The Off-Season Approach for Runners
Now that December is here you might begin to see the term "off-season training" pop up in your readings. The main point of this blog is that if your December, January, and February training resemble the same training you did during the other months of the year, then you're not truly embracing an off-season. I'm very consistent in stating that there are only a few elements of professional athletes' training that we should attempt to mimic. One of those elements is that pro athletes not only train hard, but they rest hard. In other words, following your peak fall race season, take 2 - 5 weeks to decompress and rest the body and mind. Take a break from a runner's mentality and then when you get back into a routine, make sure the routine is different!
The month of November (or December) begins the off-season for most endurance athletes in the Mid-Atlantic region, as peak race season/ weather comes to an end. It is mandatory that you find something to do in the off-season in addition to running, and put an emphasis on other forms of cross-training (XT). We can all benefit by being more athletic. Improved muscular strength improves athleticism, which is why I am a firm believer in strength training (ST), but I also want everyone's hand-eye coordination to be in tip-top shape! Sports and activities that force you to be aware of where your body and limbs are in space (kinesthetic sense) naturally improve your athleticism, which allows you to take on more advanced (and fun!) exercises for ST. If you value your running performance and want to aid it via ST, then you should want to improve your athleticism!
Unless you have a peak race in the winter, December is not a heavy run month. Do we run in December? Yes. But do should we put more emotional stock in other elements of our training and phases of our lives? Yes. ST, XT, new activities, fun activities, increasing coordination and balance, changing your diet, and experimentation are the focus of the off-season (Dec - Feb, generally speaking). For example, increase your frequency of ST to 4-5x per week to correct any muscle weaknesses and imbalances that you have, as well as to improve body composition.
Depending on what the other months of your year looked like in terms of rest, vacations, and injury, the winter may not be your off-season phase. Perhaps you already had an off-season (break from running) forced upon you due to injury. Whatever the case may be, at some point in the year endurance athletes need to rest the body, mentally recharge, and make key changes. Enter next race season a different athlete, not just a runner who ran extra miles.
Train hard (after you rest hard)!