Congratulations! You completed your goal race and you’re ready to reduce mileage and let your body recover. Although you’ll still be running some miles each week, this is a great time to adjust your focus for the offseason.
Now, let me start by saying that most runners are not fond of the word offseason. Regardless of whether this is late fall/early winter or late spring/early summer, you’ll most likely still be running and possibly signing up for a handful of “fun” races. This is completely fine!
What this time of year provides is the ability to switch gears and focus your attention on the supplemental strategies which will make you a more successful runner. Because running mileage is low, it’s important to take advantage of the offseason to come back stronger and with a refreshed mental capacity. Unfortunately, those runners who don’t do this usually set themselves up for failure.
Because you deserve so much success with your running, I want to share with you the most important tips to consider this offseason. Of course, you don’t have to incorporate each and every strategy. But, you need to realize how impactful this time of the year can be on your running if you want to see longevity in the sport.
Let’s get started…
Plain and simple, you can’t see where you are going unless you understand where you have been! It’s easy to just move on after your goal race. But, this is a mistake.
Instead, reflect on the success, or lack thereof, of your goal race and training. This will help you determine what needs to be fine tuned the next time around for better results. And, it should open your eyes to what you can work on throughout the remainder of the offseason to get a step ahead.
There are several different areas which are important to reflect upon, these include:
- Race reflection
- Did you achieve your goal?
- What were the limiting factors? (pain, weather, nutrition, fatigue, etc.)
- Training reflection
- Did your training properly prepare you for race day?
- Did you struggle at a certain mileage?
- Any injuries along the way?
- Total duration of training plan (# of weeks)
- Total volume (weekly, monthly, & total miles)
- Composition of running (long slow distance, track, hill repeats, tempo runs, etc.)
- Supplemental movement strategies (strength training, mobility, core, warm-up, cool-down)
All of these things need to be considered to determine where you can do better next time. Instead of doing the same thing and expecting different results, complete an honest audit of your running and adjust accordingly.
2. Schedule a running-specific evaluation
The offseason is the most important time of year to take a better look at your body and re-build the foundation. When running mileage drops, it allows for more emphasis to be placed on correcting underlying imbalances and faulty running/movement mechanics. Addressing these key areas will help you stay injury-free and thriving when it matters most.
If you experienced an injury or niggle while training for your last race, regardless of whether it is now pain-free or not, you have to get to the bottom of it. Just because an area is no longer exhibiting pain does not mean the underlying cause has been corrected.
Seeking the help from a trained healthcare provider can go a long way. But, not all providers are created equal!
I recommend finding a provider who has experience in caring for running-related injuries specifically. The overuse nature of these injuries need to be handled appropriately with a thoughtful and progressive corrective program. Not to mention, a deeper look at your running form and mechanics is probably warranted.
Once the provider has identified and educated you on the key findings, it’s time to get to work! Following your daily corrective program and scheduling periodic check-ins with the provider will ensure you are addressing the issues properly and also progressing the program. Doing so now will make sure the aches and pains don’t re-surface when you get back into your training.
3. Implement an individualized and structured strength training routine
I cannot overstate this enough… Runners need to strength train regularly regardless of the time of year. With that being said, the offseason is the best time to really double down on these gains when running mileage is low. Or, to begin a strength training routine if you haven’t done so before.
One of the biggest problems I see is most runners consider adding strength training at the same time they begin their formal running plan. What most don’t realize is that it’s harder for the body to recover with two competing stressors. Therefore, if you can strategically begin creating your base in the offseason, this will allow you to have a solid foundation in place before running mileage increases.
Remember that evaluation I mentioned above? That should help guide your strength training routine in the offseason. Instead of aimlessly getting stronger, consider what are your weak areas which may be limiting performance and predisposing you to injury. Once you understand that, spend time 2-4x/week creating a better foundation. This can be in the gym or at home with a bodyweight routine.
In general, it can’t hurt to increase strength and endurance. These characteristics provide a protective shield around the body which helps make you more resilient to the demands of running. But, you must also target power, stability, timing, coordination, and mobility. That’s why I always recommend the use of bodyweight movements, free weights, and minimal selectorized equipment.
A handful of the best exercises for runners are deadlifts, single leg deadlifts, squats, rear foot elevated split squats, lunges, calf raises, plank variations, and bridging variations. In addition, increasing upper body strength and improving posture will be especially important to maintain a good body position while running. So make sure your routine is full body and even consists of a few heavier lifts in the 2-6 repetition range.
4. Incorporate an activity that consists of multi-directional movements
When you look at the demands of running, it’s easy to realize that the movement happens in a straight line (sagittal plane). Despite this, smaller multiplanar movements (frontal and transverse planes) are occurring simultaneously throughout the body. Therefore, it’s important for runners to maintain their ability to move in multiple planes of motion outside of distance running.
Strength training is one great way to break the body out of this habitual movement pattern. This can consist of lateral and rotational movements which aren’t often found in the running motion. Some tend to argue that this lack of specificity won’t help improve performance, and I disagree. That’s because it creates a more robust and versatile movement vocabulary. This helps prevent against repetitive overuse injuries and provides a well-rounded foundation to put a more specific type of training on top of.
Another strategy is incorporating a different sport or activity that gets you moving in multiple planes of motion. For instance, soccer, tennis, and volleyball are very good offseason options. What these sports do is challenge muscles, joints, and movement patterns, in a completely different way than running. Plus, they more readily improve power, stability, coordination, and cardiovascular fitness, which can have a positive impact on your running.
Since the body is highly adaptable to the demands we place upon it, consistent running often produces good single plane athletes. With consistent training, many runners lose their ability to move competently in other planes of motion because they never practice these movements. From an injury and longevity standpoint this can be detrimental. That’s why I highly recommend finding an alternate sport throughout the offseason months which will preserve movement variability and provide a mental break before the next training cycle.
I hope you enjoyed this article on 4 Things Every Runner Should Do in the Offseason. Please take a second and comment below with any specific strategies or tips that have helped you in the past. And, if you need a running-specific evaluation or individualized strength training program, please click here to contact me directly.
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART