Making the most of the off-season
Making the most of the off-season
Lots of cyclists talk about the “off season” but what exactly is it and what should you be doing during this period? As the name suggests the off season is that period of the year where you aren’t on, where you switch off! It’s basically the time of year between the last event of your cycling season and the start of the next race calendar and is a great time to take stock of the previous year, set some goals, try something new and adjust your training. Here are some key things to do during the off-season:
At the end of the season it is important to have a period of rest to help both the body and mind recover from the strains and stresses of competing or just training hard. The amount of time people take off varies from one week to a month. I always have a whole month off but will do some Pilates during this time. Use this down time to catch up on the things you couldn’t do during the season, such as spending time with friends and family or having a holiday that doesn’t involve exercising! It’s also a good opportunity to give your body a MOT-get a massage, visit a chiropractor, if you wear orthotics visit you podiatrist to check they are still suitable.
The rest period is also a great opportunity to reflect on the past year and begin to plan the next season. Start thinking about what your aims and goals will be for 2016, whether it is a particular race or sportive, getting a time-trial PB or climbing a famous Col. Then you can start to plan the training you need to do to achieve to meet this goal. Write down your goal and then three things that you can do that will help you to achieve it. Of course the aim may change during the year as you never know what opportunities could open up. At the end of last year my aim was to win gold at the European Aquathlon but that all changed when I was offered a place on the One Day Ahead team and my goal changed to cycling the entire route of the Tour de France! Be focused but flexible.
3) Try something different
The off season is a great opportunity to try out new things. If you only normally do road cycling why not give mountain biking or cyclo-cross a go or try your hand at track cycling? All will improve your bike handling skills. Maybe give yoga or Pilates a go to improve your core stability or try a new class out at the gym. Basically you can mess about during the off season. Doing something different will also stop you getting bored and help keep you motivated.
4) Strength training
The winter is a good time to build strength that will help you come the cycle season. Strength training can be done in the gym or on the bike. There are a number of cycling specific weight exercises that can be found on-line. A good way to build strength on the bike is hill-rep training. Find a hill that takes you a couple of minutes to ride and then climb it in as large a gear as possible without falling off! Then recover by just rolling back down the hill. Repeat this for about 5 repetitions. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to climb the hill. If you are doing it correctly you will be going very slowly! Make sure you stretch afterwards!
5) Improve your technique
Good technique will mean that you are riding more efficiently, which translates into riding faster! If possible have a go on a Wattbike and see what your pedal stroke and leg balance is like. Most people discover that they don’t engage their hamstrings enough or have one leg stronger than the other. If this is the case for you then incorporate a weekly technique session into your training programme where you can do drills to engage the hamstrings or single leg drills to improve leg balance. It is hard to explain how to engage the hamstrings but it feels like pulling the leg upwards-imagine wiping some gum off the bottom of your shoe or hitting your Achilles backwards to try and engage the muscles.
6) Base level training
There is currently some debate about the old adage that winter miles = summer smiles. Base training is done at an intensity that teaches your body to use oxygen most efficiently and tends to be achieved through long and steady rides. The idea of a pyramid is often used to describe base training-having a large base level will allow you to climb to a peak of fitness. Training at an aerobic level means that your body becomes better at using oxygen and burning fat and getting in the long miles will help with shorter high-intensity, race focused sessions come the spring and summer. However some question whether it is possible to do rides of a sufficient distance in the cold weather and shorter days to achieve these training benefits. As with most things a mixture is probably best. My winter and summer training isn’t that different with regards to long rides. If you are totally new to cycling then I would recommend getting a good level of base fitness before speed work, whatever time of year. For the more experienced riders then of course you will still need to do some high end sessions in the winter so as not too loose top end fitness. I try to do two steady rides and two interval sessions each week, regardless of the time of year.
7) Warm weather training
Of course a great thing to do in the winter is to escape to the sun and do some warm weather cycling! Not only will you be able to get some quality riding in but the chance of injury is less in warm weather and you will be able to get a healthy dose of vitamin D. Of course the sun also helps with motivation! I usually try to have at least two one-week stays overseas and always try to ride with the Ciclo Costa Blanca team in Spain. I can’t wait to travel to Benidorm this December to join Ciclo Costa Blanca again and ride in the beautiful and challenging roads of the Marina Mountains.