Off-Season Part II: What Does It Look Like?


As I noted in my prior post, I’ve engaged in a lot of fun and challenging physical activities. Now it’s time to step back a bit and rest.

Effective training is made up of peaks and valleys. Training and rest are flip sides of the same coin. Rest must follow training in order for adaptations and progress to take place. The more extensive, prolonged and/or intense the training, the more rest is needed. Here’s an outline of how I plan to conduct my off-season.  (It’s not technically a full season, btw.)

Short-term plan

Week 1:

  • No running.  None.
  • Only easy bike rides: to/from work, maybe 1 or 2 easy road rides, no mountain biking
  • de-load week from lifting: This is week 4 of a 4-week block. I’ve been lifting 4 days/week; this week will probably be just 2 at the most. I’ll do some variations on the lifts I’ve been doing. Workouts will be short. Less will be more.
  • Prioritize sleep.

    Week 2:

  • To paraphrase a friend’s take on off-season: If I feel like it, I’ll do it. If I don’t feel like it, then I won’t.
  • “It” being anything from road/trail running to road/trail riding to hiking to whatever else there might be.
  • Start a new 4-week lifting block. This will involve hard work but since my riding and running will be reduced, I’ll still be resting to some degree.
  • Continue to prioritize sleep.
  • Weeks 3-4:

  • This will take me to the end of October.
  • Continue lifting
  • Some mountain biking
  • Some trail running
  • No real planned training beyond the lifting schedule
  • Ski season comes up soon.
  • Feasting/gluttony season is also waddling my way.

Beyond one month:

We have a big trip coming up the first week in December. It’s a scuba diving and other-fun-stuff trip to the Caribbean island of Dominica. Since it’ll be a beach gig, the wife and I want to look our best in swimsuits and such.

The real challenge is that my wife and I are in fairly good shape. We don’t need to lose much fat. Our big-picture eating habits are mostly very good. We exercise very regularly and we have a consistent, healthy sleep routine. There aren’t any big, bad habits we need to change. Thus it’s small details we need to mind. Here are some thoughts:

  • We’ve given up booze except for my birthday and Thanksgiving.
  • The only sweets we’ll have are following a significant (minimum 2-hr) physical effort such as a ride, run or strenuous hike.
  • It’s probably a good idea for me to give up peanut butter. It’s probably a little too easy to eat. Further, that it’s ground up makes the calories easier for my body to access than regular nuts.
  • Maybe consider giving up dairy?
  • As December approaches we will likely cut the carbs a good bit, and up the protein, fat and vegetables.
  • It’s very easy during this off-season situation for weight to creep up. With all the training I was doing this summer, I needed to eat a lot and I could eat a lot without any consequence. Now I plan to lower my activity level but my nervous system will still want to eat like I was during the summer. Thus…
  • I’m trying out the Eat This Much app to help me plan meals that correspond to my needs. This helps bring awareness to my current habits so I can tweak them in the right direction.
  • I need someone to take my body comp.
  • The current lifting scheme should help add muscle.
  • I’ll gradually resume significant endurance activity which should contribute to reduction in body fat.
  • Review my Precision Nutrition text to figure out else I need to do.



Off-Season Part I: Resting is Weird.


I just finished a 10-mile trail race and I feel good. I’m pleased that my Achilles held up. It seems I took the right approach to addressing the pain in that are.

I am grateful and very happy to have had a lot of fun over the past few months in the great Colorado outdoors. This spring and summer were full of activities including the following:

Besides these events, I put in the time to train for all of them. I’ve also continued lifting though for most of these past few months it’s been at a minimal level, about twice a week though that has changed recently. It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work, but now it’s definitely time to shift gears.

I’m feeling a bit tired and beat-up. I can say without hesitation that it’s time for some rest. Rest is an interesting concept. Most people probably get a little too much rest. Some of us find it difficult to take time off though. Strangely, it can be a challenge to time away from challenging physical work.

Saying, “It’s so difficult to take a break from all this grueling stuff,” sounds loaded with pretentious fake humility. I don’t say this to sound like some sort of supreme, tough-guy super-athlete. There is a strange type of mental state that many of us have that isn’t entirely rational, healthy or wise. Our love our chosen activity(-ies) can verge into irrational dependence and obsession.

Our running, riding, swimming, climbing, skiing, lifting, — our athletic achievements and work — define us. What are we without the sweat, toil and achievement?

We also start to think crazy thoughts. Take just 48-72 hours off from working out and many an exercise aficionado starts to go insane. We think things like,

“All my muscles have shriveled like prunes and I’ve gained 30 lbs of pure fat!”

