AttentionIn a continuing collaboration with Scott over at Straight to the Bar, we will be writing about things that deserve more attention throughout the month of October. This week, I will finish the month off with a discussion about off seasons.

Competitive athletes need an off season, and recreational athletes would probably be better off with one as well. An off season is a span of time, usually 1 to 3 months, where the athlete is not competing in their chosen sport. Some athletes will not work out at all during their off season, while others will use it as a chance to do something other than the normal grind.

Off season options

A competitive athlete can not really afford to take a month or more off from working out unless they are not planning on being as competitive for the next year. Not working out at all is rarely as relaxing as it sounds, because your body is used to the adrenaline and other chemicals that you are producing on a daily basis while you are training. Taking an extended period of time off can literally be very depressing. Nor is getting back in shape from an extended lay-off very fun.

This is a common problem amongst high school kids. As Rick Karboviak mentions in his book (review forthcoming), kids bounce from one activity to another throughout the school year, but are not given any structured activities over the Summer. The smarter kids will join a local sports league or camp, but most will sit around most of the Summer and are then expected to be in shape and ready to perform at the beginning of their Autumn sports season.

As adults, we tend to have the same reaction to opposite seasons. We are active in the Spring and Summer, but we lose all motivation and take the Winter off. Why let yourself get out of shape, though?

Instead, you can usually do one of two things. First, you may refrain from competing, but will continue to train and will basically do some “pre-base training” base training. You can keep working out so that when it comes time to start the next phase of their training you are in decent shape. This can be problematic though because it can lead to overuse injuries and burnout.

The second method is to do something different for a period of time. Cross training activities will allow you to build up strength and address some of your body’s weaknesses without distracting you from your normal training. By keeping active, you can maintain a level of fitness that will not leave you gasping for breath when you first start working out again.

A typical off season

For myself, I follow the second method and will take a month or two off from running after my competitive season is over. I race from early February through late October or early November most years, which is a really long season. Taking a month or so gives me a chance to relax and clear my head, and leaves me refreshed for the next year.

I use the opportunity to concentrate on other areas of my training that tends to get neglected towards the end of the season when my mileage is creeping up. I use the off season to get some quality pool workouts in, and I concentrate mostly on my weight lifting. By keeping active, I can regain my previous fitness level within a few weeks of running again. My muscles will be well rested and relaxed, and will usually be a little stronger for having had some other activities to concentrate on other than the repetitive motions of running.

I may also try other activities during this time. For example, I will spend quite a bit of time in my yard before it starts snowing getting some yard work chores done that have been neglected over the past few months. There will probably not be any snow before I start running again, but if there is then I might get out for some snowshoeing or cross country skiing. Any snow that does fall will need to get shoveled out of the driveway.

I keep up my weight lifting and swimming throughout the year, so I have a base for those activities to work off of. Especially towards the end of the season, though, both activities take a back seat to my running because there are only so many hours in a day and so many calories that I can burn off. Another advantage over the next month or so to spending most of my time in the weight room or the pool is that I do not have to worry about hunting season and being near the woods!

Structure your off season

Rather than letting the off season just come to you, structure something! Make a plan and execute it.

Think of some fun activities that you would like to do, and then work around them. Experiment with some new sports. If you are a cyclist, try a winter basketball league. If you are a swimmer, try some indoor soccer. Take up racquet ball, or learn what the inside of a weight room looks like.

Just find some activity that will let you maintain your activity levels and will get you away from your daily grind. Once your scheduled off season ends, start base training for your next season. You can keep the cross training activities up by mixing them in with your normal training.

How long has it been since you have had a real off season? And how did you spend it?