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Lessons Learned from the “Off-Season”

article by Joe Hamilton 

For most of my athletes, the racing season has come to the end. Many athletes refer to this time as the “off-season” or as I refer to it as the “transition period.” Technically, the transition period begins from the date of your last race to the beginning of your next season.  The transition period is the time to welcome the rest from the physiological and mental stress of racing, but in no way intended to stop training and staying prepared for the up and coming season. For many athletes, the off-season may create a sense of a loss, specifically as to what is the best approach to stay in shape. There’s no doubt it is difficult to see all of those hard-earned chronic and acute training load numbers decrease. But perspective and continued discipline during this time of year are very important and necessary. Consider this time as only one piece of your annual training plan and the link to your next season. Remember, that what you do in this transition period will have an impact on how your next season will go. It is very important to not get out of shape during this time of year. I often inform my athletes that this transition period is the time to train for the season. The “transition period” does not mean it is the time to be a couch potato and eat what you want. There is a fine balance to consider during this time. This balance is ensuring you get the mental and physical rest you deserve, but not at a total loss of your overall fitness. Here are few “lessons learned” working with athletes in their transition period.

Continue to be Active and Have Fun

Do the activities you missed during the training and racing season. Whether it be backpacking, a century ride, or even just a day hike with the family and dogs, now is the time to have no agenda. Just ensure you remain active at least five days a week with two days’ rest. If you feel like resting, then do so. Remember it is important to continue building that physiological foundation to be prepared for the rigors of base training, that will be here before you know it.  

Review Your Season

Review your season, whether it be on your own or with your coach. Now is a great time to review your season’s performance management chart (PMC). From the PMC you can garner volume, training loads, power outputs and whether you peaked correctly for your priority events. Look at how those unexpected events like family vacation and/or illness affected your training. Ask yourself, whether you did enough base or whether you put in enough hours. Determine if intervals and strength training were effective at addressing your limiters and meeting your training goals. Compare workouts from this race season to the last. Analyze how the timing of workouts this year was different than last year and what were their effects. Review those race reports and determine what you did right and wrong. TrainingPeaks and tools like Strava provide you annual hours and chronic training loads. Now is a great time to determine if you did the right races at the right time and if they were suited to your strengths and your abilities to withstand altitudes, distance, temperatures, etc. Your success on future races depends on the right race selections and analysis of your previous year’s race data. By analyzing these and other factors you can take the transition time to prepare and modify the training that meets next year’s selected races or events. 

Experiment

Now is the time to test new equipment and approaches. If you’ve been thinking about putting a new power meter on the mountain bike, now is the time to do that. If you have been thinking about a new diet, try it out now. If you are looking to lose weight, the transition period is a great time to do that. The last thing you’ll want to do as you move to a race-specific training schedule next season is to be playing with new equipment or trying to lose weight. 

The “transition period” is also a great time to practice the skills you have neglected or have wanted to learn. The post-racing season is the primary time to get back into the gym to start your strength program. Many athletes wait to get back into the gym, only to find that mixing strength workouts with the training load from their primary discipline can be challenging. Now is the time to begin working in the gym, using stabilization exercises that get you ready to do increased levels of weight training like maximum strength and power.  With my athletes, I often focus on skills work such as pedaling efficiencies, improving peloton skills, or skills such as downhill and cornering. These few months are also a great time to hone your psychological skills. Practice self-talk, integrate meditation, or “quiet thinking time”. These psychological skills take as much or more training as your primary discipline. I always make it a point to share research, articles, and books with the athletes I work with. Often, this leads to discussion and aids in the modification and development of training and racing goals for the upcoming year.

Catch Up

Due to longer training hours, along with traveling and racing on the weekends, many athletes have had to neglect other responsibilities. The “off-season” is a great time to do those home projects or repairs you have been holding off on, or you may have held off on medical procedures (like a surgery) because of the race season. Now is the perfect time to consider doing the procedure and slowing rehabilitating yourself back into training. 

As you can see, the “off-season” is not really an off-season. Instead, it’s the time to transition into the next season. Transitioning properly includes preparing and maintaining your discipline, but with a different focus. With the right balance of rest, activity, and effective planning you will be more refreshed, focused, motivated and training harder for next year. Take this time seriously because what you do now will no doubt impact your success during the season to come.

 

Joe Hamilton is a dedicated endurance athlete with over a decade of experience as a competitive cyclist. He’s been involved in all facets of the sport: directing races, founding race teams, organizing events, and personally competing at all levels. Joe has raced as a Category 1 Mountain bike racer and Category 3 Road racer. Joe has participated in most sanctioned cycling races held across Montana and understands the training it takes to tackle Helena’s cold and mountainous environment. Joe has been fortunate to be coached himself by elite level coaches and physical trainers. So he knows what its like to be on the receiving end of training. He currently competes in marathon mountain bike races and masters level road races.

As a USAC certified coach and member of Thomas Endurance Coaching (TEC), his passion is sharing what he’s learned with his athletes to help them achieve their goals. As a racer himself, he’s intimately acquainted with what it takes to be successful at any level. He knows what it’s like to balance family, work, life, and training. Joe personally works closely with all of his athletes to ensure that the training they receive fits into their life and personal goals. He believes face to face interaction and continuous communication is what sets himself apart from other coaches.

 

TEC

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