So it’s the end of your race season, what now.
Every year I see a drop off in training over winter and of course this is natural to an extent, but how long a break is long enough? Do I need a complete rest or just reduce volume and intensity? The answer is, there is no one answer. It’s very much an individual thing based on what you’ve been doing, your athletic age and of course your goals for the next season.
I strongly suggest that at the end of the season you may need a break to give your body time to recover but the biggest mistake so many people make is to take way too much time off. The duration of the end of season break will vary for every person and needs to be taken on an individual basis and in most cases you will benefit from having1-4 weeks break as this time allows the body to heal and freshen up.
The end of season break
Before you jump straight back into training after your break, I strongly suggest that you assess how long you think you need and pencil in a date to resume training. This doesn’t have to be set in stone but failing to do this can lead to time drifting by and before you know it you are chasing your tail. This is also a great time to sit down with your coach and review the previous year, what went well, and what didn’t go so good. It’s so important not to get dragged into a continuous cycle and do the same thing year on year. Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture could be the biggest gain you could make. Did you have any specific areas that really held you back? This can be something really simple like your nutrition, sleep patterns, hydration, maybe work/life balance or it could be something more specific to your training? Is there an aspect you avoid because you find it more challenging and you always opt for the easy option?
Take a little time out at the end of the season and take an honest look to where you are and what you need to do to reach your goals (this is a good time to do so if you haven’t already).
Had a niggling injury that has been hindering you through the season? Again this is a great time to get on top of this and ensure that you aren’t risking long-term damage to yourself. If you haven’t already I suggest getting any niggles looked at by a qualified manual therapist to ensure that you get the fastest route to full functioning health and you get to the root cause of the injury. For those in the East I recommend the guys at Balance in motion in Bondi or Paula Luke at Joint Health in the City to deal with such injuries.
Again this might also be the time to get some cross training in. During this off-season, I will be working with Naomi at Roman Pilates in Randwick to increase my mobility, flexibility and strength & conditioning. A few of my athletes work with Naomi and are getting great results that help them with their sports. Don’t underestimate how changing things up over winter can accelerate your ability in your primary sport.
Ease back into it
Next you need to set a plan, this is where a coach can be really beneficial. I often see people coming out of their break and trying to start where they left off. This can lead to all sorts of problems down the line. I like to have a “transition” block of training which helps you ease into it while preparing your body for what is about to come ahead and to avoid injury. You might not have your heart rate pumping out of your chest, but these 1-3 weeks could be some of the most important weeks of the year.
For those how have had their break and delaying their comeback, think again. The off-season is so important. While you don’t have to churn out the hours that you were during your peak phase for that goal race, “winter” or the “off season” is so important to focus on your weaknesses and lays the foundations for your best ever season. The work that you do during this time doesn’t mean that you have to hit PB’s in every session but maintaining some consistency will be the difference between a good and great year.
Many people take too long off and while at first you get that feeling of being “fresh”, but being inactive you typically lose this feeling after 14 days. At this point you are losing fitness at a fast rate and you aren’t getting the health benefits for general exercise and possibly creating bad habits that will make the comeback harder by the day.
I think the key is to plan a “transition” phase for a couple of weeks and then assess if you need another week in this block before getting into the next block. At this stage it’s not critical to be training every day but it is important to find the right amount of training for you and by getting back into a routine without too much training stress you will remember why you love your sport so much.
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