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Training & Nutrition

End of Season Break: Why Every Rider Should Respect the Tradition

Are you factoring in a couple of weeks off the bike this month? Here's why you should...

Zoe Deschanel rocking the cycle print on New Girl

If you’ve had a busy cycling season of sportives, races, or challenging long rides, you might be a little bit pleased to hear that now is generally considered the time to take a rest.

Most pro-cyclists (excluding cyclocross racers..) take a break in October, or after their key events. If those who have trained themselves to peak fitness consider it a good idea to give their bodies a break, then the rest of us mere mortals should probably accept it’s a good idea, too.

Why take a break?

Though it can seem tempting to continue to pound through the same mileage and intensity all year, in the hope of ‘maintaining fitness’ for 2016, doing so can result in a bit of a ‘burn-out’. With months and months stretched ahead of you, you’ve got more than enough time to build on your fitness for next summer.

Not only does your body need rest to adapt to training stimulus, but also your mind needs a little breather. Ignore this valuable period of rest, and you could find you’re sick of looking at your bike come the key training and preparation months of March and April.

How long should an end of season break last?

The duration of rest really depends upon you and your goals. Most coaches recommend around one to two weeks doing whatever you fancy, away from the bike.

During week one and two, it’s still a good idea to keep moving. If you want to do a little cross training – some gentle jogging, swimming or gym work, that’s not off the cards – but keep the intensity low and resist the urge to aim for targets. If you find yourself running four sets of five minute efforts, to make up for ‘skipping’ four five minute efforts on the bike, you’re definitely not playing the game right.

If you commute to work by bike, sticking to time away might be tricky. If you can’t find another means of transport, try to keep your rides low intensity, and don’t feel like you need to push to reach any targets or goals. And no racing other commuters!

After around two weeks, you might start to miss the bicycle – and that’s a good sign as it shows the rest has really reinforced how much you love your chosen sport.

Over weeks three to four since you hung up your racing shoes, you can get yourself back on two wheels and just have fun. If you’ve been crit racing or time trialling, get out for some relaxed exploratory rides in the countryside – and try to leave the computer at home so you’re not tempted to monitor your speed. If you’ve been mostly riding tarmac, try hiring a mountain bike at a local trail centre or give cyclocross a whirl. Just enjoy riding your bike – and don’t take anything you do seriously.

After four weeks, you’ll probably be feeling ready to attack a new training plan – but take time to assess your goals before you get stuck in.

A note on weight…

Over this rest period, try not to worry about gaining weight becasue you’re doing less exercise.

Firstly – you are NOT going to balloon in a month just because you’re taking it easy, and you’ve got all year to lean up from November if you really feel you have to.

The truth is that the formula to maintaining weight is as simple as ‘calories in, calories out’. This means that when you’re training hard, you eat extra food to make up for the energy used. If you exercise less, you just don’t need those extra post-training snacks. You can avoid gaining weight by sticking to a healthy diet, and eating when you’re hungry, not out of habit.

Important uses for this time

Image: Specialized

Your off season break is mostly about having fun – and that should remain paramount. However, there are some other ways you can use your new found extra hours to maximize your chances of a good season next summer.

Firstly, address any niggles that you may have experienced during the summer –  achey knees or a sore lower back may have got in the way of your goals and you can use this time to prevent a repeat.

Start by taking a rest, and then visit a sports injury specialist to help diagnose the cause. Before your appointment, give yourself some time to jot down the nature of the niggle, when it started, what made it worse and anything that helped it to feel better. Remember that the site of the pain might not necessarily be the cause, and the sports professional will help you to work out what the actual root of the problem is, and they might give you some exercises to help strengthen relevant muscles.

Bad bike fit is a common cause of niggles and injury, so it may also be worth booking yourself in if you have had problems. Though bike fits can seem expensive when you’re not actually walking out the shop with a plastic bag containing something new and shiny, they can save you a lot of money on physio and ‘cheer me up’ shopping trips!

As well as taking a break to recover your body, now is a good time to ensure you give your loved ones the TLC they deserve. If you’ve been very busy racing or at events every weekend, make sure you spend some lazy afternoons or snuggly mornings with friends and family – especially if they’ve been beside the road, cheering you on.

It’s also a good idea to use your off-season chillax break to plan your attack on the coming season. There’s no point returning to training in a month if you have no idea what your goal is, since you’ll struggle to make your riding specific to your plans.

Start by stepping back – examining what you loved about the summer just gone, and what you didn’t enjoy so much. Then, do a little research and see if there are any more events similar to those you took the most pleasure in, and start thinking about what you need to do to be more successful.

For example, if you’ve highlighted the short, fast events, then you probably need to start thinking about upping your top end speed with short intervals when you get to proper training. If you had the most fun taking part in distance sportives, then look into audaxes or multi-day events, and start preparing for some plodding paced winter miles.

Whatever you do during your off season break – make sure it’s fun, and re-ignites you passion for riding (EVEN if you didn’t think it had burnt out at all).

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