Whether you race every single weekend or target just a couple of races per year to take part in, the off-season represents a time to take your foot off the gas a bit and not focus so much on high-intensity/volume training.
This often means being a bit more carefree with one’s diet as well… but to a degree.
Before we go any further, it is important to note that I absolutely believe that taking a break from competing and training at a high level is critical not just to one’s physical self but also to give one a mental break.
Perhaps it’s best to start off by stating that what constitutes an ‘off-season’ is highly subjective.
For some, it might mean taking three months off completely from doing any type of exercise, while for others, it might mean reducing their mileage by 30% and focusing on other forms of exercise.
Reasons For An Off-Season
There are countless reasons to include an off-season in your annual plan, but today we will focus on the four most common ones:
- Take a mental break
- Take a physical break
- Focus on weak areas
- Enjoy more free time to binge on Netflix and to participate in other sports and activities
Let’s delve into a little more detail:
#1: Mental Break
For a lot of athletes, the off-season is more about getting a mental break than a physical break from the rigors and demands of training and racing.
Knowing that you don’t have to set the alarm for 4 am to get in that long run or that you can have that extra glass of wine and not feel bad about it is what an off-season is all about!
While some athletes can compete year-round without any diminished enthusiasm for their sport, they are a rare breed.
For the rest of us, taking time off from training and racing and having a period of reduced volume and intensity is key to maintaining our passion and enthusiasm for our sport.For me personally, it’s what allows me to come into the next season ready and raring to go!
#2: Physical Break
The primary reason to take a physical break is to allow the body to recover from all of the stressors put on it during the racing season or while training for a big race.
For some, this might mean recovering from a nagging injury, while for others, it might mean preventing injury for occurring.
#3: Focus On Weak Areas
While you can certainly work on your weak areas during the off-season, these ‘weak’ areas should be addressed, assessed, and worked on at all times during your training – not just during the off-season.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions of the off-season.
If you only focus on your weak areas during the off-season and not throughout the racing season, your weak areas will continue to be weak areas.
This pertains to the ‘use it or lose it’ training principle, which is discussed later in this article.
#4: Switch It Up
We all know that training takes up a lot of time, so having an opportunity to take part in activities that we often set aside during our high volume and intensity season can be quite a treat.
Let’s Talk About Stress
As noted above, a lot of athletes take time off to rest and recoup from the physical stressors of racing and training. While this makes sense and is all good and fine, let’s discuss stress on the opposite side of the off-season.
One area of stress not often discussed is with respect to getting back in shape after the off-season. More often than not, when an athlete resumes their training, there is a race on the calendar that they are preparing for.
Letting oneself go too much during the off-season will result in a lot of stress (both physical and mental) to get in shape for the first race and, or goal race of the season.
You should never start your training totally deconditioned.
The point of an off-season is to reduce your workload, partake in other sports and activities, and enjoy things that you might not have time for during training… NOT to completely stop exercising.
Many athletes follow a fairly regimented healthy diet throughout the racing season but let themselves go during the off-season.
This presents another dynamic when getting back in shape, as athletes are not just training to increase their cardiovascular fitness but also to reduce their body fat percentage.
Therefore, as one of the goals for the off-season is to reduce the stressors of training and racing, why put yourself in such a deep hole that you add that stress right back when its time to get ready for the first race of the season?
Reduce your workload, eat an extra cookie here and there, and have fun… but stay in shape!
Use It Or Lose It!
Without fail, in the wintertime, cycling magazines and websites do write-ups about the off-season training camps of professional cycling teams.
In addition, in these write-ups, there are undoubtedly lots of images of cyclists lifting weights. Here’s the million-dollar question… why?
Most top pro cyclists do not lift weights during the race season. So why do they do it in the ‘off-season?’ The answer likely lies in the antiquated way how many endurance athletes train.
Specifically, many of today’s athletes are coached by former athletes who did this sort of training, and therefore now train their athletes in the same way.
The reality is that this example fails the ‘use it or lose it’ training principle. Meaning if you do not continue to use or train in a particular area, many or all of the benefits will be lost.
Therefore, if you perform strength training during the off-season, you must also perform strength training during the racing season to keep and/or increase the gains that you made during the off-season.
But I’ll Get Out Of Shape!
As alluded to above, the goal of an off-season is to allow the body and mind a chance to recover and prepare for the next year’s training and racing. While some athletes welcome the off-season, others despise it due to their fear of losing fitness.
Here’s the thing… it is not possible to stay at one’s peak fitness year-round. So yes, an individual will lose some fitness during the off-season as that is the point of the off-season.
Also, as noted above, the goal of an off-season is not to get completely out of shape but rather to decrease one’s workload while still maintaining a solid level of fitness.
Having an off-season is important for both your physical and mental well-being, but with respect to training volume and intensity, the focus should be on ‘reduce,’ not ‘eliminate.’
This is because words matter, and due to the connotation attached to ‘off,’ being to stop training, ‘transition’ is a more applicable term due to the fact that this time period represents the transition from one racing season to the next.
So, take a bit of downtime, enjoy your transition season with activities you don’t often have time for, and return to training recovered and ready to go!