One of the most important parts in a training plan is the period of time where no training takes place.
That’s right, taking time away from workouts is just as important as slogging away through tough interval sessions.
If you’re an athlete, you’ll probably find yourself in one of two categories after a long race season. The first category is the racer that is totally done–they are cooked and welcome the break. The other category of racer is the one that is still super motivated and wants to keep going.
While these athletes might be in different states of mind, what they do have in common is that once the racing stops, they are already thinking about next year. And the hardest job for a coach is to get either of these athletes to take planned time off of training as part of the actual training plan.
You might be thinking, ‘won’t time off of training make me lose fitness?’
Yes AND no.
A great example is from my first year of coaching. My very first athlete was a world cup XC pro who was approaching a make-or-break year. Things were going good, but the elusive paycheck was just dangling in front. It was November when we came to an agreement to make a big change, and one look at the current training plan said this athlete needed a break.
The prescription: ONE MONTH OF NO BIKES
This athlete came back after this one month break to record a best ever threshold power test on the very first day…and went on to be nearly unbeatable all year!
It seems counter-intuitive to stop training or hang the bike up for a bit… and might even seem like a cop-out on the coach’s end. However this part of training is necessary.
Below are 5 reasons why a break from training is important for next year’s performance:
1. Let your body recover
You’ve asked a lot of your body over the past season. You’ve pushed yourself beyond what you originally thought was possible of yourself in each race and you meticulously trained to have your best performances. You’ve trained and trained and trained. While it might feel like you can go on like this forever, you can’t!
If you do keep going, what’s going to happen is that you’ll plateau in your performance. If you keep going after that, you’ll get overtrained–or equally bad–burnt out!
In this case, you’ll eventually end up needing a break anyway, whether you’re sick of it or can no longer ride. In turn, this means you have less control over when you will perform next season, if at all!
This kind of thing isn’t worth the gamble. Take the time to take a break.
2. Give your head a break
Racing is hard. Training is hard. You might be motivated now, but what you really want is to be motivated for the bulk of races next season. And these are 4-10 months away!
It’s a bit like listening to the same song ever day…eventually you will get over it!
Having a break from things like pumping up your tires, lubing your chain or cleaning your bike might sound trivial, but if you want to keep loving it, you need to step away.
Some of the world’s best DH racers take up to 8-weeks off of the bike in the off-season!
3. Use other muscles
Mountain bikers are really bad at using different muscles. Sure, you can probably pedal and pump your way to fast times on the track, but when is the last time you did an eccentric contraction with your quadriceps?
You can help alleviate muscular imbalances or nip pending problems in the bud if you get out an try something else.
Try running. Play racquetball. Go swimming. Hike. Ski. Try yoga. Try anything that uses your muscles in a different way than you’re used to, or uses new muscle groups all together. This is as much for your body as it is for your head!
Trying something new is a good way to stay active and healthy without training. Plus you’ll love it!
But beware! Take it easy when you get back in to something else. Only a few minutes of a new activity will have your body so sore you won’t be able to move.
4. Catch up with your friends
Your friends miss you. If you’ve been grinding away at a training plan or away at races every weekend, this will be self-explanatory.
5. Regroup for next year
With 11 months of training and racing still fresh in your mind, it’s impossible to reflect on what you did right or wrong. Take a step back and allow time for everything to digest.
It might be on your way to the movies that you finally conclude that you’ve been hitting your braking points wrong all year–but now you know and you can work on this in the off-season.
When you’re planning for next year’s training, you can’t approach it with too much emotion. Let the dust settle, form a good plan, and hunker down after your break.
The best way to go about this is to start and finish your break with some testing. Testing your critical power is the absolute best way to do this. If you don’t have access to the equipment you need, a simple road climb time-trial is a great place to start:
Write down your bike and the bike’s setup and head out to a climb that takes 5-20 minutes to complete. Note the weather and your weight. Complete this time as fast as you can. Once your break is finished and you have a few days of riding under your belt, head out to this climb again and compare your time.
Have you lost much?
I’m going to guess you’re not much worse off! But now you’re fully ready to get back in to training!
Not sure what to do?
Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s figure something out for you!