Why recreational runners and triathletes need a postseason

postseason triathleteDo you run a marathon every three to six months for fun, or take part in shorter races (running, swimming biking) all year long? If so, it might be time to take a four- to eight-week break from endurance activities and have an “postseason” like the pros do.

And by break and don’t mean no running/swimming/biking at all — I mean cutting back on your endurance workouts to 1-2 days a week, taking a FULL week break from all exercise (aside from low-impact movement like walking, yoga and hiking), then focusing on resistance training for the remaining three to seven weeks.

What’s a postseason?

A postseason (otherwise known as active rest) is a phase during the yearly training cycle for athletes that happens after competition (the in-season phase). A postseason can be anywhere from four to eight weeks long, depending on an athletes training cycle. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, “the main focus [during postseason] should be on recovering from the previous competitive season. Low training duration and intensity are typical for this active rest phase, but enough overall exercise or activity should be performed to maintain a sufficient level of cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength, and lean body mass. During the postseason, the aerobic endurance athlete should focus on rehabilitating injuries incurred during the competitive season and improving the strength of weak or underconditioned muscle groups.”

From Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Third Edition.

From Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Third Edition.

Since most endurance sport events take place in summer and early fall, October to January is a great time to focus on strength training and flexibility — the important stuff that usually gets dropped while you’re training to swim, bike and run.

Part of the reason why strength training is not a focus during the summer for most athletes — aside from not having the time to fit it in — is that it’s essentially concurrent training (where you simultaneously train for adaptations associated with resistance and endurance training), which can lead to overtraining syndrome and a decrease in performance when you overdo it. Although I don’t recommend training for a race and trying to gain muscle at the same time (as you’re engaging two different muscle fibre types with competing goals), I DO recommend adding in one or two strength sessions a week during your “in-season” to help decrease your chance of injury and to increase power. Postseason, the time when you’re not racing or training to race, is a great time to switch your goals to increasing your muscle hypertrophy and endurance.

When I strength train during the postseason, I like to do a three-month-long, four-day-a-week upper/lower split program with one day of HIIT or running during the week and a 8-10km run on Sunday to maintain cardio. Here’s a sample upper/lower split program to give you an idea of what that might look like:

Monday and Thursday (Lower body, abs)
– Squats, deadlifts, lunges, split squats, hip thrusts, heel raises, back extension, planks, side planks, leg raises, bird dogs

Tuesday and Friday (Upper body)
– Chin-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, dumbbell chest press, shoulder press, lateral dumbbell raise, bicep curls, tricep extensions, dumbbell rows, chest flyes

Wednesday (Cardio)
– 45 minute easy run or 20-30 minutes HIIT

Saturday (Rest)
– 20-30 minute walk or hike

Sunday (Cardio)
– 10 km easy run

Bottom Line: Focusing on strength training and flexibility during the fall and winter months is a great way for serious and recreational runners and triathletes alike to maintain fitness, stave off injury, and help you come back even stronger for your next race season.

Do you switch up your workout routine in the winter? Do you plan a postseason or race year-round? Do you ever take a full week off from working out?