If You Can, Invest Some Money in Yourself During the Offseaon
The offseason is a great time to see a soft-tissue specialist—a physical therapist, chiropractor, massage therapist or ART specialist—who can not only give you an assessment of how strong or weak your body is, but can also work on any problem areas.
It's rare that runners feel 100-percent healthy all of the time. Yet when you're in the middle of training mode, it's hard to rationalize taking a few days off to see someone and let the body heal itself. That's why the offseaon is such a great time to take care of aches, pains or imbalances.
If you don't have someone to see, visit your local running shoe store, and someone there should have a couple of good recommendations for you. Finally, go out of your way to find an ART therapist. I've found that a good ART professional is worth his or her weight in gold.
Everyone's Offseason Break Differs
There is nothing set in stone about what activities you should complete during your offseason break once you've taken a few days of complete rest. While this work could be considered cross-training, I prefer to call it aerobic work—workouts that are completely fueled by the aerobic metabolism.
I live in Colorado, and at every point in the year, hiking is an option (although you might need snow shoes in certain places in the winter); I encourage runners to take advantage of the trails. Walking up and down trails strengthens the muscles and tendons in the ankle, knee and hip joints, and can help improve "joint integrity," which is beneficial for all runners.
More: Your Guide to Hiking
If you live in the flatlands, try a brisk walk, swim laps, or try aqua jogging. The key here is to do it gently—the goal is to get a small aerobic stimulus that doesn't put much stress on the ankles, knees and hips.
Options abound. Nordic skiing is easy on the joints and a great way to build aerobic fitness. Bikes and elliptical machines are available at most gyms, and are good options as well. Remember, when you first get back into the aerobic work, keep things gentle. You aren't trying to gain fitness for your run training, but rather getting in a few weeks of aerobic stimuli before you resume running.
Make General Strength and Mobility Gains
There's no better time to make gains in General Strength and Mobility (GSM) than during the offseason break. I prioritize this work over aerobic cross-training during the offseaon. I would rather see a runner complete 30 to 40 minutes of GSM—this could include some Active Isolated Flexibility work, also known as "rope stretching"—for a few weeks, then start running, than see someone in the pool every day, do no GSM, and then jump into their run training.
The bottom line is that all runners—from the most elite athletes in the world to people just off the couch and training for a 5K—can get stronger and use GSM to prevent injuries. I'm a big believer in runners doing non-running work because it allows them to run more miles more intense workouts. GSM work greatly decreases the frequency of injuries for those runners who do it daily.