“My lung capacity is probably that of an emphysema victim!”

I am nothing but crippled, human lard!

That’s just after a few days! Taking several weeks or a whole month away from training can be excruciating!

This is all nonsense crazy-talk. It’s foolish to think we can keep pushing and pushing to no end. Following a serious season of training and/or competition, rest is exactly the activity an athlete needs. It’s easy to accept this fact on an intellectual level. It’s more difficult to accept it emotionally.

Worth Reading: What Makes a Great Personal Trainer? Recovery, Pronation, Bringing Up Your Weak Spots


What makes a great trainer?

The Personal Training Development Center (PTDC) has a lot of useful, informative articles for personal trainers.  Are Personal Trainers Missing the Point is a recent piece with which I agree. The key observation is this:

“The ability to correctly coach exercises is slowly becoming a lost art in the training world, despite that it’s the most fundamental component of being a personal trainer/coach.”

The article advocates for trainers to teach the squat, deadlift, bench press, standing press and pull-up.  (I would ad the push-up to the list.) It’s also suggested that trainers learn to teach regressions and progressions of these exercises. These exercises are the essentials. They have been and still are the basic building blocks of effective exercise programs and they offer the most return on investment of a client’s training time. Read the article to learn three steps to becoming a better coach.

Running recovery

Alex Hutchinson writes for Runner’s World and the Running Times. He recently wrote an article called the Science of Recovery.  He briefly discusses six methods: antioxidants, jogging (as during a cool down), ice bath, massage, cryosauna and compression garments. Anyone who trains hard–runner or not–may find the article interesting.


Pete Larson at gives us Do You Pronate? A Shoe Fitting Tale. Here, he describes overhearing a conversation between a confused shoe store customer and the mis-informed employee who tries to educate her on pronation. Contrary to what many of us believe, pronation is not a dire evil problem to be avoided at all costs. Larson says it well:

 “The reality is that everybody pronates, and pronation is a completely normal movement… We might vary in how much we pronate, but asking someone if they pronate is like asking them if they breathe. I’d actually be much more concerned if the customer had revealed that no, she doesn’t pronate. At all. That would be worrisome.”

If you’re a runner then I highly suggest you learn about the realities of pronation.

Supplemental strength

I love strength training. I love all the subtleties and ins & outs of getting stronger. One area that I’m learning about is supplemental work (aka accessory work). This is weight training used to bring up one’s strength on other lifts (typically the squat, deadlift, bench press or standing press).  With supplemental work, we’re looking to find weak areas and make them stronger.
Dave Tate at EliteFTS is one of the foremost experts on all of this. Thus, his article Dave Tate’s Guide to Supplemental Strength is very much up my alley, and it should be up yours if you’re serious about getting stronger. He discusses several categories of exercises and how to incorporate them into a routine. Below, the term “builders” refers to exercises that build the power lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift):
  1. Always start with the builders. Do not start with the main lift.
    Examples: Floor press, box squat. Sets: 3-5. Reps: 3-5.
  2. Move to supplemental exercises — exercises that build the builders.
    Examples: 2-board press, safety-bar close-stance squat. Sets: 3. Reps: 5-8.
  3. Accessories — Either muscle-based (for size) or movement-based (for strength). Use supersets and tri-sets, as needed.
    Examples: DB presses, biceps curls. Sets: 3. Reps: 10-20.
  4. Rehab/Pre-hab — Whatever you need, nothing more or less. Examples:
    External rotation, face pulls. Sets: 2-3. Reps: 20-30.
This is just a little bit of the article. It’s very detailed. There may not be much here for recreational lifters but for coaches and those of us who have gotten a little deeper into our lifting, it’s a superb article.

Just Over A Week ‘Til Race Day


The marathon is close and I’m feeling it. What does that phrase mean? I’m worn out! A summer of hard training, long runs, fast runs, a brutal trail race and the big 20 mile run Saturday-before-last means the organism that is me is feeling shagged out. My sleep patterns have been off a little lately, I’ve been a bit grumpy, and I’ve had two runs that were tougher and slower than they should’ve been. In other words I’m not in optimal condition.

As they sometimes ask on ESPN, “Is it time to panic?”

I went to a former client and good friend of mine to get his take on my condition. (This guy is a multiple-Ironman competitor and veteran of numerous Olympic distance triathlons, marathons and various very demanding and ugly adventure races.) I told him about all this. His words were, “Congratulations, you’re two weeks out from a marathon. You’ve been training hard. Feeling beat up and tired is completely normal.”

