General Guidelines for an Off-Season Program to Help Transition into the 2014 Season

I have addressed some of the components of an off-season maintenance program in two previous articles, specifically cross-training and strength training. In this article I will tie together all of the important components of an off-season training program and provide guidelines for each. Although cross-training is one important way for us to maintain aerobic fitness during the off-season, we don’t want to neglect running, if possible, depending on the weather or access to a treadmill.

Guidelines for running during the off-season:

• Run 2-3 days per week

• Most runs should be at a comfortable, conversational pace

• Include a longer run once every 2-3 weeks, distance depends on goal events, fitness level, running history, any current injuries

• May progress to short intervals, such as strides, hill sprints, Fartlek (speedplay) runs

• Include proper warm-up (maybe include some basics for warm-ups)

Strength training guidelines:

• Should be done after any cross-training or running workout

• Focus on exercises to improve activation of abdominal, hip abductor, hip flexors and extensors (gluteus maximus and hamstrings) lower back, and scapular stabilizers

• Performed 2-3 days per week on non-consecutive days

• Use body weight resistance or low resistance

• Typically involve a progression, which can include adding an instability component, such as performing exercises on a pillow, or increasing the range of motion of the exercise

• Exercises are typically performed to fatigue and not a specific number of repetitions

• Rest period can be 30-60 seconds between exercises, or you can perform the exercises in a circuit, and just move from one exercise to the next with little or no rest

Cross-training guidelines:

• Performed 2-3 days per week

• I would recommend using a variety of cross-training modes to incorporate a variety of muscles

• Ideally, choose at least some cross-training modes, which incorporate motion in different planes than running, such as side-to-side or transverse plane motion, as opposed to forwards and backwards motion

• Intensity should be light to moderate, with incorporation of short intervals every 2-3 weeks with full recovery

Additional components:

• Foam rolling:

• Roll on tight, overused muscles until a tender/sore spot is found

• Apply pressure to tender/sore spots  and hold for 30 seconds

• Perform 5-7 days per week

• Stretching:

• Should include calf, hamstring, glutes, hip flexors, IT band, lower back, chest

• Hold stretches for 30-60 seconds

• Perform 1-4 repetitions for each stretch

• Perform after foam rolling, as the last component of a workout

If you don’t own or have access to a  foam roller I highly recommend getting access to a foam roller. Foam rolling can be beneficial in improving flexibility and reducing soreness in tight, overused muscles. An example of tight, overused muscles common to runners and triathletes are the hip flexor (thigh) muscles. To improve flexibility and lengthen these muscles roll on the hip flexors until you find the most tender/sore areas and apply pressure with the foam roller for 30 seconds (see picture below). If performed on a regular basis, this can result in increased range of motion when bringing the back foot up towards the glutes. This will increase the power with each stride, increasing speed.

Final note: A maintenance program should be designed to accomplish a few goals, which will help transition us into successfully building aerobic fitness for the next running season. The goals of a maintenance program are to maintain and start rebuilding endurance, and to address muscle imbalances and flexibility issues to improve running form (biomechanics), so that we are more efficient runners with less chance of developing running-related injuries, and possibly start incorporating some short intervals to improve running economy (similar to efficiency) and biomechanics.

Please contact me if you have any questions. I would love to hear from you!

See you on the road or trail.


Strength Training for Runners and Triathletes During the Off-Season

Strength training is a vital part of any runner’s training program, during preparation for races and during the off-season. The goals and emphasis of strength training vary during preparation for races and during the off-season. Depending on the fitness level and goals of the runner, strength training may be divided into as many as five different phases including: functional, endurance, strength, power, and peak or performance. Strength training is important for improving speed and for injury-prevention. This article focuses on how to effectively use strength training during the off-season and addresses one particular area that runners should focus on.

What is strength training?

• Performing exercises against resistance to increase muscular strength (or amount or rate of force production) and improve function of skeletal muscles

• Forms of resistance include:

– Body weight

– Resistance bands

– Medicine balls

– Dumbbells

– Kettle bells

– Resistance machines


Why is strength training important?

• Improves running economy (basically how efficient we run) and increases running speed, especially speed at lactate threshold (speed at which lactate begins to significantly accumulate in the blood and in which our breathing rate significantly increases) which is one of the best determinants of running performance

• Corrects muscle imbalances to improve running efficiency (biomechanics) and to minimize injury-risk • Helps maintain or improve body composition

• Provides psychological benefits

• Helps improve respiration or breathing during running

• Increases short duration and long duration endurance capacity

• Prevents loss of muscle mass that occurs as we age

• Helps maintain or improve mobility and stability at appropriate joints


Although often ignored, strength training is a must for all runners. Many runners are weak in the core muscles, especially the gluteus maximus and hip abductor muscles (muscles responsible for moving hips away from the midline of the body and stabilizing the leg as the foot hits the ground), such as the gluteus medius. Many of the injuries that runners experience can be linked to weaknesses in the core muscles, especially the gluteus maximus and medius, such as IT Band Syndrome, plantar fasciitis, medial tibial stress syndrome, and Achilles tendinopathy. Incorporating strength training into your program only requires 20-30 minutes 2-3 days/week and can significantly reduce your risk for the above-mentioned injuries. Another group of muscles that get ignored and should be trained are the scapular stabilizers (muscles that stabilize the “shoulder blades”). These are important to maintain proper posture in the upper body during running to avoid early fatigue and unnecessary strain in the upper back, shoulders, and neck.


Guidelines for strength training:

• Frequency: 2-3 days/week

• Number of sets: 1-3, start with one set and gradually increase the number of sets

• Number of repetitions: depends on the phase and focus of training, can be as few as 5-10 repetitions, if focusing on strength and power, or higher if focusing on endurance

• Intensity: Again depends on the phase and focus of training, such as low to moderate for functional and endurance training, and moderate to high for strength and power training

• Be sure to exhale on exertion and inhale on relaxation during strength training exercises


Ideally, exercises which are functional should be used, especially early in a strength training program or during the off-season to transition into the next season. Functional exercises mimic the movement and muscle recruitment patterns of running, and also help improve mobility and stability, which are important to running performance and injury prevention.


Simple exercises to improve hip abductor strength:

• Clamshell and side lying leg raises with foot in three different positions (neutral or normal position, toes pointed up, toes pointed down)

• Perform these exercises 2-3 days per week on nonconsecutive days

• Perform 10-20 repetitions for each exercise (or each different foot position) or until fatigue

• Clamshell (clams in the video below), side lying leg raises exercises appear in the first part of the following video by Coach Jay Johnson:

• To increase resistance and gain more benefit from the exercise, lower the leg at a slower and more controlled rate


Final Note: The primary focus of strength training during the off-season should be on correcting any muscle imbalances and improving core strength. Functional strength training will lay the foundation for you to be successful in your training for 2014 events.