Should I take an Off Season?

As athletes we get to that time in the year when all races have been raced and we are in our 'off season'. However, for most of us we notice the only thing that changes is that we have said we are taking an off season. Is that change in approach sufficient? Or should we be more strict on taking time out? Here we discuss the benefits of taking time out and how an off-season can help you to peak higher than you have before.

As a Coach, common questions that athletes pose are: why should I take an off season and if I do won't I lose my fitness? This


 explains that like a normal holiday, you do actually need a break from training to avoid all the same issues you experience from your work! This blog will look into why you should have a designated period of time out.

Why should I take an off season?

Let's flip that question on it's head...Why do you want (or


) to keep training? If you have trained correctly for your event, then you should have peaked successfully for your race. (Congratulations!) So there is an element of physical recovery that you will be aware of (it hurts to go up and down stairs!). However, as well as the physical fatigue, there is both the mental fatigue and also the build up of psychological pressure from training that need to be addressed. Your central nervous system can take many times the duration that you musculoskeletal system takes to recover. Anyone who can remember the deep fatigue after a large set of exams or the culmination of a project can understand the mental effort required to complete something big and important.

Just to clarify, we aren't saying be a couch potato, its easier to stay athletic and keep moving a little bit before rebuilding than it is to stop completely and restart from a position of rest.

Here are just a few reasons to take some time out:

  • – Rest
  • – Work on limiters or skills you need without the pressure of racing
  • – Develop your physical systems
  • – Rebuild immune system
  • – Focus on weight loss if this is a performance limiter
  • – Increase fat percentage slightly out of 'race weight'
  • – Refocus on strength and conditioning
  • – Recover mentally
  • – Spend time with people you have neglected (slightly while training)
  • – Avoid burnout

Won't I lose my fitness?

Yes you will lose some fitness. You are correct. However, the question has to be rephrased to: Will I be able to get my fitness back? And the answer to that is an emphatic yes! You can't reach a peak unless you come from a valley. In other words. If you are consistently training and never having time off, your respective peaks won't be quite as impressive. 

I am going to use a case study here of someone at the extreme end of the training spectrum, Ollie Stoten (read about his epic year


). Ollie took about six months out of training for ultra marathons in 2016 which was an unbelievably successful year (several podiums and course records) in order to focus on preparing for his expedition across the South Pole. I enclose his Performance Management Chart for running only below. You can see between November and January where he did no training between his two runs – he was actually pulling a sled across the Antarctic, so he was essentially cross training. However, this left him in a sorry state. He was heavier than that time in the year, had no running mechanics, (all his movement was XC skiing focussed) he had tendonitis and was injured. This was hardly his normal starting point for the season. In true Ollie Stoten fashion, his first run back from his time off was the Antarctic Marathon - just because it was there!

Ollie Stoten took almost six months out of competitive running and two months with no running at all.

Despite starting his training with a marathon, we followed a very gradual protocol to allow him to recover, come down from the high of doing such an amazing achievement, socialise with friends and family, get back into work, shift some of the weight he had put on for the expedition and importantly for him, prepare himself to go back to running ultra marathons. As you can see the consistency we had this season was better than anything we could have ever dreamed of from February through to July. He out-performed himself over his distance racing and all from no run training at all. He was hungry to run again, he was determined to be consistent and fundamentally he was fresh. You could think of this as he trained 'tapered'!

It is so very unusual to see an athlete start from this low level of training in a sport but as you can see this made no difference to what he was able to achieve, in fact it probably meant that by having such a large amount of time away from running he actually did better than he would have done by not having a break from running at all!