As the days get shorter and the temperatures start to drop, this time of year becomes a bit of an awkward empty spot for a lot of triathletes and summer athletes in general.  Many triathletes wind up their seasons in late August or early September, with maybe a one last run race or some cyclocross in the fall.  But as that ends around late October its still much too early to start race specific training for the next season.

There’s a saying that the Tour de France is won in January, not July.  Meaning that its the more hard work that you put in months before the race that gets you to the win, not what you do on the day of.  But between the end of one season and the beginning of another, some are left wondering what to do in these off months here.

The obvious answer is rest and sleep in for a change, spend time with your family that misses you dearly, catch up with your friends who you’ve neglected for months, read a good book that wasn’t written by Joe Friel, Andy Coggan, Chris Carmichael, or any cyclist that was involved in a doping scandal.  But for those of you who may be getting a little stir crazy, there are some great sports that’ll beat the treadmill or stationary trainer hands down that are worth checking out.  Some of those sports will give you the mental break and variety you need, and may even give you a bit of an edge over the competition when you get back into the season.

Substitute for swimming?  Try climbing

Going Up

Wall climbing provides an incredible full body workout that builds strength, flexibility, agility, and mental toughness.  I spent a couple years going to the local climbing gym on almost a weekly basis and found that provided a great balance between being physically and mentally stimulating.  The day after a good afternoon of climbing I’d be tired and sore as though I’d spent hours of pushing weight at the gym, but I’d be mentally refreshed from the break from the everyday norms of work and training.

If it’s your first time you’ll probably need to take a beginner course in climbing which often will only run you about $40.   Most climbing gyms rent all the equipment you need and will get you set up to keep coming back.  It’s also much easier to learn with a partner or a small group of friends so make it a team or friendly outing.

Feel the need for speed and a stationary bike trainer just doesn’t cut it?  Get on the ice

I just took up hockey for the very first time this season in the NCHL’s Discover Hockey Program.  I’ve got to say its one of the funnest sports I’ve ever played and its a welcome return to playing team sports.

A while back ESPN conducted a survey of Olympic trainers and multi-sport athletes to figure out how sports ranked in terms of difficulty.  They determined that ice hockey was the second most difficult sport (first was boxing, I’ll definitely give getting punched in the head the credit it deserves).  Hockey involves 45-second shifts of high-intensity effort, quick starts, stops, direction changes, and fighting for loose pucks. Players are accustomed to fighting through the painful burning in their legs as fatigue accumulates. The interval nature and physicality of the game makes it uniquely demanding. Not to mention, the whole game is played while standing on a steel blade about 1/8” thick.  So if you’re looking to find a bit of true grit for the next time you get on the bike, look no further than this oft overlooked sport.

If chasing after pucks with sticks isn’t your thing, try speedskating.  Many speedskaters use cycling as cross training in their off season, and one of Canada’s all time greatest athletes, Clara Hughes, is able to be awesome at both sports almost interchangeably.  The muscles used, and the speeds you reach on the speedskating track will feel very familiar to even the most focused cyclists.

What about runners?  Get used to the snow

Last season just about every runner I knew took up Snowshoing or Cross Country Skiing.  I don’t think you’ll ever get me onto cross country skis since I grew up downhill skiing and don’t see the logic in making my legs do the work to move me across the snow when I can let a chairlift and gravity do the work, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see why people do it.  Cross country skiiers consistently have some of the strongest aerobic engines of any athletes in the world demonstrated by the unreal VO2 max numbers they score.

According to Cool Running, cross country skiing is great activity that is a top choice for athletes looking to improve their aerobic endurance in the off season. Beyond that the gliding action of the activity stretches your hamstrings, calves and lower-back muscles.  In one activity, you’re able to improve flexibility which will also help your aero position on the bike, maintain muscle fitness, and improve cardiorespiratory endurance for the run.

Behind on maintenance?  Yoga

Some love for Lululemon!

I don’t need to go deep into the benefits of yoga for athletes but I thought I’d just give you all a little reminder.  The benefits of yoga for all types of athletes are well documented.  An hour or two a week at the yoga studio can translate into improvements in core strength which helps in injury prevention, better flexibility for cyclists and triathletes looking to shave seconds off their time trial, and can help runners deal with chronic tissue related issues such as IT Band Syndrome and tight muscles.  Plus, regular patrons of the local yoga studio are usually pretty easy on the eyes.

In Conclusion

There are lots of great ways to stay active between seasons.  Its important to take a break from the rigours of training for triathlon, running, or cycling as we somehow quickly seem to forget how mentally and physically taxing training for those sports at a high level can be.  Participating in other sports is also a great way to get into a team environment that involves some of our friends who may not be crazy enough to sign up for marathons and Ironmans.  Taking this time to rekindle a flame with an old sport, or light a flame with new one will also help get you excited for training in your career sport next year.