As the race calendar clears at the end of the year, many athletes have a scheduled block of no training, referred to as the “off-season”.
While some athletes relish in this time off the bike – others can feel anxious about the absence of training. The truth is that the off-season provides an opportunity to use the active rest and recuperation constructively, for the season ahead.
Our coaches share some key advice on how to make use of this time off the bike to set up a productive season ahead.
This time out is as much about mental rest as it is about physical rest.
We generally prescribe a complete break from cycling of around 2 weeks to start your off season. Evidence has shown that prolonged rest does erode many of the training adaptions from the season, so we tend to keep this around 10 to 14 days.
In this time, a limited amount of deconditioning is actually a goal – as the reduced stress allows a better physical recovery and can result in greater gains for the new season.
If an athlete has experienced a very prolonged and strenuous race season then a relative rest of up to 4 weeks can be beneficial. However, during this time the athlete should participate in recreational physical activity to avoid excessive deconditioning and a loss of the adaptations from the previous season.
Excessive deconditioning can result in a failure to progress from one season to the next as the athlete will spend a significant portion of the season reconditioning instead of progressing.
We therefore recommend including recreational running, hiking, swimming, cross-country skiing, Ski-mo or other dynamic activities following the first two weeks of rest in the off season.
In the modern era of cycling, seasons can be extremely long – most especially with athletes taking on more than one discipline. Don’t underestimate your mental fatigue at the end of the season, which can negatively impact your overall motivation.
Signs of decreased motivation can include the obvious, such as incomplete training sessions and under performance– or in other more subtle ways like reduced communication with your coach.
Central nervous system fatigue can take significantly longer to recover from, compared to physical fatigue of training and racing.
In your off-season, don’t overburden yourself with commitments, errands and chores that can contribute to overall mental stress. Take time to rest fully by increasing sleep time, performing relaxing activities such as reading a book, mindfulness and meditation and connecting with nature.
RELAX YOUR DIET
Because you’re being less physically active, a concern for many athletes is weight gain during this time. Picking up some weight is however completely normal, healthy and encouraged! The body cannot sustain your optimal race weight all year, without being at risk of injury and illness.
Once you commence your new season with some structured training, you’ll quickly lose the weight. Remember, it’s also very normal and acceptable to gain some kilograms in the early phases of your season.
INJURY MANAGEMENT AND PREVENTION
The off-season provides an opportunity to address any injuries or niggles that you have been experiencing. This might be as simple as chronic muscle strain – or more serious injuries that require surgery and some additional time off to recover.
Evaluating your biomechanics and adjusting your bike fit are best done in the off-season. This allows your body to adapt to any changes as your load is gradually increased. The converse of this is potential injury, discomfort and temporary loss of performance – should any drastic changes be made mid-season, when your training load is much higher.
LOOK BACK TO MOVE FORWARD
With the focus on downtime and without the pressure of training, we like to use this time to objectively reflect on the season you have just completed.
Go through your training data, preferably with your coach, and be honest with each other about how you approached your training; what factors influenced your training, where did you feel you did well, and where you can improve?
Once you have done this, you can start formalising your goals and plan your new season accordingly.