3 Ways to Diversify Your Off-Season Triathlon Training

By Tyler Tafelsky


The off-season can be a cold, dark time for triathletes. And yet, it’s the perfect opportunity to strengthen weaknesses, experiment with new forms of training, and assess your purpose and direction in the sport of triathlon.

If you’re like me, you look forward to some time off from triathlon-specific training and enjoy other means of exercise to stay fit. This doesn’t have to come with sacrifices, either. Consider the off-season an opportune time to experience alternative forms of movement that don’t involve swimming, biking, or running (but can still optimize your performance in all three of these disciplines.)

So when you’re dreading a 5 A.M. masters swim or brisk six-mile run in below freezing temps, do something different. Not only is training diversification vital to your sustainability in the sport of triathlon, but incorporating new forms of training will only make you a stronger and more well-rounded athlete.

If you’re short on ideas, here are three ways you can diversify your off-season triathlon training with something a bit more novel.

Strength Training

Most endurance athletes are averse to hitting the gym out of fear of gaining weight. They fall under the impression that adding ten pounds of lean muscle mass is going to slow them down on race day. Well, there’s a reason why some of the world’s most elite endurance athletes “get under the bar” and do strength work like back squats, deadlifts, lunges, step-ups and pull-ups.

The back squat is a quintessential movement that can serious power to your cycling.

Take cycling for instance, the longest and most time-consuming leg in triathlon. Strengthening your glutes, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles can significantly boost power to the pedals. Just ask Tour de France winners Lance Armstrong and Peter Sagan. Both of these elite performers continuously put time in the gym, and they continuously win some of the most competitive races as a result.

For me personally, since increasing my 5 rep deadlift from 135 pounds to 235 pounds over the course of a few months, I feel immensely stronger on the bike as well as more efficient on the run. Not only can I hold a higher wattage than before without feeling as fatigued, but my glutes are always “turned-on” throughout the day. And although I’ve gained about 15 pounds, I am much leaner and faster than I was last year.

I know it can be intimidating to get under the bar and start practicing new movements that seem foreign. But it’s ultimately stepping out of your comfort zone that’s going to make you a better triathlete in the long run. If you’re new to this style of strength training, hire a coach, trainer, or research proper technique online. I can almost guarantee that you’ll feel improvements in a matter of few sessions.

Efficiency Training

Beyond strength training, another often overlooked approach to off-season triathlon training is focusing on efficiency. It’s all too easy to become narrow-minded during our training that all we seem to care about is completing the mileage or time of each workout.

A classic case of over-striding can be fixed with the right drills designed to fine-tune running technique.

In reality, if we set aside time to improve our form and improve upon our mechanical weaknesses, we could become dramatically more efficient. Such efforts can not only make us faster, but we can realize greater meaning and enjoyment in sport (all while warding-off potential injuries.)

If you’re willing to commit to becoming more efficient, I’ve found resources like Pose Method, Chi Running, and Total Immersion to be some of the best tools for triathletes. I’ve also found videos from Bobby McGee, an Olympic-level triathlon coach, to be invaluable nuggets worth bookmarking.

Check out this short video of coach Bobby McGee’s three essential run drills. These are great pre and post-run drills to experiment with year round.

Mobility Training

Mobility, although similar to flexibility, is a different concept. True mobility is defined as your ability to move into certain ranges of motion with the ability to sustain such positions under load or tension. So while your might have flexible hip muscles, your mobility could still be poor due to impingements near joints and areas of insertion.

The “Coach Stretch” is one of the best ways to free tight hip flexors and quads. Remain in this uncomfortable yet liberating position for a few minutes. See the video below for more.

Here’s a common example: your spine, psoas, and hips might be flexible enough to get into a very deep aero position. But are you able to sustain 200+ watts in that position without any sort of postural compromise or muscle breakdown?

That’s where mobility training can pay dividends in the off-season. Particularly essential for long-course athletes who hold an aero position for hours at a time, doing soft tissue work or self myofascial release (SMR) is crucial to restore proper mobility and tissue functioning.

The beauty of focused mobility training is that you can experience immediate results. Just ten minutes of hunting for hot-spots and breaking apart tacked tissues will yield noticeable changes in the ability to move more freely.

And you don’t need deep tissue sports massage, either. A $2 lacrosse ball can be a highly effective tool to loosen tight muscles and matted tissues. I personally find mobility training to more effective than basic stretching. But it requires the right set of tools, and the right approach, to do it right.

Below are three of my favorite mobility tools, all of which together cost less than professional sports massage:

  • Two lacrosse balls taped together into a “peanut.” This is great for behind the neck and down the spine.
  • The Thera Cane is a weird but genius tool to hit the back. You can also leverage the cane up against a wall to dig into your lumbar spine, gluteus medius, and tensor fasciae latae (which are prime contributors to IT band syndrome when tight.)
  • If you use a foam roller, but don’t feel any form of discomfort, then I am sorry. You are wasting your time. Unlocking tight muscles should be very uncomfortable. Ditch your crappy foam roller and invest in a RumbleRoller. You’ll be glad you did.
The RumbleRoller comes in various sizes. This is the longer version, which is great for rolling out the back

I also encourage you to check out some of Dr. Kelly Starrett’s MobilityWOD videos on YouTube. While this dude might appear to be more a CrossFit-centric power lifter, he works with all types of elite-level athletes, and his work applies to every human.

Lastly, try this sequence (especially the “coach stretch”) and see what kind of changes occur in your body. You may notice a profound shift in how open your hips feel.

Longevity in the sport of triathlon requires constant learning and self discovery. Contrary to the behavior patterns of most “Type A” athletes, DO NOT be afraid to step out of your monotonous routine and try something new. Outside of your comfort zone is where growth happens.

Photo credit: Matthias Ripp (main) & Daniel Gottlieb