5 Things You Should Do During the Off Season

This article is meant to give you a few things to think about as you take a break from competition or heavy training during the fall and winter months. Of course there are other specific things that athletes may do during the off season, but these are a handful of the key ones that every athlete should do in order to make the most of their training and racing…

1. Take a break.

Taking a break is good. Mental and physical recovery are a key part of our success as athletes and people. For many people the mental break that they take at the end of a season is more valuable than the physical, but both are key. Take as much time away from structured training as you need, and maybe more. There’s no rush to get back to training. If you enjoy training, then enjoy it, but always pay attention to how well you’re recovering from day to day and week to week so that you’re sure that you’re progressing and not just burning yourself out.

2. Analyze how you did last year.

Take a look at where you made the most progress and what your best performances were. Also look at any areas where you know that you didn’t perform as well as you could have. If you race, look at your racing highlights and think back on how those came about. Was your training exceptionally good leading up to those races? Did you do anything different? Think about what things allowed those performances to happen, both with respect to your fitness as well as your racing tactics. Also take a look back on what didn’t go well for you. Did you neglect your sprint? Or not invest enough time in developing your endurance and high-aerobic power? Did you have back pain late in races because you didn’t spend enough time working on your core throughout the year? Often the things that don’t go well are the things that we don’t want to think about so much, but those are often the areas where the smallest changes or the least amount of effort can yield the biggest improvements for us.

Look back and make an honest assessment of how your year was, both the good and the bad, and use that to help you plan for the future. I would definitely encourage you to look at any real world data that you have to do this. If you have a power meter on your bike, look at your peak power curve this year versus the last few years. Look at your peak power throughout the year. Look at your climbing times. Look at your year on Strava or Training Peaks and see how much time you actually spent training throughout the year. Look at how long your longest rides were each week throughout the year. Often we have an idea in mind of what we think our training was like, but when we look back at it, it’s sometimes surprising how our idea actually stacks up against real world data.

And, definitely consider asking a friend to look over your year for any insights that they might have as an outsider looking in on your training and racing. Or, you could reach out to a coach. Whether or not you are thinking about developing a full-time coaching relationship with someone, there are coaches out there that are happy to do consulting work where they might charge you a one-time fee to just look over your year, some of your training data, ask you about your experiences, and give you feedback that can be very helpful for making adjustments in the future. Even if a coach doesn’t plan all of your workouts for you, just having them tell you some actionable advice can sometimes make a big difference.

3. Set some goals.

What do you want to work on for the coming year? You don’t necessarily need to nail things down in too much detail right away, but you should at least start thinking about it early. Even if you just know the general direction of where you want to go and what you want to work on, then you can start laying a foundation during the winter to get ready for that next year. If you already know that you have very clear cut goals, like winning a state or national championship, or finishing in the top 10 at a specific race, or doing your first century or half-ironman, then that’s great because it helps make things clearer what you will need to focus on for next year. But, keep in mind, goal setting can be challenging. You want to have goals that are challenging so they’ll be rewarding, but you also need them to be realistic so that you don’t set yourself up for a feeling of failure even if you make a lot of good progress in the right direction but didn’t achieve the specific, but unrealistically lofty goal. Sometimes you may have very specific goals, like setting specific PRs, or you may have a specific direction like getting better at sprinting and finishing strong in races or becoming a punchier climber or improving the run leg of your triathlon. Any of these can be good goals as long as they can help provide a specific vision for how to approach the coming year and as long as they can help you plan and carry out your training.

4. Make a plan.

If you have a goal or direction that you want to work towards, then it will only become really useful to you once you also start to make some sort of strategy for how you will try to reach that goal. You will want to start making a plan for how to move towards achieving your goals. This may be a matter of planning workouts, but it may also mean looking at adjusting your schedule so that you can get in enough training time. Or maybe you need to get a gym memberships or some weights for home so that you can do the kind of work that you think will help you reach your goals. Whatever it is, keep in mind where you’re at now and where you want to go.

Think about what you’ve done in training and what you think you will need to do to achieve your goal, and start mapping that out. Even just an outline of workouts and a progression of training volume can be helpful. Or, you may want to go into detail and map out all of the interval workouts that you want to do over the next year. Different degrees of specificity and structure can work for different athletes, depending on their personality, their schedule, their goals, and what will work for them. As long as you have enough direction to keep you on task, it can work out. Not everyone is the same in this regard. But, again, keep things realistic. Don’t go crazy and overestimate what you think you’ll be able to do, whether it’s training intensity or total volume, it has to be realistic.

Your plan should be flexible enough to accommodate any changes in your schedule or you should be able to adjust it if you progress more quickly or slowly than you expect. Or you may get sick or the weather is terrible and lose a week here or there. A smart approach to training will recognize that these things can happen. We shouldn’t get too stressed about these kinds of things, but rather just look at how we’ll address them as they come up. Maybe you’re lucky and everything goes perfectly, but usually there’s at least one or two minor interruptions that we have to deal with, but that’s okay.

