Whether you race often or not, taking a break mid-season and changing gears is always a wise decision. That is of course if you are not preparing for a peak race in the middle of July or early August, and even if so, taking a transition after that peak race will still be a wise move. For cyclists targeting races in May and June, intensity and greater weekly volume needs to be part of the game plan starting in March, leading to four or five solid months of working hard to make fitness and strength gains. At some point, giving your body and mind a complete break will help you advance; otherwise staleness, plateaus, and burnout can happen easily. The following are a few tips to help you structure a mid-season transition, to get you back on the path to making gains through the end of the season.
Take a week off
Start with a week of complete rest. Taking 7-10 days and doing little will help you unload all kinds of stress, especially exercise related. This is the hardest thing to do for the highly motivated. You can still be active, but no need to stress about it. Active on a rest week can be a one hour easy pedal with family, hiking, or an easy swim. Anything that gets you moving, but you don’t need to go hard at it, and it needs to be short, as in under an hour.
You also need to take complete days off, at least three if not four days during this time. The mental struggles associated with complete days off, especially several at a time, are probably the greatest. Feelings of losing fitness, gaining weight, and slipping to the other side of lazy all enter your head. But trust me, if you’re motivated, that motivation will come on full force after these days of rest, and you will thank yourself. You may even find that you possess more motivation after a week break than you did leading up to it.
Ease back into training
For the athletes who race throughout the year, I am always trying to get them to take three to four weeks mid-season to train, and rebuild heading into the later part of the season, and this is especially true for those who are going to focus on racing cross at the end of the year. Backing off the intensity for a few weeks and focusing on endurance will allow you to build aerobic strength while keeping the training stress lower. It is a great way to balance your training throughout the year, especially since training aerobically is a primary focus for all endurance athletes. The more aerobic strength you possess, the harder and longer you can sustain efforts while racing.
It’s easy to forget to have fun. Training for races give you tunnel vision – make gains to race faster or else. And that’s great; it is a great thing to be super motivated to do well. But there is a time and place for that throughout the year and when going through a transition, it’s not the time or place. A true transition means taking a few weeks, after a full rest week, to focus on building endurance, finding some long rides, decreasing intensity and having fun. Forget about prepping for races for a while and just ride. After at least a few weeks, think about the next race to prep for.
Whenever the time of year you decide to take a transition, structure it well and take full advantage of it, because it is a long year. It is easy to forget that our body and mind has limits. Recovery and reduced training stress will allow you recharge, make key strength gains and prepare you for a great end to your racing year. The more often you can train and race on a higher level, the more strength gains you will make. This takes good organization and sometimes, a break.
Mike Schultz CSCS