What is an Offseason?
Why does our body have the propensity to get overused so seemingly easily when we were made to move? Through patient interactions, I typically identify that running is an outlet to release stress. Thus, there is no off season when it comes to the opportunity to monopolize on stress reduction. When we were younger, multi-sport participation was the norm. There was track season, cross country season, soccer season, or whatever else you may have fancied. As we age, time becomes less and less abundant, and we move to single sport specification. It’s easy, and we are confident that it will help us maintain our fitness and keep us happy! So the question is how do we get an off season, especially in Portland when the weather is [mostly] runnable year round? Do we have to stop running altogether? The answer is no; The solution is in volume modification and cross training. I know--gross, but seriously hear me out.
Establishing and maintaining a “base” is a huge part of why we like to continually push to meet our mileage goals each week. We fear the lurking couch monster over our shoulder that will attack and pull us in forever if we sit for too long on its oh-so-comfy cushions. This will then, naturally [sarcastic face], lead to a spiral of inactivity, weight gain, and a loss of prior fitness achievement or so we believe. Although many of us constantly live in a cycle of trying to stay active, but recover appropriately without becoming a victim of the couch, the reality is that it takes a lot longer than we think to lose our fitness. In fact, several studies support an initial decline with ceasing training at about 3 weeks in VO2 max (the gold standard for measuring fitness) that is followed by a plateau (at about 50% above baseline) that is maintained until at least 10 weeks of being inactive. I am not advocating for 10 weeks of rest, but if your body needs a break --listen.
In terms of daily runs when not training for any activity in particular, we float in our maintenance phase. This essentially means to do just enough to maintain physiological gains, but also allowing the body the time and rest it needs to recover and grow stronger during harder training cycles. Generally, the variable that is modulated during this maintenance phase is the volume. This can be calculated by multiplying your high mileage weeks by 40% and using this value as your goal or doing roughly 1/3rd of your average in season weekly mileage. These phases are meant to keep those miles feeling fluid and comfortable, but also meant to refocus time on areas that we leave behind during peak training cycles. YES that means strength training and YES that means yoga or a mobility routine.
Cross training has been shown over and over again to lower injury risk. This can be anything ranging from swimming, biking, hiking, pilates, yoga, or high intensity interval training. The key is that the activity is something that you like to do because enjoyment is directly related to adherence. In fact, explosive strength training was shown as early as 1999 by Paavolainen et al to improve 5 km times in conjunction with endurance training. Other recent research (Paicentini et al 2013 and Ramirez-Campillo et al 2014) has also demonstrated improvement in long distance running economy, muscle power, performance, and reduced injury risk with the incorporation of strength training. So when you question if you should strength train--the answer is definitely YES!
Monopolizing on these times when we are less race driven and just trying to stay active and fit is critical in improving performance in season. So although it is hard to find time to get in those long runs, cycle, play basketball and soccer, and show off your power lifting at the gym all at the same time, we can definitely modify our running routine with just small shifts in where we devote our time. Set a goal for 2 days of strength training per week focusing on core and lower body. Watch how your body adapts, and trust me it will be thanking you for the much needed attention!
Stay tuned for my favorite lower body strength exercises to keep you feeling strong and to maximize your time!
Anna Wetzel, PT, DPT
Ready, E. A.; Quinney, H. A., Alterations in anaerobic threshold as the result of endurance training and detraining. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 1982, 14 (4), 292-296.
Leena Paavolainen, Keijo Häkkinen, Ismo Hämäläinen, Ari Nummela, Heikki Rusko. Explosive-strength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power. Journal of Applied Physiology Published 1 May 1999 Vol. 86 no. 5, 1527-1533.
Piacentini MF1, De Ioannon G, Comotto S, Spedicato A, Vernillo G, La Torre A. Concurrent strength and endurance training effects on running economy in master endurance runners.J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Aug;27(8):2295-303.
Ramírez-Campillo R1, Alvarez C, Henríquez-Olguín C, Baez EB, Martínez C, Andrade DC, Izquierdo M. Effects of plyometric training on endurance and explosive strength performance in competitive middle- and long-distance runners. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jan;28(1):97-104.