Wonderful! I’m normal! Psychologically, it’s very comforting to have someone who’s gone through this process tell me that all is probably very well. Seems like it’s a good time to discuss exactly what’s going on here and why I might be feeling a bit run over and rundown.

Whether we’re looking at strength training or endurance training, a process known as the General Adaptive (or Adaptation) Syndrome is at work. Rather than try to explain this myself, (I am tired after all) I’ll borrow from Cedric Unholz, a Vancouver-based collegiate strength coach and manual therapist. The following comes from his document, Resistance Training Theory and Adaptation Fundamentals. (Never mind that this is directed at resistance training.  As I said earlier, endurance training processes are essentially the same.)

The Stress-Response Model

The fundamental model underpinning all training and adaptation processes is derived from the ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’ initially outlined by Hans Selye in 1936, and later refined by the same author in 1956. In most training literature this concept is commonly referred to as the ‘supercompensation cycle’.

These models very clearly highlight that training is ultimately about applying appropriate stress to take advantage of the body’s subsequent adaptive responses. Any stimulus/stressor or recovery method, regardless whether acute or chronic in nature, will cause a response that will correspond to the principles of this concept and shape the response curvature. Similarly, a lack or over-application of stimulus will also be accompanied by a corresponding response profile.

In essence, this stress-response model (Figure 2) consists of four phases:

1. ‘Alarm reaction’ following a disruption in homeostasis (e.g. a training stimulus).

2. ‘Resistance’ where the body responds to the stimulus by recovering, repairing itself, and instigating a return towards the initial baseline.

3. ‘Supercompensation’ where the body adapts to the initial stimulus by rebounding above the previous baseline, in order to better cope with the initial disruptive stimulus should it present itself again.

4. ‘Exhaustion’, which could also be termed ‘Detraining’, sees a drop to the initial level of homeostasis (or below) if there is an inappropriate application of following stimulus; whether too much, too soon, or not enough.

Figure 2. The Stress-Response Model based on Hans Selye’s ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’

So in my case, my recent poor runs suggest that I’ve had a little too much stimulation and I was somewhat deep in the alarm phase of this model–somewhere in the A/B range of the curve. The strategy now is to get well into the C part of the curve for the race.

Recovery strategy

The key word here is REST. I need to back off of the running, lifting, cycling, etc. in order to allow for supercompensation. That means lying around a good bit, sleeping in a bit, looking for any opportunity to sit. I’ve also been overeating a bit. I haven’t been too terribly gluttonous but I’ve definitely been taking in more good quality calories.  I’ve also been drinking a bit of delicious tart cherry juice from I got at the local farmer’s market.

Beyond rest and eating, I’ll modify my running plan for the final week before the race. I will likely do a long run on Saturday or Sunday of 6-8 miles and I’ll run it slow and easy. Next week I’ll probably do some speed work early in the week but I’ll cut down the reps. Then the mid-week three mile run at marathon pace sounds about right.

I’ve already cut back my weight workouts and I might do one upper-body focused workout next week but even just working the upper body can tax the whole system, so less is more in this regard.

Finally, if any of this is of interest to you, then definitely have a look at this Running Times article titled How Long Does It Take To Benefit From A Hard Workout? The information here should prove very valuable to anyone trying to strategize their race training.


Today I did a 3 mile tempo run and I felt good. I hit my pace without too much discomfort. All seems well.  I believe I’m right where I need to be.


I Need More Rest & Recovery


Sometimes I tell my clients, “I make all the dumb mistakes so you don’t have to.”  Well, I continue to make less-than-intelligent decisions from time to time when it comes to exercise.  I’ve been working out very hard for several weeks and I seem to have overstepped my boundaries.  I’ve got some aches and pains that are proving difficult to resolve. Therefore it’s time to dial back my efforts, prioritize rest, and let all my various tissues and functions restore themselves.

I want to deadlift 500 lbs.  That’s my big goal this year.  In order to hit this goal I must put in very hard work.  Hard workouts must be balanced by adequate rest–but not total rest.  I’ve been lifting three days per week with the idea that I’m doing one heavy workout, followed by a light workout 48 hours later, then a medium workout again 48 hours after that.  Then it’s two days off lifting and I start it all over. As important as it is to lift hard on the hard day, it’s equally (maybe even more) important to ease up on the other days, especially the light day.  So while I’ve definitely been hitting the hard days, I believe I have fallen short of my goal of lifting light.

