With the off-season here, there is usually a growing phenomenon that comes with it – we are talking about challenges! This means that athletes in their desire to remain motivated, to try new things or to address areas of their fitness toolbox that may have been neglected during the training season, enlist themselves and recruit a bunch of their friends in a ‘challenge’. But, are they good for you?

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With the off-season there is usually a phenomenon that comes with it – Training challenges! You know how they go, it is the beginning of a new month and your friends asked you to join the ‘this is a crazy bad ass’ challenge by doing an activity every day for so many days/weeks/months. There may be a variety of formats but the jest is the same: do so much of something pushing the boundaries of what you have done before.

And the goal for most challenges come from the right place: to help participants to remain motivated, encourage them try new things or to address areas of their fitness toolbox that may have been neglected during the training season. Still, the question is, are these challenges a smart way to do some training during the season?

The answer is: IT DEPENDS! Yeah, like with anything training related and if you are familiar with my coaching approach, there is very rarely a single definitive answer to training. Nevertheless, you may often hear coaches/athletes preaching specific single ways to do things as the only way. This may range from: “only forefoot striking is the correct to run, barefoot/minimalist shoes are better than cushioned shoes, you have to ride an arbitrary number of miles to race and Ironman, etc.” the list goes on and one, but when one objectively review the current evidence, it is very easy to realize that’s never the case. Why? Because some athletes succeed because of a particular way of training and others don’t. Most importantly, some athletes succeed because of the coaching approach and other in spite of it (this is a theme for another article!)

Well, if you know me, then you know I rarely proclaim such definitive arguments simple because in most cases the answer it tends to be “it depends”. And going back to the topic of challenges, the reason this may help or not comes down to the type of challenge you may choose to participate in, the training load (how much and how often) you will do and how this fits into your long term goals (big picture).

Let’s say during the racing season your running performance was your biggest limiter, then a challenge focusing on running more may be a great way to address this in a fun way, push you outside your comfort zone and correct something that will benefit you in the long term. The important operating word here is “may” and that’s because, as long as you approach the challenge in a smart way doing enough of it within your own limitations, then it will benefit you in the long run.

For instance, if prior to the challenge you were running 3x per week and your challenge is to ‘run every day for 30 days’ then, the challenge may help you as long as you build up slowly, you don’t follow arbitrary distances or paces, run more by feel and understand the point is to run a bit more (every day) and that spending some time on your feet (whether 5 or 30 min) is much important than anything else.

On the other hand it may NOT be a good challenge is you start running an arbitrary number of ‘miles/min or shooting for unrealistic paces; by doing this, in a matter of days your body will be unable to handle the load and you may either have to skips sessions forfeiting the challenge to avoid injury or push through (to keep up with the challenge) and risk ending up injured.

The same applies regardless of the challenge, whether you are doing pull ups, or swimming more or whatever. If you have NOT been doing the activity consistently in the past, then you have to approach it with caution and use the challenge in a smart positive way to motivate you and enjoy the benefits you can gain from it. Otherwise, the challenge may turn into some sort on unhealthy obsession (“I have to do this because…”) and turn into a negative force and a sure way to screw up your season before it starts.

I am not saying challenges are bad and that you shouldn’t test your boundaries or push outside your comfort zone, please do! But be smart, objective, realistic, do it within your fitness constraints and remember the training challenge should be a positive way to help you for the coming year.

As a coach, I sometimes do this with my athletes, I either let them know we will have a ‘training challenge’ ahead to focus on something or they know the focus of a particular training block it will be ‘x’ and then together we can focus on addressing the goal within the specific limitations.

In summary, whether you coach yourself or have a coach, training challenges can be a fun, positive way to help you address specific things during the off-season. Just setup objective goals, be smart and don’t lose sight of the big picture – the challenge will be positive as long as it keeps you healthy while pushing outside your comfort zone.

Keep enjoying the ‘off-season’ and be on the look for our Off-season FREE webinar which will be announced in coming days.

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