And keep in mind, a plan is basically a tool that can help you to do what you need to do to accomplish your goals. You may want to consider what other tools you could benefit from. This could be as simple as getting a heart rate monitor or a power meter to help you more objectively assess your training and see how it’s going. Or maybe you want to hire a coach who can provide experience and an outside perspective on your training. Many people, even experienced athletes, are often not very objective when they look at their own training and often underestimate or overestimate how much or how hard they should be training by a good margin, and often people don’t get nearly what they could out of their training just because they don’t have that perspective.

Also consider other aspects of your life when you’re thinking about next year. Sometimes some of the biggest opportunities we have for improvement aren’t in training. If you could just get 8 hours of sleep every night, or if you could just clean up your diet and eat more vegetables, that may make a big difference for you. What you do in training is very important, but all of the things that we do that affect our health and recovery outside of training are just as important.

Also consider if there’s any gear that could help you keep better track of your training. Sometimes one or two tools can help you stay on track and get more out of your body. Power meters, heart rate monitors, and GPS computers are all very useful and are the most obvious choices for equipment that can help you monitor your progress and stay on task during training sessions. Don’t worry if you’re on a budget. You can get a lot out of your training without a power meter, for example. But these days, even just a GPS computer and a heart rate monitor that you use with Strava can be a huge asset to you. And, definitely consider if you’d like to work with a coach to try to get more out of your training or at least to consult with to see if your training plans are reasonable and should help you achieve your goals.

And, as you make your plans, whether they’re very specific or you just start outlining right now, definitely reconsider your goals. If you have enough time and resources that you think you should be able to reach your goals with enough focus and smart work, then great. If you think that you don’t realistically have the time or other resources necessary to reach your goals, then consider the two against each other and see if you need to make adjustments to your work schedule to allow you to train enough or sleep enough. Or, realize that you have too much going on that maybe you should adjust your expectations to be more in line with your ability to train and recover.

5. Just have fun.

When you’re taking a break from hard training, enjoy doing things that you might not get to do very much during the season. Enjoy some good food. Go for a hike or watch a movie that you wanted to see last summer or read a book. Enjoy the downtime. And, enjoy planning for the coming year. Don’t rush into it and start pressuring yourself to train too hard too early, but enjoy the prospect of reaching new goals next year. And, when you get back into training, have fun with it. Find some good training partners and enjoy the process.

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Start Getting Ready for Next Season

There’s a lot that goes into a successful season, whether you’re a competitive cyclist, runner, or triathlete, or if you have fitness goals or events that you want to train for. For most people Fall is the time of year that they consider taking some time off or at least time away from structured, hard training. Except for cyclocross racers, most people are starting to look ahead several months to their next goals, and will do well to take some time to look back on their past seasons and plan for the next one.

I’m planning on putting together a few articles and videos that cover some of the key things that you will want to do or want to plan for during this time. To start, it’s almost always a good idea for athletes to take some time away from very difficult training to allow themselves some time to rest both physically and mentally. Usually, as training time goes down, this may free up time to address any issues that may be hard to address during the season. For many people who have had minor aches and pains, you may check in with a physical therapist to come up with a strength and flexibility routine to prevent those issues. You may look at changing your bike fit or your shoes. You may start to invest more time in strengthening your core, legs, and shoulders so that you’re a stronger athlete and less prone to injury in the future.

Sandy and Sean Pescadero 1-2

That last piece is one thing that I wanted to address right now. No matter where you’re at in your training or planning for the coming year, if you aren’t racing or doing any goal events right now and have a little while before you do, then you should definitely consider investing some time into strengthening your core and even your whole body. Spending just 15 minutes or so, maybe 3 times a week at home with a yoga mat and a pair of dumbbells, or going to the gym a few times a week can do a lot to get you ready for the increased training volume that you may be planning.

First and foremost, doing core work can help increase your comfort and power doing most any sporting activity. If you increase your strength there, then you’ll generally have a stronger platform for everything else. So, definitely consider doing a series of planks, push-ups, crunches, or other things along those lines a few times a week or every other day. You’ll be happy that you did.

Personally, I’ll usually aim to do 3-4 circuits of push-ups, suspended front planks, side planks, back-extensions, mountain-climbers, and maybe some bent-over rows and/or dumbbell curls for good measure. Here’s a brief video that expands on this a little…

Beyond just doing a basic core routine, it can be very good to also do some leg-strengthening work. If you have access to a gym, then doing things like squats, dead-lifts, trap-bar dead-lifts, leg presses, leg extensions, or hamstring curls can all be great. I’ll never do all of those things in one session, but I may mix it up and do slightly different exercises from week to week. At any given session, I’ll usually try to do 3-5 movements and do a handful of sets of each.

