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Which workout are you probably neglecting the most? The off day!

Off days are a critical component to a training plan

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One of the things that draws many to triathlon is the diverse number of ways in which you can work out. Cycling through activities, with several days between sessions in each sport keeps your workouts feeling fresh and interesting with new challenges every session. The variety of training options available also greatly reduces the risk of an overtraining injury by allowing you to shift the training stress onto different parts of the body each day, while resting other parts.

The flip side is that it takes a lot of training to get really good at triathlon. Trying to get two to three sessions of each sport, plus core, strength work and stretching all in one week can make for a convoluted schedule. Even if you started off taking one day off a week, the pressure to make this schedule work can lead to an inevitable sacrifice of that day. “Oh, I’ll just do my core work, and an easy swim, and some stretching” – is a phrase I have said myself in the past.

Related: Holiday training plan – rest right now to nail next season

Unfortunately, cramming all our “easy” workouts onto an off day is not a sustainable solution. As I wrote about in an earlier article about taking off-weeks, rest is where the benefits of training accrue. We need daily rest, usually in the form of sleep, easier periods of training, in the form of “easy” weeks, and regular breaks from training in the form of off days to allow our body to recover and adapt from all the stress we are putting it through with our training. If we give up our off days, we are missing a critical element of our recovery plan.

My solution to this problem is to think about the off-day as a workout. As with any workout you will want to approach it with intention and a plan. What are the goals? What are you going to do to make those goals happen? A typical goal for an off day is to recover and prepare your body for another week of solid training. At a minimum you should plan three good meals and some healthy snacks, as eating too much sugar or fat can impair your recovery. I also recommend planning a fun, low-impact activity to fill the time that would normally be taken up by your training. Just like with any other workout you should also think about behaviours or attitudes that prevent you from achieving your goal. Maybe you tend to sleep in too late on your day off, disrupting your overall sleep rhythm for the next several days. Cramming in too many other non-training activities and spending the whole day on your feet is another common error. An additional stumbling block on off-days is alcohol. Having one drink is no big deal, but drinking those extra glasses of beer or wine the night before, or on your rest day itself is definitely going to impair your recovery.

Thinking about your rest day as a workout, rather than a relief from workouts will put it in the right context. Taking that occasional day off – and doing it well – is just as important for your improvement as your next interval session on the track.