Those that know me know that I am not afraid of a little controversy. I’m never scared to go against the grain, or to attack sacred cows. In fact, admittedly, I even enjoy it just a little bit. SO for the next few weeks I’ll be writing about several sacred cows of cycling and training, especially about why I disagree with them.
Sacred Cow: “You need to completely step away from your bike for at least a month each off-season”
My take: I love riding my bike; it makes me happy and keeps me fit. The same goes for most of the riders I train, so we aren’t going to stop riding.
The idea that you need to completely step away from your bike for some period each off season is something that is ingrained in old school style coaching and training. The reasons given for these “required breaks” are usually something along the lines of: rest, mental and physical rejuvenation, cross training, etc . Well guess what? You can do all of those things while you keep riding your bike. There are situations when some riders SHOULD take some time off due to injuries, over-training, or just plain mental fatigue. If it’s the off-season, and you can barely even look at your bike , much less muster the energy to throw a leg over it, then by all means: take some time off. But most riders simply don’t want to, or need to abandon their bikes for an extended period of time.
You can cross train to address imbalances, heal from mild over-training injuries, and get a mental and physical break, all while you still ride your bike. I am a big proponent of having at least several weeks a year of “ unstructured riding”. This mean riding your bike when and how you feel like riding your bike, and not looking at your bicycle computer when you ride. For roadies, it may mean doing some mountain biking or riding a cross bike to keep it interesting. Have fun, ride, but don’t ‘train’. If you don’t feel like riding, then don’t ride, but DO stay active. Cross train rather than ride some days, go to the gym, play basketball, row, run, swim, or surf. Just make sure you get some exercise most days of the week.
You will lose some fitness during the off season, but you don’t want to lose too much. You might gain a few lbs during the off season, but you don’t want to gain too much. Being maximally fit at some times of the year and less fit at others is part of a good per iodized training plan. And it is practically impossible to stay at your peak fitness all year around, but you also don’t want to have to dig yourself out of a giant hole at the beginning of every season. The fitter you can stay during the off season without getting burned out, the better your next year of racing will be. Being fit isn’t just about what you did last week or last month. It’s also about what you did last year, and the year before. Build on those previous years; don’t start at square one each season.
Most of us love riding our bikes, if you don’t love riding your bike, then you should probably quit racing right now. I am happier when I ride my bike, my mood is better, and I am more pleasant to be around. Just ask my wife! So I am going to keep on riding. If you want to keep riding, then you should too.
Bonus sacred cow: “ You need to put in lots of long slow distance miles early or pre- season before you do any intensity”
My take: That is ridiculous. There is absolutely no reason that going hard sometimes during the off season or pre- season will somehow wreck you for the year. You obviously can’t go full throttle all year around, but going fast sometimes is fun. And when you reduce your training volume during the winter, those hard rides are going to help keep you fit. See above about not having to dig yourself out of a hole each winter.
Sean Burke is the head coach for Crank Cycling in San Diego CA