If you’re at home, then you can do a lot even with minimal equipment or even just doing some body-weight exercises. If you plan to make strength work a regular part of your routine, then I’d suggest getting one or even two pairs of dumbbells and a box or bench. This way you can transition from body weight exercises to weighted ones. Focus on squats, lunges, box step-ups, calf raises, and maybe some plyometric type work, like squat jumps, box jumps, or straight-leg hops for your calves. I’ve done this kind of routine with good results over the years and am convinced that you don’t necessarily need a gym membership to get in a very good strength workout. The gym may offer you more options, but you can do a lot at home on a minimal budget.

To tie it all together, this is my basic routine and one that I’d suggest trying or using as a model for constructing a routine that works well for you. I’ll often start with body weight to warm up and then use my weights to make it more of a workout. I have a pair of 25# and 35# dumbbells, but you should try different weights out to see what will work for you.

about 3 sets
push-ups
suspended front plank, often with mountain climber movements (knee to chest)
side planks
back-extensions
dumbbell curls
bent-over dumbbell rows

then I’ll transition to legs:
squats
lunges
box step-ups
calf raises and/or hops

Clearly this is nothing fancy. The whole thing may take just 15 minutes if I’m in a hurry and only do two sets of everything. Or, if I have more time and motivation, then I’ll do 3 or 4 sets, and it may take as long as 20-25 minutes, but really, it’s not that time consuming. I think that sometimes this is the best use of a short period of time if all you have available is a half-hour in the morning before a full day at work or with family. Or if you’re on the road and just have a hotel gym and a full day of other work or family activities.

I’d encourage you to try adding this kind of basic routine into your winter schedule just 2 or 3 times per week and see what it does for you over the first 4 to 5 weeks. I’m sure you’ll feel good about the time and energy you spent doing this, and will probably want to continue.

Good luck and keep moving.

The Great Cascade Classic Stage Race

The Cascade Classic has long been one of my favorite stage races. Ever since I got into stage races, I loved the format, the strategy, and the difficulty of having to perform well for several days in a row. I’ve always had a lot of fun trying to survive and end up near the front of the field at the end of the week.

Check out a video I made along with this article. It goes over much of the same stuff if you want to listen instead of read or if you want a few extra little examples… I’ll be posting more videos in the future, so go ahead and subscribe to my youtube channel if you’re into podcasts or informational youtube content.

Not everyone can be a good general classification stage racer, but most riders can get something valuable out of stage racing. Because there’s a lot going on with individual stages, teamwork, the overall classification, recovery and nutrition to take care of from day to day, you have to set reasonable goals for the week and keep your priorities straight. Don’t waste energy on things that don’t matter to you or your team. It’s easy to get caught up racing hard on a stage that doesn’t matter to you or your team, but you should keep your head straight and do what is helpful in working towards your goals.

If you want to go for the GC, you have to be focused every day. As much as you might want to, you don’t have to win anything to win the general classification or to be on the overall podium, but you can’t ever afford to mess up and lose significant time. You have to be within striking distance of the front of the race on every stage. The podium is almost always made up of the three guys that were among the strongest 10 or 20 riders, but in most cases they’re the ones who made the fewest mistakes. This could be tactical mistakes made during the races, or it could be shortcomings in training, nutrition from day to day during the race, sleep, recovery, or equipment. You may not have to do everything perfectly, but you have to do everything without any major blunders.

Even if you aren’t a GC rider, you can go for stages and come away with a result. If your team has a GC rider, your help can be invaluable to achieving a GC result on your team. You can save all of your cards for the one day that suits you well. You could sit in and wait for moments of opportunity that may come at any moment during the race. But you may have to be content to sit back and save energy when it’s easy and the race is up the road in order to have more energy for tomorrow’s race. Or you may need to lose time early in the race so that you can go up the road in a breakaway on the last stage or the most prestigious and difficult stage. Even if you’re 20 minutes down in the GC, but you win the queen stage, that’s a huge success. Or you may be a sprinter who can’t train for great endurance, and you might be able to win the crit, even though you’re just hanging on in the other stages. Again, this is a success by most standards.

Always look for opportunity and try to take advantage when it’s available.

Going into any stage race, you should really make a plan. Look at the stages and try to identify where your strengths and weaknesses will show themselves throughout the week. Look for opportunities where you are strongest, but more than anything, look for ways to keep your weaknesses from becoming liabilities where you’ll lose time or get a bad result. Or, if you’re going for stage results and not the overall, identify stages that don’t matter to you. Go into those stages with the intention of working for your team and saving energy wherever possible. It may seem like the race will be hard no matter what, but really, if you’re just trying to get through it and not get time-cut, then you can save a lot of energy. A lot of riders go hard on days when they really shouldn’t, just because they are motivated to ride hard simply because it’s a race. Just keep your priorities straight. Remember that it may be a bike race, but it isn’t necessarily your race, you’re just along for the ride as you wait for, say, tomorrow’s stage where you’re going to go for it.

Set goals for each day and for the race as a whole. Make sure you know what you need to do each day so that you can focus on what’s happening right now and not stress about the week as a whole.

Know your focus and ignore everything else to stay on track.