Winter Is Coming... Is There An "Off-Season" For Fitness?

Late Autumn Road.jpg

We've all heard of the "off-season" for competitive athletes.  It's that time of year when they're not in competition, and are either backing off on training to recover for their next season, or amping up their training to be in better condition.  Either way, managing the off-season well is often crucial to the performance of an athlete from season to season, and in increasing career longevity.

But what about those of us who don't compete?

What if our "sport" is simply being better at our lives - being stronger, healthier and happier?  Is there an off-season for that?

Well...yes and no.

The typical cycle of fitness over the year for many people is pretty sporadic.  Here's what we often see:

  • (+) January - lots of people, full of New Year's Resolution determination, hit the gym hard
  • (-) February to April - about 90% of those people have already "fallen off the wagon", and those who remain are "kinda" working out, basically just maintaining
  • (+) May & June - the pre-summer scramble begins, trying to "tone-up" for the summer
  • (-) July & August - the summer slack-off, when BBQ's and beaches take priority over fitness
  • (+) September - the "boy I ate a lot of BBQ", undo the summer slack-off phase
  • (-) October & November - with the weather turning, folks head back into maintenance
  • (-) December - Christmas party season combines with crappy weather, and folks just curl up at home instead of hitting the gym

...and then next January, it starts all over again!  If you look at this typical yearly cycle, you'd think the average person is more "off-season" than on, with eight of the twelve months of the year being maintenance or "off-the-rails" kind of behaviour.

The problem is, being consistent with your training only 1/3 of the time, broken up throughout the year, doesn't lead to long-term success.  Even worse, just jumping up off the couch and overdoing it in January / May & June / September can lead to injuries that prevent you from being consistent even if you want to.

So what's the answer?

For most competitive athletes, their training is focused on achieving peak performance within a very narrow window of time each year.  While true professionals are always "in-shape", even they take things to a higher level of intensity and focus in preparation for that big championship event that makes their year.

For the rest of us, consistency year-round is key because our "sport" is life, and life happens all year.  There is no "off-season" in life.

Does this mean you need to go hard in the gym 365 days a year, and eat nothing but baked chicken breast and green beans for eternity?  Absolutely not.

Here's how you manage fitness year-round:

  1. BE MINDFUL OF WHAT YOUR BODY CAN GIVE - give your best effort in your training, but know that sometimes your best on the day is not going to be your all-time best.  Some days your body may only have 80% or 60% or whatever % of your normal "best" available, and THAT'S OK.  Give 100% of that 60%, and be happy that you're not just sitting on your ass on the couch like a lot of folks.  Some days, you crush your workouts.  Some days, just getting your feet through the door of the gym is a victory.
  2. DO A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING - for balanced fitness that will improve your quality of life, you need it all:  strength, power, mobility, and endurance.  Train strength, power and intervals in the gym 2-3 times per week, get out and walk/hike/run on your non-gym days, and mobilise daily.  Move as often as possible, every day.  Work with a trainer to help you develop a plan for continued progress.
  3. BE MINDFUL OF WHAT YOUR BODY NEEDS - feed your body quality, real food.  Eat only enough to satisfy your physical hunger, not to feel full.  Savour and enjoy great quality food, rather than seeking out quantity.  Get a decent night's sleep most of the time.  Learn to breathe properly and relax.  Get help from a coach to make healthy behaviours fit your life, instead of trying to fit your life around healthy behaviours.
  4. BE KIND TO YOURSELF - everyone gets off track.  Nobody is perfect.  Love your self and your body as they are right now, but know that self-love DOES NOT equal constant self-indulgence.  Learn to turn down that inner critic, and know that YOU ARE AWESOME.  Forget "ideals" and just be the best YOU possible!
  5. TAKE TIME TO ENJOY LIFE - when you're on vacation, BE on vacation.  Trust that the habits you develop from steps 1-3 above will help you make better choices while still enjoying your time off.  If you do indulge in too many poolside margaritas while on holidays, IT DOESN'T MATTER.  That 5-10% of your life where you're on holidays is not going to completely undo the rest of the year, as long as you're consistent with better choices the rest of the time.

Love yourself.  Treat your body with respect.  Any questions or comments, let me know.

--Coach JP