How to train during off-season
Off-season is a time when you don’t train for a specific upcoming goal. This doesn’t mean that you stop running, though – it simply means that you reduce the intensity.
The main purpose of maintenance running plans, therefore, is to help you maintain your fitness level and your hard-earned performance gains as much as possible, while also giving you enough time to recover from any lingering fatigue or past injuries.
Depending on where you live, the specific weather conditions, the dates of your next races, and your own schedule and preferences, “off-season” might happen during the winter or summer months – or at any other time of the year, really.
Maintenance training is also a time when you can simply take a step back, allow your body to recover, and focus on the joy of running, without the pressure of an upcoming race.
Consistency and accountability are as important for maintenance running as for training for a specific (distance- or time-related) goal. Some of the best ways to stay in shape during off-season are to:
- Keep your weekly running routine while reducing the intensity and/or mileage
- Put running sessions in your calendar to keep them top-of-mind
- Sign up for your next race – even if it’s further away, having a future goal will help you stay motivated
- Make running a social activity: Run with friends, join a running club, or find a running buddy in your neighborhood
To help you with all this, we’ve built Runna, a dedicated running coaching app that you can use to build your own personalized maintenance running plan that sets all training sessions for you, enabling you to focus on the pleasure of running.
Maintenance running nutrition
Training is only one part of the equation of becoming a better runner. Nutrition is an essential element that’ll fuel your recovery and help you reach your goals, regardless of whether you’re aiming to get faster or simply maintain your running performance during the off-season. Making healthy choices on a daily basis is key for this.
During maintenance training, you need to:
- Eat enough protein to facilitate muscle recovery
- Increase your carbs slightly before more challenging sessions
If you’re looking to boost your speed or increase the intensity of a given session, we encourage you to experiment with caffeine, too.
Carb-loading is not necessary off-season, but carbs are still a great way to fuel your runs. Before you step out the door for your next run, eat a carb-rich meal or snack.
Keep in mind that carb-rich doesn’t mean high in sugar, though. Prioritize complex carbohydrates, such as oats, whole grain, quinoa, sweet potatoes, and fruits.
Running for weight loss: Is it possible to lose weight by running?
In short, yes, it’s possible to lose weight by running, but you need to be mindful of what you’re eating. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume – and movement can definitely help you use more energy.
If you’re running to lose weight, keep in mind that when you start running, your appetite will probably also increase. So, if you’re not making an active effort to eat less and make more healthy choices, you might end up actually eating more.
The best way to set yourself up for success is to combine running with a healthy diet, an overall increase in your activity level (for example, by cycling or walking more), a reduction in your caloric intake, and some strength training. And if you’re running for abs, strength training is a must.
Cross-training and strength training
Off-season is the ideal time to double down on cross-training and strength training. This will help you achieve two things: reduce the risk of injuries and improve your running performance, helping you prepare better for your next race.
Cross-training adds variety to your training regimen and keeps things fun. Cycling, swimming, boxing, rowing, functional training, yoga, or hiking are just a few of the many excellent cross-training options out there – but what’s most important is to choose a sport you enjoy.
Strength training improves your running economy by 8-12%, enabling you to become a faster runner. It also enables your muscles to manage loads better and therefore helps protect against injuries.
Runna enables you to add a fully customized strength training plan to your running program. Tailor it to your strength level, equipment, preferences, and the time you have available to make the most of your training.
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Maintenance training: Weekly mileage and intensity
So, what should be the intensity of your maintenance training sessions? And what weekly mileage should you aim for?
Off-season training typically means training at lower intensity and reducing your weekly mileage somewhat.
Here are some key principles to keep in mind:
- Reduce your weekly mileage to 70% of your peak season mileage
- Reduce the amount of speed work
- Do more strength training and cross training
- Continue doing mobility work
If you’ve just completed a race, and especially if it was a long-distance event, you need to reduce your weekly mileage and the intensity of your training sessions to give your body enough time to repair itself and recover from the stress of the race.
For this, you can use one of our post-race training plans, which set out your training regimen for the three weeks after a race. Then, you can switch to our 12 week maintenance running plan to stay in top shape and keep your hard-earned performance gains.
Maintenance training and recovery: sleep, mobility work, sports massages
Maintenance training is the ideal time to give your body more time to recover. Although it might sound counterintuitive, having enough downtime will help you become a better runner in the long run (pun intended).
- Get enough sleep: Sleep is essential for optimal performance.
- Do mobility work: Yoga, pilates, or simply stretching are excellent ways to keep and enhance your mobility during the off-season.
- Listen to your body: Be flexible, switch up training sessions, and take extra days off when needed.
Running gear: shoes, clothing, and more
The gear you use during training can either help or hinder your running performance, even during maintenance periods. The same rules apply as when training for a goal:
- Shoes: Shoes protect your body from the impact with the ground, so it’s important to get a good pair. Go to a specialized shoe shop with an in-store treadmill if you can. And yes, you can use the same shoes for off-season training, as long as they’re not worn out.
- Clothing: Avoid cotton and use high-quality performance fabrics that wick moisture to prevent chafing and stay warm and comfortable during your runs.
- Running watch or GPS tracker: Use your phone or a running watch like Garmin or COROS to keep an eye on the pace and distance. Runna integrates with Garmin, Apple Watch, Coros, and Strava to help you get most of your running maintenance plan.
- Accessories: Use a running belt or armband to carry your phone, keys, and other essentials.
- Sun protection: Use high-SPF sunscreen, even in the winter.