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Video Q&A with Coach: How do I Run an Off-Season Training Phase?

During the past month I’ve been talking with a lot of runners who completed their fall goal race. They have their “A” race lined up for the Spring… but what should they do now?

Taking an off-season – or a maintenance training phase – is a confusing part of the planning process for a lot of athletes. And I’ve seen all kinds of ideas:

  • Rest – running is damaging and you need to prioritize recovery
  • Use a heart rate monitor to do all of your runs in the aerobic zone
  • Focus on strength and flexibility instead of running
  • Transition to minimalist running shoes

Which option would you choose?

Lately I’ve found myself answering “yes and yes” or “all of them” to a lot of questions. So of course you should rest during an off-season. But you should also focus on strength, flexibility, and even do some running in minimalist shoes. Why not do it all?

A good example of this is the Ask an Expert series I did for Lifehacker recently. I received a few questions like…

What’s the best type of exercise for fat loss – running or weight lifting?

Should I run distance or do intervals?

The answer to both questions is “yes and yes!” Combining multiple training methods into one program is often the best way to reach your goals. You can’t over-emphasize one thing.

Alberto Salazar – head coach of the Nike Oregon Project and author of 14 Minutes: A Running Legend’s Life and Death and Life – refers to training as “soup.” Any good soup is made with a variety of ingredients. The combination of those ingredients is what makes the soup – not just one single ingredient.

Off-Season Training: It’s Like Soup

That brings us to today’s question: how should you plan and execute an off-season or maintenance training phase?

Amanda emailed me and asked:

How do I maintain my fitness, but not train as hard, during the winter? I don’t want to do as many long runs but I want to start my training plan fresh and able to run the workouts that you planned for me.

To answer her question, I recorded a new video that explains how to plan her off-season and what mistakes to avoid.

Notes from the video:

  • Reduce mileage by 20-40% depending on your ability and what’s comfortable for you
  • Scale everything back, but maintain the fundamentals of good training: a long run, fast workout, strides, strength work, and rest days
  • Don’t just take months and months off from running!
  • Avoid falling into the trap of only running easy during the off-season

For more on how to train “in between” seasons, see the comments on this article about how to train between marathons.

Now let me ask you: what do you do when you don’t have any races planned? Do you take time off completely or run a scaled back program?

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