How should I approach the off-season?

It’s October now, and for most cyclists that means that the competitive season has been done for probably 1-2 months now. In all likelihood, you’ve taken some time off the bike, or at least shied away from doing a lot of intense workouts, intervals, and all of those things race-specific in your training, which is probably a good thing. It’s good to take a little time to reduce the volume and intensity of your training at the end of the racing season. A break from steady training can help give your body and mind a bit of a rest. Ideally, your body can hopefully heal any minor aches it might have, and your mind can get refreshed with increased motivation and focus to resume training when the time arrives.

Now that it’s been a month or two since training seriously and competing, now what? Should I be doing a lot of long-slow distance [LSD] riding? Should I be lifting weights? Should I start off slow and increase my training volume slowly for 3-4 months leading into the coming season? What about doing VO2 intervals? long-threshold efforts? sprint drills?

Well, to try to get to the point, we can just start off with a list of things to do in sequence:

1. Take a break from hard training. Give yourself a mental and physical break from the stress of training hard and racing. Take some time to do some things you don’t get as much time to do during the season.

2. Assess your past training and racing, and see where you’ve done well and where you can improve. You can probably quickly regain fitness in areas where you are strongest, but those areas where you struggle to equal your competition can lead you towards some of the work you’ll want to do in the off-season.

3. Make a plan to establish a good foundation of strength, endurance, and aerobic fitness. Everyone will need to build their strength and endurance while maintaining a moderate level of aerobic fitness during the off-season. That way, when they replace more and more of their foundational strength and endurance training with race-specific, higher intensity workouts, they will have a broader foundation upon which to build that high-end fitness. Once you find yourself in the middle of the season racing every weekend instead of doing longer training rides and focusing your workouts on aerobic capacity, sprint, and anaerobic capacity workouts, you don’t want to find that your strength and endurance are fading significantly because you didn’t get enough of that work done in the months leading into the competitive season.

4. Over the next few months, proceed to develop strength, endurance, and aerobic fitness as you ease into harder workouts as the competitive season draws near. Basically, once you have a plan, you need to implement it as well as you can. Clearly, weather, work obligations, family holiday plans, etc. etc. can make it more challenging to do each part of the training plan that was originally worked out. Try to stay relaxed and don’t get frustrated or throw your arms up when your training gets pushed around by other things in your life. When that happens, remember that any training that you can do will add to your future fitness, so even if you can only get in 2-3h on the Saturday that you had planned for 5h, definitely go for it and maybe modify things a bit to try to mitigate the loss of training time. Don’t ever feel like the goal has been lost because of minor setbacks. Do what you can to keep on track, but also have a flexible mindset where you can move training days around or tweak things in your training to try to make the most of it and get where you want to be.

5. Eventually get back into racing when the season starts, knowing that you’ve build a good base of foundational fitness that can help carry you through the season, hopefully better than before. This is less of a concern for us at the moment, but eventually you’ll be racing and doing a bunch of race-specific workouts. Just remember that if racing is one of your primary goals, that even in November, what you’re doing in training will influence the race that you’re doing in March… or May… or August.

Hopefully by now you’ve been taking a break from hard training, and you’re now pretty fresh and motivated to get back to training. Or maybe you’re like me and you just love getting out and exercising almost daily, but have just shied away from truly intense workouts and structured intervals, providing a mental break and some extra recovery. Either way, you should be very fresh, recovered (mentally and physically), and ready to get back to it, as they say.

Assuming all that, this time of year it’s good to sit back for a moment and assess what’s been good and what has room for improvement over past training and racing experiences. Once we know what we want to focus our energy towards, we can get started with a focus. What it is that limits you might point you in the direction of something you would want to work on a bit during the off-season. That way it’s likely to be less of a limiter in the coming year and during the season you can then move your focus more to maximizing your strengths. For me, that might mean that I practice sprints and seated accelerations during the winter a bit more, but during the season, I might focus more specifically on threshold and aerobic capacity workouts. It may be something different for everyone, but it’s good to include a bit of hard work, even this time of year. But again, for the most part, we’re trying to build fitness from the ground up, as it were, this time of year and the focus is on moderate workouts. So, even the harder efforts are not too stressful, like they might be leading into peak competitions.

Working on specific weaknesses aside, what should I be doing to build foundational fitness? I think research and experience suggests some combination of the following:

volume/mileage

workouts focused on endurance, aerobic power and efficiency

strength and power work, on and off the bike

cross training

some, but limited high-intensity work

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