The Recovery Phase of Training

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It is now the off season for triathlon in the southern hemisphere. This is otherwise known as the transition or recovery phase of training. For the large majority of triathletes this means it’s time to rejuvenate and recover both physically and mentally. No matter when your key races occur (whether it be Cairns in June or Shepparton in Nov), the recovery phase is an essential part of any training program. For those who commenced racing in October and have continued through to March, it has been a long road. Here are my 8 tips for the triathlon recovery phase. These tips refer to triathlon however they can be adopted by anyone competing in individual swimming, cycling or running or team sports that require a large amount of commitment.

1. Minimum of 2 weeks off training
Post season (or after key races) it is EXTREMELY important to take time off to allow the body to recover and injuries to be treated and correctly heal. Even if you do not have injuries you are aware of you still need to comply with this training phase. Just like technique, base endurance, strength endurance and speed endurance training phases, the rest and recovery phase is equally important. Trust me, all of the professional triathletes take these rest periods, generally 1-2 times per year.

How much time you require off will depend on how long your training block has been. Generally anywhere between 2-6 weeks is sufficient. During this time aim to sleep in and complete easy to moderate to exercise other than swim, bike and run. Personally I like to do absolutely nothing for 2 weeks followed by some easy unstructured sessions which are enjoyable. Don’t expect to improve next season if you DO NOT comply with this time off

2. Invest in your family and friends
It is safe to say that you have neglected relationships with friends and family due to early morning starts and weekends dedicated to training and racing. Take the coming months to re-unite these relationships, head out for a night on the town and do things that you miss out on when training and racing in full flight. Don’t worry, the race season will be there before you know it and once again you will have no time for these activities

3. Put on a few pounds
If you have become very lean and skinny from your triathlon training and racing then it’s time to put on some weight otherwise known as your ‘winter coat’. Being very lean through winter is not a good idea as you require that extra fat to keep you warm and nourish your immune system.

The other beneficial thing about being heavier over winter is that you will increase your power output (strength) due to carrying this extra weight when swimming, cycling and running. Once the extra few pounds are lost, your power-to-weight ratio will increase and you therefore will race much faster. See this as an investment into your training.

4. Ditch the Garmin
Triathletes rely heavily on gadgets to measure data such as Garmin’s range of GPS devices. These provide variables such as time, pace and heart rate, among others. Learning to train through perceived efforts and understanding your training zones is key to improving fitness. If you must train during the recovery phase aim to complete easy exercise, which means you should be able hold a conversation with someone beside you as you train. My advice is to ditch the Garmin, ignore heart rate, speed and distance covered and simply go back to basics and just do it easy!

5. Complete a SWOT analysis
If you are serious about your training and racing performance then it would be wise to adopt the SWOT analysis from the world of Business. Analysing your season is the best way to identify and adopt strategies in order to improve next season. Write down your Strengths and Weaknesses and then strategise the Opportunities and Threats that may arise from these. If you are unsure of what to do after the SWOT analysis it would be best to speak with a coach

6. Become a fat burning machine
 At low to moderate exercise intensities our bodies will use a greater amount of fat as a fuel source (instead of carbohydrates). Unlike carbohydrate stores (which are limited), fat stores can last for prolonged periods. As we become fitter our body will use a greater amount of fat as a source of fuel = greater muscular endurance. This however does not happen by chance and you must train the body at low intensities for prolonged periods (>1 hour) without providing it with additional fuel (carbs). Low intensity aerobic exercise should be <70% of your Max Heart Rate and the later stages of the recovery phase is the time to start completing this type of training. Ensure you consume good fats such as nuts, avocado, butter and coconut oil and always talk to a health care professional before striving to increase your fat burning capabilities.

7. Back to basics
Ditch your thoughts of racing and hitting new PB’s in training as now is DEFINITELY not the right time to be thinking like this. You will lose fitness during this month; if you don’t then you are not doing justice to your upcoming season and training block. You CANNOT be in peak physical fitness all the time. Let yourself go and simply head for a leisurely session without thinking too much about it. Go with friends who may not be triathletes and do not take training seriously; this will make you go easier and have a laugh and enjoyable time along the way.

You should also now be thinking of upcoming technique training and how you can better your technique. The perfect technique must be mastered at easy to moderate effort levels over and over before it can be completed at high intensities.

8. Consult with a coach
As I have stated throughout this article; always seek the advice of a professional if you are unsure. Some of these tips I have provided may be completely new ideas and concepts to yourself and I suggest seeking feedback if you’re unsure.

If you are interested in a coaching consult you can contact me via email:

Author: Ryan Bourke (High Performance triathlon Coach)

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