The off-season is a misnomer, especially for older people who still want to improve in next season’s races. If you are burnt out or coming off an Ironman, then a couple weeks off and couple weeks of easy training is about all you can afford. The detraining effect is bitterly swift. Your body simply does not want to be in tip-top triathlon form and will revert to pedestrian shape given any opportunity. Getting back into shape after a long layoff is exponentially harder than maintaining basic fitness.
There are plenty of theories about how best to spend your cycling time over the winter. Racking up big volume is not realistic for most people, but cutting volume and not adding anything else just equates to losing fitness. You want to make gains in the winter, not losses. For most, some variation of reverse periodization is appropriate (http://home.trainingpeaks.com/blog/article/reverse-periodization-for-triathletes). There are plenty of other debates like whether or not and how much to strength-train. One thing is for sure—if you have the time, a good gym program is not going to make you worse. http://www.active.com/triathlon/articles/mark-allen-s-12-best-strength-exercises.
For our purposes here I am going to assume you have already decided to do some sort of hard riding over the winter. The following are simple tips to help you make that happen:
- Keep a bike on the trainer, ready to go at all times. I have an old beat up bike that will never see the road again, and it never leaves the trainer. Half of the battle is getting the whole thing set up. Many hardcore folks like to throw the bike in a car and drive to places to ride trainers with other people. And if that motivates them then that is a great idea and they should continue doing it. For me, all that commuting and setup time is better spent actually riding.
- Have a plan and goals for each month. If you are fortunate enough to have a power meter or a smart trainer like a Wahoo Kickr, http://www.wahoofitness.com/devices/wahoo-kickr-powertrainer, it is easier to make specific and measurable goals. People forget that training is about progression, not just exercising. The whole point is to improve and measuring power really helps you see if you are going in the right direction. If you do not have a power meter, then try making goals around how much time spent in specific heart rate zones. Heart rate goals are easy to make and measure. There are generic and free programs like http://mos.triradar.com/Training_Plans/TRI62.Winter_Ironman_Training.pdf that I cannot directly vouch for, but I can vouch for getting yourself a plan one way or another. If you can afford a coach and can believe in what he or she tells you, that is obviously the best route. It is a fact that the best triathletes and the ones who improve the fastest use coaches disproportionately often to the general population of triathletes.
- Much like cycling classes, lots of people love virtual reality games and apps like Zwift http://zwift.com/, or Trainer Road. Most of these apps and games include training programs specifically for winter. People love Zwift. A Wahoo Kickr paired with Zwift is a combo that is enjoying incredible growth right now. Personally, I am behind on so many decent television shows, I use the trainer as a guilt-free way to catch up. Granted I miss about 50% of what is going on during the show because there is little to no oxygen in my brain while I am ‘watching,’ but that just means I can watch it again. Out of embarrassment, I will not list all the garbage complete series I have watched twice on the trainer. It is shameful and maybe not so guilt-free after all now that I divulge it. I should really be on Zwift the more I think about it.
In conclusion: Getting ready for next year’s races is a little more complex than “just get on your bike and ride some over the winter.” However, it is not much more complicated that “get on your bike(as often and as much as possible) and with a plan to reach some specific and measurable markers over the winter.” Hopefully, some of the tips above can help you train with a purpose to reach your goals in 2017.