder to find...and that's okay! This rings true especially now, during these early winter months of the year, as it’s also been BITTERLY COLD!
Setting time aside to rest and recover is perfectly fine during a winter season, as continually trying to become better year after year without a break can ultimately lead to detraining, chronic fatigue, decreased performance, and increased risk for injury. This is not only true in the off-season but also during training periods and even into competitive seasons (if the competitive season is an extended one).
If you are currently dealing with some issues regarding continuing your training, know that you are not alone. Understand that it is completely normal as not everybody can maintain (and probably shouldn't) a constant activity level throughout the year. It is also normal to not to feel like yourself after a long active competitive season (regardless of how competitive you are). This is why there is an off season in the first place. Rest. Recover. Rejuvenate.
If you haven't yet read my last blog about training with intention and being able to reflect on the past year, please take a few minutes to read HERE before continuing. You may also learn something about common running mechanic faults as well!
As a first question, you may be asking, "If I am supposed to be taking a break from training during this time, do I just not do anything? Or should I be doing something?" My simple answer to this is "YES." You can definitely do one or the other, or even both.
Taking off a week or two to completely separate yourself from training altogether can be a great way to mentally and physically relax from the rigors that the past season has put on you. As long as you are doing your regular daily activities, the gains you have made over the past training season will, for the most part, remain intact...even if you took time off for a month. So taking a week or two will not kill you or your training.
Whether you decide to take off full time off or not, when you start back up again, what should you be doing in the off season?
This answer goes back some degree to my previous blog. However, the essence of this resides in what you have reflected on over this past year and what you plan to accomplish for this year.
Appropriate planning based on target and goal races for the season will depend on when and how you start back with your training. If you have races coming up early in the competitive season, then doing something active (whether that’s a different movement pattern or sport all together like rowing, strength training, HITT interval workouts, or bootcamp classes etc.) can be a great way to do some cross training.
Cross training during the off season or even during a down training stage in the middle of the competitive season can be a great way to both reinforce and develop greater neural networks and connections in your nervous system. Cross training can also have a great mental positive impact as well, as it takes your mind and emotions out of the movements and exertion you have been doing day in and out for the past "X" months.
Ultimately though, you should be looking to fill in the gaps and holes in your performance from last season and add layers and improvements to the strengths you already have, while recovering from the toll that training and competition has placed on your body.
This can be accomplished very simply by taking things out one at a time. However, if you have multiple things going on all at once, speaking with a coach in your sport or a Doctor of Physical Therapy who has vast knowledge and experience within your sport is your best bet to help figure out next steps.
When working with my clients, after doing a specified functional assessment that has multiple layers of targeted activities, I generally find there are a few things that develop regardless of how experienced or diligent the athlete is. There is either some level of motion loss from muscle restrictions developed over time, a strength deficit, and/or movement fault during performance.
Now, these can be very minimal and something that developed during the competitive season as strength training and/or recovery training between races may have started to wane (or disappears altogether). However, YOU SHOULD BE DOING STRENGTH TRAINING DURING THE COMPETITIVE SEASON. It is just very different and more specific compared to what you were doing during preseason.
If you are interested in learning more about what type, how much, and the exercises that are best for you, please give us a call at 516-387-4669 or visit our website HERE.
The next question you may be asking may be, "When I am filling in these gaps or adding layers to my training, how do I know if what I am doing is working??"
This can be a loaded question depending on what you want to hear. However, the simple answer is Test-Retest. This is something that Doctors of Physical Therapy do with patients all the time to ensure that their efforts in therapy, treatment, or performance training are effective.
For example, if I wanted to improve my 5K time but I also wanted to improve the cadence and ground contact time, this may get a little complicated. I recommend working on one variable at a time. By using your watch to measure the data for each, you can work on improving one of these variables before moving onto the next. If you bring your cadence up to anywhere between 160-210 steps per minute for good levels and notice that your 5K time and ground contact time remains the same when you retest your racing effort...GREAT!!!
From there, you can move onto the next thing which can be your ground contact time. In past blogs and posts I have mentioned that the less time you spend on the ground during running bouts, the less stress applied to the body, thus less risk of breakdown to tendons and muscle.
After doing some power, plyometric, and/or speed training to reduce the ability for your body to respond to the ground and get off it faster, you again retest your 5K. If you maintain your cadence that you improved before, dropped your ground contact time, and still maintained your same 5K time...that's still GREAT!!! You are on your way to greater injury prevention. However, after doing some added training like the speed and plyometric training, your 5K time would most likely drop to some degree. Could be a few seconds or could even be MINUTES!!
It all depends on where you are at in your training career and how quick you are already at your racing pace.
I hope this has all been helpful for you in being able to determine what to do yourself during the winter months when training is not the thing you want to be doing.
You can go as far as taking a little time off, keeping things simple, or working on skills you know you are weak on. This is the time to do it as it is the least stressful time of the year regarding the physical training aspect.
Don't be afraid to try something new or branch out into a different activity. Finding something new to do during the winter months to keep you physically active will really help you get a mental release from training and will help you develop skills that you normally wouldn't get in swimming, running, or biking such as lateral movements found in indoor tennis or pickleball.
It also doesn't hurt to get a little more strengthening and power development in there too but you should already be doing that....RIIIGHHHTTT????? ;)
Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for more blog posts like this and tactics to help improve your performance and stay pain and injury free throughout the year...not just during the pre-season and competitive seasons. The best way to prevent an injury is to limit the number of injuries you have altogether.
If you have specific questions about your training or would like to make yourself BULLETPROOF this upcoming year, please feel free to check out our website HERE or reach out at 516-387-4669. Also, if you have any specific topics that you would like us to cover, please feel free to use the links and number mentioned to let us know as well. We will soon be back at getting into webinars and seminars to provide higher level and more in-depth examination into different topics you have been wanting to learn. Lastly, don't forget to give us a follow on Facebook at Ascent Physical Therapy, PLLC and on our Instagram Page HERE .
Keep up the great work out there and I look forward to seeing you out there on the road. Until next time...