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RUNNERS! Avoid These 3 Off-Season Pitfalls to Have the Best Training Season Yet

By Paul Ellington, PT, DPT, OCS, CHC | February 25, 2021

Are you hoping to participate or even compete in a marathon, triathlon, 5K, or other athletic competitions this year? Hopefully, you’ve taken the past few months to let your body recover from last year’s training and are ready to start increasing your training volume once more. What most people don’t know is that what you do during the off-season can greatly impact your training season once spring rolls around. While it doesn’t help to remain inactive, it’s important to rest the body and treat it right in those cold winter months to prepare for the next season.

Here are the 3 most common pitfalls endurance athletes face during the off-season that can wreak havoc on performance come springtime: 

  1. Not taking time to let the body rest
    Research shows that taking time off in-between seasons is one of the best ways to prevent injuries, particularly overuse injuries. One of the most common mistakes I see in endurance athletes is trying to “keep fitness up” in the off-season, and when they return to higher levels of training, they start noticing pain creeping in while their performance goes down. Taking time off doesn’t mean you have to become a couch potato; in fact, cross-training (i.e. weight lifting) is one of the best ways to keep your body fit through the off-season. This is also a great way to address any asymmetries in your strength, which is a common cause of injury in endurance athletes. 
  2. Carrying injuries through the training season
    When your training ramps back up in preparation for a new season of racing, sometimes you will notice a nagging feeling that may be a familiar feeling from seasons past. This is a sign that you haven’t addressed an underlying issue; all too often people think it will just go away if you train through it. But this only allows that small nagging feeling to worsen and likely become worse if not addressed. The off-season and early parts of training are the perfect times to address your subtle aches and pains before they become a bigger issue. 
  3. Increasing training volume too fast
    For those who aren’t familiar with the science behind training, periodization may be an unfamiliar term. Simply put, periodization is periods of progressively increasing training stress followed by rest. Research has shown that the body best responds to periods of increased training stress (typically periods of 3-5 weeks) followed by a period of active recovery. A common mistake I see is people try to jump right back into training volumes they were doing towards the end of the prior season. If you’ve followed the previous advice and rested through the off-season, then your fitness won’t be the same as it was at the end of the last season–which is completely normal. Trying to increase your training volume too fast without adequate rest weeks will significantly increase your risk of overuse injuries. Once an overuse injury is present, it’s much harder to manage without significantly reducing your training schedule. The best way to avoid this is to increase your training load slowly and give yourself periods of rest to let your body recover from the weeks of hard training.

As the saying goes, champions are made in the off-season. Don’t make these common mistakes and sabotage your chances to have your best season yet! If you have any unresolved injuries or are curious to see how physical therapy can help prepare you for your best race yet, let one of our expert physical therapists at VTFC help you have a successful and pain-free running season. 

About The Authors

Paul Ellington, PT, DPT, OCS, CHC

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