Ah, the off season. That time of year where the weather is starting to turn, the nights are drawing in, your legs seem forever heavy and sometimes even the thought of getting the bike out of the garage is almost an intense session in itself.
You have had a full summer season, be it road racing, hitting the sportive trails or hammering up and down a dual carriageway. Either way the time has come to back off, unwind and take things just that little bit easier.
So, what now? Lock the bike away? Rip open the donuts? Hit the pub on the mother of all benders?
It is very easy to go completely the other way to the strict path that you have been following all season, to not watch the calories or fat content that you are consuming and to cease all or any form of activity. After all, you have worked so hard this year and will work hard again next year, so where is the harm?
But is this really the best option? It may well feel good for a while but consider this sudden change in lifestyle and what effects it could have on, not just your physical state but, on your mental state as well.
If you have spent the last few months on a strict diet and a hard training regime, then to suddenly change all of that could have severe consequences and make things tougher for you down the line when you do need to get back in the saddle again.
Let’s instead look at some other options and choices you could make that will not only let you unwind and let off steam, but also keep you in a fairly good condition and possibly even give you a head start on your preparation for the following season.
To start with, rather than simply finish your last race and shut the bike away, plan a week or so with just some easy riding, nothing too hard or strenuous, keep the intensity low and just put in a simple spin for an hour or two – maybe even stop for cake if it does all get too much for you!
While we are on the subject of cake (when aren’t we?!) it is very tempting to suddenly stock the cupboards with all the foods you have been avoiding over the summer. Whilst it is good to treat yourself, try and keep it as just that, a treat and continue to restrict what you are consuming, even if on a slightly relaxed scale. The same rules could apply to drink and alcohol. Relax and let your hair down but keep it under control. Every ounce gained now and every bad habit taken back up, is another barrier to break down when training commences again.
Of course this doesn’t need to be a completely non-exercise period. It would be ideal to keep yourself ticking over by doing some form of activity, be it some light running, swimming, different form of cycling (if you normally do road, then hit the off road trails for a bit of fun), or going the gym.
This last one is an ideal one to help repair and strengthen your body. If you have had a strictly cycling orientated season then it is wise to help rebuild your core muscles which will also be vital in the future; ignore this aspect at your peril. You don’t have to use the gym for this either; a simple routine at home will do the job just as well.
Not only will this alternative exercise keep the waistline down, but it will also keep your general fitness at a reasonable level which in turn will help you massively when you get back on the bike. You will then find it much, much easier to get back into a routine rather than starting from ground zero again. Thinking long-term, just how much more fitness you could build with this kind of head start?
It is important to consider the affect on the mind of your normal training regime. For a lot of people, especially those who have a demanding job, a busy lifestyle or a family, and its commitments to juggle, getting time on the bike is a great way to de-stress and unwind. If you suddenly take this time away, then that could have consequences on stress levels, attitude and sleep patterns. Therefore it is important to try adding in some form of cross training or a different activity to give you that time and personal space to unwind. Make sure you don’t view it as a training session or to make it overly hard, as you do still need to take a step back. Remember this is for your mind more than it is for your tired muscles, so instead, whatever you choose to do, view it as active recovery and keep all efforts and intensities as low as possible.
You could also take this opportunity to sharpen up and prepare your bike. If it is your winter bike, get the mudguards on, new brake blocks, tough tyres, etc and if it is your race bike, get it race ready now, ahead of next season. If any bits need replacing, then try and get them done before you put it away to reduce the risk of forgetting and coming unstuck when you need to race on it! A bit like your mum used to say about the condition of your bedroom, ‘leave it in the state that you would like to find it’.
One other area to work on is your clothing, kit and the nutritional aspect. If you are thinking of changing your shoes, pedals, saddle, bibs, now is the time to make the change so you can try out different options and set-ups, giving yourself plenty of time to get used to them. If you use any nutritional supplements or are thinking of changing your current one or starting to take one, then you could take this opportunity, whilst things are quieter you have more time to prepare them and see if they agree with your immune system! Once you have settled on one, you can then fall into a good routine of preparing and consuming it.
Now is also the perfect time to reflect on the past season and start planning for your next campaign. If you have a coach, this is the ideal time to sit down and go over all the good and bad points from the last year. What worked well, what didn’t work, when were the good patches, were they when they should have been? You can then also think ahead and mark out your short and long term goals and targets. It is important to make a list of your main season long goals and also some shorter term ones along the way. These will act as great stepping stones to gauge how well things are going and if you need to change anything. Banking on just the one target leaves a lot of room for error and if something does go wrong, it could be a wasted season.
Of course if you don’t have a coach, then now is the time to think about getting one. There is a wealth of experience out there waiting to be tapped into, to help you make the most of your training and the time you have available. You do not need to sit in a lab every week or be a slave to data or number crunching; a very basic level can help you plan, work out a program and help get the most out of every ride you do. Coaches are also a lot more reasonably priced then you may think – for the price of a couple of takeaways a month, you could have your very own coach helping to assist and guide you to be the best you can be!
Remember that this is the time to unwind and take it easy if you have had a long, draining season. Your body will have taken a lot of pounding, the muscles will be tired and shredded and you could generally do with a good re-boot. So do take your foot of the gas, forget about the rigours of racing and intensities of training and seek pleasure elsewhere; just don’t go too far off track…
Make the most of this off season. It could well be the most productive period of your 2015 season!
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This article originally appeared on BritishCycleSport.com.