by Sean Burke
The off season is here, so I’ve come up with this list of 10 off season do’s and don’ts to help you have a great off season, and an even better 2014.
Do: Relax a little.
Take some time where you don’t look at your power meter or heart rate monitor, maybe do a different cycling discipline than your normal one, or even take a little time away from the bike. There is no reason to take an extended period off the bike if you don’t want to, but now is a great time to spend some extra time with family and friends, enjoy a non-cycling vacation, or even try a new sport.
Don’t: Relax too much, or gain too much body fat.
While taking a break from your vigorous training routine is encouraged, you should still keep active. While a small weight gain and loss of fitness may be expected, you’ll have to lose every one of those pounds and gain back every bit of that lost fitness when race season comes around. You want next season to build upon the last one, rather than start from ground zero. In fact, if you are already packing a few lbs over your ideal race weight, the offseason can be a great time to lose them. You can cut back on the calories without worrying about hindering your short-term performance on the bike.
Do: Keep moving.
The off season is a great time to do some cross training. I personally include rowing in my off season. Rowing is a great aerobic workout, and since the majority of the work comes from the legs, cyclists tend to be fairly good at it. Rowing also works many of the upper body muscles that a cyclist neglects for most of the year, without adding the muscle mass that could come with a an upper body resistance workout.
Don’t: Go crazy with your off season sports and injure yourself.
Many cyclists are near obsessive about their training, and love the rush from heavy or intense exercise. So, its easy to go straight into an off-season sport with the same vigor that got them through the race season. If you aren’t careful, you can overdo it in your off season sport and wind up injuring yourself, making it tougher to get going again when race season rolls around.
Do: Include some weight-bearing exercise.
Research has shown that masters riders that ride but don’t do sports like soccer, running, weightlifting, or other weight-bearing activities do not have the same bone density as athletes that participate in those sorts of sports. Cycling is great for your heart and your aerobic system, but it does nothing to help keep your bones strong. The off season is a great time to add some weight-bearing activities. Your weight-bearing activity doesn’t even have to be intense. A nice hike, or a moderate strength workout will do the trick. A qualified cycling coach or a trainer with a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist ( CSCS) certification can help you put together a strength training plan that will help you meet your goals as a cyclist, and stay injury free. The bonus is that the added bone density will help keep you cycling into your golden years.
Don’t: Start off too hard with the weights.
You may be very fit, but if you haven’t been hitting the weight room, you are going to really feel that first resistance workout. Many strength gains are made and muscle damage is done during the eccentric part of the contraction or the part when the muscle is lengthening under load. This is also sometimes called the “negative contraction.” Your legs’ strength can be excellent from all of those hours on the bike, but cycling has no eccentric contraction, and the first time you hit the weights, you are sure to experience some Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Easing into your resistance program minimizes the muscle soreness and can lead to greater gains in the long term. See above about a qualified cycling or CSCS strength coach.
Do: Get in some occasional exercise intensity
As cyclists we love to get our blood pumping, both from the physical exertion and the thrill competition. If we go long without that thrill, then we’ll definitely start to miss it. Its perfectly fine to do the occasional hammerfest group ride, or the hard mountain bike ride to get your blood pumping and your competitive juices flowing. There isn’t some physiological barrier that cannot be crossed without ruining your entire off season. In fact, those occasional hard rides will help you hold onto more fitness than you would otherwise have.
Don’t: Be an off season Hero
There is no prize for being the fastest rider all off season. Everyone knows a rider who crushes during the off season, but is then shot out the back once race season comes around. These riders seem to have the same level of fitness all year around, and I guess that’s fine if you aren’t training for anything in particular. But if you want to be a racer, you should be on a periodized program that makes you the fittest you can possibly be when your big events roll around. If you dedicate yourself to this, then you’ll inherently be less fit at other times of the year, and that’s OK.
Do: Start thinking about next season
The time to start thinking about 2014 is now. Early fall is a time when many new clients come to me in order to plan for the next year. I can help them put an off season program together and begin thinking about their goals for the following year. Having your 2014 goals in mind will also help you stay focused on keeping enough fitness in the offseason to build on all of your hard work from this year.
Don’t: Stress over it
The majority of my clients are doing this for fun, but even (especially!) my elite/pro-level athletes need a little time to recharge their batteries each year . I’ll push them during the race season, and I help them stay focused during the off season, but it’s OK to relax a little!
Sean Burke is the head coach for Crank Cycling in San Diego CA. Sean and his associated coaches work with athletes of all levels, from true beginner to elite. You can contact Sean at CrankCycling.com