By Adam Fivehouse
As the temperatures drop and the days get shorter, many of us are beginning to look forward to the off-season. After a long year of structured training rides and big events or races, we are finding that our focus on the bike is starting to dwindle and we’re in need of a hard-earned break.
As a coach, this is the time of year that I worry the most about my athletes. They have spent months racking up the miles, working hard and steadily improving their fitness. While some time away from the bike can do the mind and the body good, too much time off can ruin a season’s worth of training. Unfortunately, as many of us have experienced, the body is good at getting lazy. The old adage of “if you don’t use it, you lose it” definitely rings true and a couple of months of inactivity can easily wipe out a full season of training. Planning a proper off-season is a crucial first step towards success next year. Here are some easy tips to help you plan for the cool months ahead.
Take Some Time Off – Rest is just as important for improved performance as training is. Taking some time off completely helps the body, and mind, to recover and rebuild after a long summer. The amount of time needed can differ from athlete to athlete based upon their age, training load and personal needs. For the average recreational athlete who has averaged around six to eight hours a week of training, a couple of weeks off should be sufficient. If your training has been more intense, three to four weeks off may be needed. Either way, make sure that you schedule this off-period and have a concrete date for when you’ll start back up, then stay accountable.
Taper Back Gradually – After your well-deserved break, gradually taper back the number of hours and intensity at which you’re riding for the next few months. With the time change, most weekday training hours will naturally be reduced. But while the weather is still good, make sure to take advantage of those weekend hours for longer endurance rides. Overall, a decline in fitness during the off-season is part of any well-designed training plan but it needs to be a gradual, controlled tapering back. The idea is to maintain some of the fitness that you’ve gained from this season and then build upon it next year instead of starting from scratch every season.
Hit the Gym – An off-season strength training program is threefold in that it provides a change of pace, helps us to rehab any injuries we sustained during the season and allows us to address any weaknesses we have. A common weak spot for cyclists is a lack of core strength. A weak core can lead to a multitude of issues on the bike including discomfort, lower back pain and increased fatigue. Building a program around functional exercises and core strength can help you become stronger on and off the bike. Focus on lightweight and high repetition to build endurance rather than bulk. Also spend some time working on flexibility, as most of us tend to neglect this during the season.
Maximize Your Training Time – Invest in a good stationary trainer to ride your bike indoors during the winter. While it may be tough mentally, a trainer is the perfect tool for maintaining fitness when you can’t make it outside. It allows you to really fine tune the intensity of your workout and helps you avoid the coasting and dead time you experience riding outside. Building some intensity into your shorter, indoor workouts will help to make up for some of the lack in duration. When the weather is good on the weekends, get outside and get in those long, slow base miles.
Mix It Up – Keep things fresh by getting out and doing something different. Running, swimming, snowshoeing and nordic skiing are all activities that can help keep you in shape. Computrainer sessions at a dedicated cycling studio or spin classes at your gym can help to add back the social aspect that many people enjoy about riding. Plus the riders around you will help you to push yourself and to maintain your motivation to work hard toward next season!
Adam Fivehouse is a USA Cycling LII Certified Coach with Optimize Endurance Services. Contact him at 720-270-6876 or by email with your training questions. He is also partnering with Peak To Peak Training Center in Lakewood this winter to teach group Computrainer classes.