For most folks, September marks the end of summer as well as the end of the racing season. Some are already looking forward to next year. Putting together your race calendar is usually the first step and then trying to get your friends on-board.

Many will argue that we should call this time of year the “pre-season,” while others will call it the “off-season.” I suggest that we call it a transition phase and include both the “Off” and the “Pre” season terms to make the most of it.

The transition phase comes after a key race or long race period. During the season, the transition phase is short and lasts between 3 days to 2 weeks. It allows us to recover, reflect, and plan for our next racing peak. At the end of the season, the transition phase is more prolonged, lasting between 1 to 3 months with the same purpose: take a break, recover, reflect, and plan. It’s a balance between the time you take off from training and the training you do at the pre-season period that will make the best transition into your year.

Over the past 20-some years, I have seen people get completely out of shape at the end of the race season only to start all over again and show very little progress from year to year. Other athletes train so hard and arrive in top shape come January, only to lose interest or get injured. I suggest a more moderate approach to fall training–a strategy that progressively puts you in a better position at the beginning of the season than the previous year, and ensures a more significant improvement in your next race phase.

Start with the off-season, which means no training for a period of one week to three weeks. Let the stress of the past season dissipate before you go at it again. Give yourself a complete mental, physical, and yes, a dietary break. Losing some fitness and gaining a few pounds will help you recover faster. During this period, you should plan your activities for the pre-season phase. At the end of the “off-season” period, you should feel energized and excited to train again. 

The pre-season phase should prepare you for your next season. Comparing last season’s performance with the upcoming season’s goals should help in deciding what to focus on. Start with the end in mind:  What is your most important goal for next season? Once you determine that, think of the one or two things you need to improve on and set a plan to work on them. Whether it’s swimming, biking or running, I suggest you start with improving your technique and later add more fitness. Don’t do everything at the same time, focus on one sport, build it as much as you can, and just maintain the other sports with one workout per week.  (Swim Technique Class and Iron-Fit I are great options to improve your technique!)

Another important thing to add in the pre-season is weight training into your routine. It is a proven fact that endurance performance dramatically improves with strength and conditioning. The pre-season period is the best time to start lifting. Start your strength routine with a focus on proper movement patterns, core, and joint stability. Once you accomplish that, start developing strength by adding more weight and more complex movements. Don’t just jump into plyometrics; lifting heavy weight or executing overly complex movement patterns will almost guarantee extreme soreness and even injuries.  Well-Fit will be offering a Strength and Conditioning class beginning in November.

Add some fun activities to your routine. Activities like team sports energize you differently and make you a better overall athlete. Moderation is the key to successful pre-season training. Set up your routine in a way that doesn’t stress your schedule or interrupt your sleep.

The fall is also a great time to plan your race calendar for the following year. While races may not fill up as fast as in previous years, keep in mind that prices go up every few weeks. For most age-group athletes, planning two peak periods per year is ideal. Plan your first peak to be early in the spring and the second in the middle of the summer or early fall. Build your race season with moderate progression. Start with shorter races and finish with the big effort race. A more aggressive approach would be to plan your races based on the performance you want to achieve in your big A race. In other words, use early racing to sharpen specific elements that are needed for the performance you want to have in your most important competition. Once you have your races set, establish your goals and write out your training objectives.

Remember, winter is the most crucial training phase of your plan. Proper and uninterrupted winter training will ensure a solid race season. Plan your routine and make sure to line up your support team and training facilities. Seem like a lot? Use a professional coach to help you set it all up.

Enjoy the fall and set yourself for success for next year.