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Off-Season Swim Training Tips For Better Race Results

Part 2: It’s Time To Dream Big And Plan Your Play

Want to achieve even better race results next year? Then now is the time to review the peaks and valleys of this past season in order to chart a winning off-season swim training plan.  In this second installment of our two-part VasaBlog series, our expert coaches explain how to best utilize your off-season training months and ensure your goals are met come next race season.

Off-Season Swim Training

It’s that time of year when swimmers and triathletes take a moment to reflect on successes and failures, set new goals, and “plan their play.” Some affectionately refer to this crucial time of year as, “Dreaming Season.”

Triathlon coach & long-time athlete, Keith Watson, who is the former Chief Operating Officer at Training Peaks (and now COO here at Vasa), says that he and his team started using the term “Dreamin’ Season” a decade ago. They noticed that right after the Ironman World Championships in Kona had wrapped up, Training Peaks saw a flurry of activity. “Post Kona, triathletes get goal-driven and aspirational,” said Watson. “That Ironman race, in particular, inspires people to find a coach, make a training plan, or recruit a friend who can help them do something virtuous and big. People start setting goals, and it’s contagious.”

Conrad Goeringer, Ironman-certified coach and author of The Working Triathlete, agrees that this is a pivotal time of year for swimmers also weighs in on some important off-season swim training tactics in this second part of our off-season swim training series.

Varying Your Off-Season Swim Training Workouts

Watson is a fan of indoor training and likes his athletes to vary their workouts. He highly recommends his triathletes use a smart bike trainer. He’s also an advocate of his athletes investing in a Vasa SwimErg. And if his triathletes don’t have a treadmill, he sends them to the track.

”Not only is indoor training the best quality bang for your buck, but it trains the mind,” said Watson.  “You have to focus and stay within yourself. Staring at a wall in front of you or floor underneath you, it removes distractions and lets you be with your pain or discomfort in ways that serve you when you’re competing. 

For athletes without access to a Vasa SwimErg, Watson has them use paddles, pull buoys and a band around the ankles in the pool, all of which allow them to focus their winter swim training on building upper body strength and efficiency. Watson believes that it’s still important for athletes to get into the pool and feel the water and that not every athlete can handle the intensity of SwimErg training alone in their basement.

Consistency Across Off-Season Swim Training Disciplines

Watson strives to create consistency across disciplines, not just the swim.

“I like to create an environment where training is repeatable,” said Watson. “For runners, a track or treadmill is an important tool. It’s a place where runners can dial in pacing, and get good quality work in a controlled setting. Like swimming with a Vasa, the mental stimulation of running in circles is different than treadmill running. It gives athletes renewed energy for the race.”

As a coach, Watson is a fan of data. He uses power meters and heart rate monitors in his coaching.

“One day I might want someone to hold a certain wattage,” said Watson. “When I get to use a power meter on race day, it provides some valuable feedback. And If I have data, I can use Training Peak’s Best Bike Split feature to model out an athlete’s threshold.  That data gives the athlete a map of what wattage they should maintain during each part of the bike course in order to be their best on the bike and to get off the bike and run a marathon at their fullest potential.”

Keith Watson Coach Off-Season Swim Training
Keith Watson coached athlete Dave Eurich for Ironman Santa Rosa in 2019. They plan to leverage the Vasa SwimErg in Dave’s 2020 swim training plan.

Don’t Be A Slave To The Numbers

But Watson discourages his athletes from becoming a slave to the numbers.

“I like power meters and heart rate monitors,” said Watson. “But you have to remember that you’ll have good days and bad days. The best day training is the day you get out and train, not the numbers you hit.”

Goering also subscribes to the notion that any day an athlete gets out to train is a good day. “I want training to become a habit,” he said.

Avoid Off-Season Swim Training  Burnout

More than anything, both Goeringer and Watson stress that the off-season is a time to reset and recharge, and this includes how we approach off-season swim training.

“It’s when athletes regain their passion for triathlon,” says Watson, who focuses on prescribing workouts people will enjoy, group training, and unstructured, active explorations of local trails and roads.

“When training interferes with your life, you start hating it,” said Watson. “I peel back the volume if someone’s burned out. I get people to think about what attracted them to tri in the first place. And it’s never because they were obsessed with intervals.”

Keep Your Perspective

And that brings us to goal setting.

“Usually when an athlete says they want to break a particular time or qualify for a world championship, it’s not something they can necessarily do in six months,” stressed Watson. “A coach can’t make you achieve goals instantly. It’s often a multiyear process. Athletes need to remember that they will get better with continuous effort.”

Keith Watson Coach
Keith Watson coaching one of his athletes

According to Watson, the most successful athletes dream big but dream realistically. Every season builds on itself. However, Watson says his triathletes with full-time jobs can only train 12 hours a week, instead of 20. These athletes are still going to get 12-hour a week results, Watson says.

“One of the biggest things is I try to do with my Type A, goal-driven athletes is to help them keep perspective on what’s important,” said Watson. “In the end, it’s not just your finishing time, or where you placed in the field that matters. It’s that you’re fortunate enough to get out and do this kind of stuff. ‘Dreamin’ Season’ or race season, whether the athlete is having a great season or not, I always emphasize that.”

Did You Miss Part 1 Of This Important Off-Season Swim Training Series? Read It Here: Part 1 – Winter Swim Training Tips For Better Race Season Results

Also, be sure to check out the benefits of remote coaching


Want to improve your freestyle swimming technique, efficiency, power, and endurance during the offseason? 

Take our free 5-part online Freestyle swimming clinic!  In this no-nonsense swim clinic, taught by top coaches, including technique coach Karlyn Pipes (she holds over 200 Masters Swimming World Records) you will learn five essential elements to get you swimming stronger, better, faster.