So here’s my strategy. I’ve based the next few weeks on a variation of the Texas Method as discussed in Practical Programming for Strength Training, the brilliant book by Rippetoe and Killgore.  This calls for a Monday/Wednesday/Friday type of pattern with a medium workout on Monday, a light workout on Wednesday and and the heavy workout on Friday.  Here’s my plan:

Monday: Medium Day

  • Back squat: 3 x 8 reps
  • Pushups:  3 x to exertion (10-25) but not exhaustion; alternated each workout with
  • chin-ups: 3 x 5 (I may play around with band chin-ups to get more reps; I’m not terribly strong on the pull/chin-ups and my forearm is banged up.)
  • Back extension: 3 x 8-10 reps
  • I must stay far away from anything that feels like exhaustion or muscular failure.
  • I’ll likely add back bench press and/or overhead presses once my wrists and shoulders feel better.

Wednesday: Light Day

  • Turkish Get-Ups: 1×5 reps each arm–AND THAT’S IT!

Friday: Heavy Day

  • Deadlift: work up to 1 x 2 reps near goal max
  • Speed deadlift: 3 x 3 around 70% of goal max alternated each workout with kettlebell swings
  • Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 5 reps
  • chin-ups: 3 x 5 alternated each workout with
  • pushups: 3 x to exertion (10-25 reps)

The key to all this is paying attention to how I test during each workout after every exercise.  I’ll be assessing and re-assessing my range of motion frequently (most likely with a standing toe-touch type of assessment), and I’ll be performing Z-Health joint mobility drills often.  If I tighten up at all or if I feel any pain then I MUST stop and call it a day.  This is of course counter-instinctive to me but I know I’ll feel better if I do.  The ultimate goal is 500 lbs. on that deadlift and I won’t get there if I’m beat up.

Recovery Strategies, Heat Acclimation Training for Cyclists, Healthy Lifestyle vs. Genetics


We’ve got three useful articles to point out.  One deals with recovery strategies for runners, specifically why damage is a good thing.  (I imagine this information will apply to other types of athletes–cyclists, swimmers, weightlifters/bodybuilders for instance).  Another article discusses research into how training in the heat can increase cycling performance in both hot and cool conditions.  Finally, research suggests a healthy lifestyle can affect cardiovascular health more than genetics.

When Damage Is A Good Thing

Steve Magness is a Washington, D.C. area runner and exercise scientist who writes a blog called the Science of Running.  Recently he’s written a piece for Running Times called When Damage is a Good Thing.  Magness does a good job of explaining the training adaptation cycle:

“We improve from training by putting our body through stress that it normally does not encounter. When the body encounters these stressors, whether it is a decrease in oxygen, increase in lactate or low glycogen stores, it responds by increasing our ability to deal with the stressors, thereby improving our running performance. The stress, recover and adapt cycle is the foundation of training.”

Most important to the article though is the discussion of how recovery methods such as anti-inflammatories, ice baths, and antioxidants may impede the adaptations we’re looking for.  Magness states:

“All of this scientific theory and research sounds good, but what does it mean practically?  It doesn’t mean that antioxidants, ice baths, Advil or taking a Gatorade while running is necessarily bad. It means using those items at the wrong time or after the wrong workout could negate some of those hard-earned training adaptations. The key is to understand when it’s beneficial to use those methods and when to avoid them.”

Read the whole article to understand the strategy Magness recommends.  It’s certainly an issue worth pondering if you’re a serious athlete–endurance athlete or otherwise.

Heat Conditioning for Cyclists

Science Daily gives us an article titled Exercising in the Heat May Improve Athletic Performance in Cool and Hot Conditions.  Researchers at the University of Oregon studied two groups of cyclists: one group underwent heat acclimation while training and the other group worked out in a cool environment.  What did the researchers learn?

The study found performance increases of approximately 7 percent after 10 heat acclimation exposures. “In terms of competitive cycling, 7 percent is a really big increase and could mean that cyclists could use this approach to improve their performance in cooler weather conditions,” said researcher Santiago Lorenzo.

Healthy Lifestyle Wins Out Over Genetics

The final article,  Healthy Lifestyle Has Bigger Impact on Cardiovascular Health Than Genetics, also comes from Science Daily.  There are two big points from this article which discusses two studies.

  • To stay healthy in older age,  five key healthy behaviors should be adopted while young.  Those behaviors are: not smoking, low or no alcohol intake, weight control, physical activity and a healthy diet.
  • One of the studies states, “only a small proportion of cardiovascular health is passed from parent to child; instead, it appears that the majority of cardiovascular health is due to lifestyle and healthy behaviors.”  Thus we see that poor genetics is sort of a straw man when it comes to determining our health.  It’s our own behavior that’s far more important.