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How To Plan an “Off-Season” After a Summer of Canceled Races

BY Lindsay Zemba Leigh

After a season like no other, structuring the winter months may be a challenge. Here's how to make them productive.

This is typically the time of year when most of us are entering our “off-season,” a time when volume and race-specific training decrease, or we take some time off from structured training. But this year it may actually feel like you’re coming out of your off-season, with most summer races being canceled due to COVID, and events beginning to emerge on next spring’s calendar. So, how does one plot out this highly unusual “off-season”? 

If you’re coming off a summer of unstructured training, now is the time to get back to it. On the other hand, if you’ve been training hard this season, and managed to participate in races, whether in person or virtual, then your body and mind still deserve a little downtime so you come back feeling refreshed and injury-free.

I suggest at least two weeks of unstructured training after your last race of the season before easing back into structured, focused training. And if you have any niggles or injuries, now is the time to address these by taking some time off and doing the rehab work to get back to 100%. After some time off, and when the mind and body are ready to get back to training, you can follow my tips below. 

Make Some Goals

Let’s start with writing out your goals for next year. Most of us have our race schedules locked and loaded thanks to all the deferred races, but be sure to think about what your goals are for each race. Actually take the time to write them out: what you want and why you want it? Focus on both outcome goals (placement, time, qualification, etc.) and process goals (technique, fueling, hydration, etc.), and post them somewhere you see them everyday. 

Plan your Training

Next, structure your training using reverse periodization, which is a fancy way of saying train more specifically the closer you get to the race. Depending when your first A race is in 2021, work backwards from it, and begin with the least race specific training to the most race specific training as you get closer to it. 

So, if you have an Ironman in July, now is the time for heavy, max strength training with low reps (sets of 3-5) to build strength while swim/bike/run training stress is low. Once you are ~4-6 months out you can move into hypertrophy sets of 10-12 reps. When you are 2-3 months out from your A race you’ll want to focus on mostly corrective movements since swim/bike/run stress will be high. 

If you already have a good aerobic base, now can also be a good time do a 4-6 week block of VO2 max focused training which is not specific to ironman race effort, but is beneficial for pushing your VO2 max higher which will increase aerobic capacity. Just be careful with adding intensity in if the body isn’t used to it yet, especially with running. 

Find Your Weaknesses

You may also choose to do a block of training addressing your weakness. If swimming is your weakness, try training like a swimmer for a while, swimming 5 days per week. Or if biking is your weak leg, prioritize that for a block of training. However do not neglect the other disciplines, be sure to continue to include at least two workouts per week of each discipline so that you maintain fitness in those. 

Refine Your Technique

Additionally, technique is always important but sometimes takes a back seat during the season when we’re doing more intense or longer sessions. Now is a great time to focus on drill and skill work and get some lessons or video analysis from a coach. Swimming requires the most technique of the three disciplines, but you can also work on form on the bike and run. Improving your economy is one of the best things you can do to improve as a triathlete. 


Lastly, make time for recovery. During this time of lower volume training and no races, use the extra time to focus on recovering like a pro. Make time for foam rolling, yoga, massage, good hydration and nutrition, etc. The better you can manage your recovery, the better you will absorb and adapt to the training, and the more habitual they will become. 

What you do these next few months can set you up for your best year yet. Let’s enter 2021 stronger, fitter, and ready to race! 

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About Lindsay Zemba Leigh

Lindsay Zemba Leigh is a USA Triathlon and Training Peaks Level 2 coach. She’s also a certified strength and conditioning specialist, certified Yoga Instructor and certified Nutrition Coach. She was a collegiate swimmer who turned triathlete. She coaches triathletes and runners with No Limits Endurance Coaching ( and loves helping athletes achieve their big dreams. You can contact her via email at

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