At this time of year, the road season wraps up, and everyone in the cycling world becomes contemplative. Riders count their trophies, lick their wounds and think about what they can do better next year. The pros give one final push – fighting for contracts, hoping to nail an elusive win, or gaining the chance to represent their country at the World Championships.
The mind and body has a funny way of knowing when time is up. The nervous system shifts from sympathetic – fight or flight – to parasympathetic – rest and recover. Fatigue sets in, motivation disappears and the body goes into intense recovery mode.
Often at this point, coach Ben Day's riders chose stop talking to him so regularly. Instead, they devote their stress-free time to their family and friends. The weight of pressure comes off of their shoulders and they indulge in forbidden foods, normally restricted activities and treat themselves to a drink or two.
Ben sees this as an essential part of the training process. You can’t keep pushing all the time and expect to get the same results from your training. Taking this step back and freshen up pays dividends in terms of form and commitment. The off-season is not an excuse to sit on your butt though – it's actually a great time to do some homework and prepare for the next season.
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The oil change
The body starts to become a little less efficient as the season progresses into its last legs. Signs of fatigue are indicated by feelings of depression, irritability, lack of motivation, a change in appetite, a weakened immune system, muscle soreness, a change in blood chemistry and so on.
It’s like running old, dirty oil through your car’s engine. By having a small hiatus mid-season – around four to seven days – and then a longer one at the end of the season – between two and four weeks – you will be able to maintain intensity and most importantly, training quality for longer.
Commonly at this point of the season, a cyclist will be at a point of 'overtraining' and a the rest will help him or her perform better. Remember, we will not be fitter, stronger or faster until after we have recovered from hard training sessions or racing. This is the break-down-and-rebuild effect of 'periodised' training that our bodies adapt so well to.
Review your season
Without being honest with yourself, you can never overcome your shortcomings. Go back through your training data either and see what you did right this year, and where you flagged. How can you avoid those mistakes and take another step in your success next year?
Define your weaknesses, and highlight your 'money-makers'.
This is where all that data and all those notes you've been keeping will come into use
This is where power data is awesome. Analysis programs such as TrainingPeaks, along with your training comments, can highlight moments of difficulty or where you were floating on Cloud Nine.
Ben has spent time reviewing athlete’s diaries from 10 years ago to learn more about them and how they respond to training stimulus – both mentally and physically.
"I tell you, as the pros get fitter, they become more hopeless at doing everything else!" says Ben. Being at top form means the body becomes amazingly efficient, at pedalling a bike. But that is not a sustainable venture. If you haven’t incorporated any cross-training into your schedule before, now is the time.
Visit a physical therapist and have a functional movement assessment done, to find out where you have structural deficiencies and imbalances. Using this information, have a strength and conditioning program created to suit your needs. This will correct the body issues, and increase muscular recruitment and strength.
Also consider yoga, hiking, snowshoeing and other activities that aren’t too stressful on your body but are beneficial in the restructuring process. Go into the next season with a strong foundation.
Recap and recommendations
- Take a hiatus of two to four weeks during the off season. This gets you out of the structured training environment and gives you a chance to do those things that you have been putting off throughout the season.
- Reviews training files and comments and identify the good and learning and the bad. Use this to create opportunities for next season.
- Incorporates more strength and conditioning work to round out your fitness and address issues with your body structure and biomechanics.
- Use cross-training, combined with days of total rest, to keep the body moving and the mind fresh.
- Find ways to mentally rejuvenate, and spend time with family and friends.
- Consider ways to remove the 'cyclist’s tan'.
An example of how an athlete might spend a week at the end of an off-season break
- Monday: 1.5 hours core stability exercises and one to two hours cycling (low intensities, high cadences)
- Tuesday: One hour cross-training activities
- Wednesday: One hour core stability exercises
- Thursday: One to two hour cross training activities
- Friday: Day off
- Saturday: 1.5hrs core stability exercises and one to two hours of cycling (free riding)
- Sunday: Two hours cross-training activities
Ben Day (front) and Chris Baldwin of DaybyDay Coaching
In future articles, Ben Day and Chris Baldwin will continue to share methods for improving your cycling, whether mental, physical or just technique related. Do you have any methods for helping your recovery or just have a training topic not yet covered? Share them with the guys on Twitter – their handle is @daybydaycoachin.
Ben Day started DaybyDay Coaching to share his experience as a 13-year international professional cyclist with endurance athletes of all levels. He's a recently retired professional with the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team and coach to many professional athletes throughout the world, providing insight and coaching services that balance science and real-life experience to optimise performance.