Should You Have An Off-Season?

As we’re in the fall marathon season, many runners are looking forward to what comes next…. the off-season!

Whether you race every single weekend or target just a couple of races per year to take part in, the off-season represents a time to relax and not focus so much on high intensity/volume training. This often means being a bit more carefree with one’s diet as well.

Before we go any further, it is important to note that I absolutely believe that taking a break from competing and training at a high level is critical not just to one’s physical self, but also to give one a mental break.

Perhaps it’s best to start off by stating that what constitutes an ‘off-season’ is highly subjective. For some, it might mean taking three months totally off from any form of exercise while for others, it might mean reducing their mileage by 30% and focusing on other forms of exercise. 

REASONS FOR AN OFF-SEASON

There are likely countless reasons to have an off-season but below are four of the more common reasons:

  • Mental break
  • Physical break
  • Focus on weak areas
  • More free time to binge on Netflix and to participate in other sports/activities

MENTAL BREAK

For a lot of athletes, the off-season is more about getting a mental break than a physical break from the rigors and demands of training and racing. Knowing that you don’t have to set the alarm for 4am to get in that long run or that you can have that extra glass of wine and not feel bad about it is what an off-season is all about!

While some athletes can compete year round without any diminished enthusiasm for their sport, they are a rare breed. For the rest of us, taking time off from training and racing and having a period of reduced training volume and intensity is key to maintaining our passion and enthusiasm for our sport(s). For me personally, it’s what allows me to come into the next season raring to go!

PHYSICAL BREAK

The primary reason for a physical break is to allow the body to recover from all of the stressors put on it during the racing season, or while training for a big race. For some this might mean recovering from a nagging injury while for others it might mean preventing injury. 

FOCUS ON WEAK AREAS?

While you can certainly work on your weak areas during the off-season, these ‘weak’ areas should be addressed, assessed and worked on at all times – not just the off-season.

LET’S TALK ABOUT STRESS

As noted above, a lot of athletes take time off to rest and recoup from the physical stressors of racing and training. While this makes sense and is all good and fine, let’s discuss stress on the opposite side of the off-season. 

One area of stress not often discussed is in regard to getting back in shape from the off-season. More often than not, when an athlete resumes their training, there is a race on the calendar that they are preparing for. By letting oneself go too much during the off-season, it will result in a lot of stress (both physical and mental) to get in shape for the first race of the season. 

You should never start your training totally deconditioned. The point of an off-season is to reduce your workload, do other sports/activities and enjoy things that you might not have time for during training… NOT to completely stop exercising. 

Therefore, as one of the goals of the off season is to reduce the stressors of training and racing, why would you put yourself in a such a deep hole that you add that stress right back in order to get ready for the first race of the season? Reduce your workload, have fun… but stay in shape!

SUMMARY

Having an off-season is important for both your physical and mental well-being but in respect to training volume and intensity, the focus should be on ‘reduced,’ not ‘eliminated.’

Perhaps the off-season is best termed and summarized by UESCA principal and ultrarunning coach, Jason Koopwho doesn’t call it an ‘off-season,’ but rather a ‘transition season.’


Rick Prince is the founder of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science/evidence-based endurance sports coaching education company that certifies running and triathlon coaches.

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Rick Prince

Rick Prince

Founder/Director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA).

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