Offseason is Over: How Do We Know?

It seems like it’s just started, but offseason is just about over. There are a couple reasons why this is true, but if you’re looking to race well in the coming season, right now is the time to get ready.

Offseason: People are different.

One of the most important parts of effective training is tailoring it to the individual. Despite what research concludes in general, it’s ALWAYS true that people are different. They respond differently to different intensities, volumes, recovery times, and life stressors in often completely opposite ways. Using analytical tools like WKO4, it’s possible to get insights into how these differences affect athletes. Taking an offseason break is no less important than nailing an individual’s training schedule. What that break looks like depends on several factors.
When planning an offseason for athletes, the first thing I consider is: what do they feel like? Was their season long and difficult? Did they feel they were running out of steam or just getting going? Motivation is a finite resource, and offseason is a great way to replenish it, but it’s important to recognize where each athlete stands to see where they should go. These, and related mental and emotional questions, are key to understanding the mental side of training that offseason is most effective at benefiting. At Source, we have an end-of-season questionnaire that helps us assess the state of athletes. In addition to that assessment, we schedule offseason consults and get an idea of what an athlete feels like doing. This can be a great time to work on other things, in training or outside of it altogether, while maintaining some movement and exercise to keep the body going.

Offseason: Duration varies.

Physically, athletes usually only need 5-10 days to be completely revitalized. As before, this varies between individuals, but the body is remarkably good at repairing any physical damage (stress from training) when given just a short break. However, the constant stress and strain of racing and training for several months without much time off often requires more time until an athlete feels recovered. Looking at post-workout comments, along with the workouts themselves, I can generally figure out what an athlete will want for their offseason break. Regardless, I discuss with them what they’re thinking and feeling about it and get a plan in order for how much time off they need and when they can restart training.
So, it’s ultimately up to the individual what offseason looks like. I have a few athletes who take 10 days, can’t stay off the bike (and ride 3 hours on days 6 and 11) then ask if they can start really training again. I have others who take 3 weeks completely off, gain 10lbs, and call me in a haze, saying “I think I’m ready to train again…”. As an athlete, I’m personally the latter. I take offseason OFF. The point being: everyone is different, but effective coaches adapt to that and help their athletes do what’s best for them. By talking to athletes and gauging their motivation through analysis of workouts and comments, we can reach an offseason solution to maximize the recovery, mental and physical, and minimize detraining.
Typically, I recommend 2-4 weeks of offseason break. During this period, it’s fine to take upwards of a week totally off. Much more than that begins to get athletes out of their good training habits and into more nefarious hobbies, like baking. So, after a short initial off period of little, I get athletes moving again with a variety of different activities. These can include just about any activity off the bike, most commonly running, soccer, hiking, or similarly light aerobic workouts. I’ll also have options for riding, depending on the athlete. These rides are easy. Very easy. Exclusively easy. I want to make sure that the future months are approached with enthusiasm and as much willingness to complete the work as we can get. When an athlete is regularly hitting the optional or recommended workouts, rather than hit or miss, then we get started with “real” training.
unnamed-3Offseason also includes strength training. Coach Zack Allison recently reviewed the literature on strength training. The conclusion: get in the gym!  At the beginning of the rest period, I set a schedule for getting back on the bike and getting into the gym. The first week or two of gym work is largely neuromuscular. It gets the body used to the movement patterns. It’s really light in order to keep soreness to a minimum, and then progresses gradually until in-season maintenance. Strength work takes 6-8 weeks to reap the full benefits, so starting earlier is better.

Offseason: To prepare for preseason.

Source coach Adam Mills has used data in WKO4, along with his years of experience and literal decades of rider files, to create training programs that give athletes a distinct advantage when the season rolls around. His conclusion from all that work is that riders need about 300 hours of training in a primarily aerobic capacity to begin approaching top form when it matters. Working backwards from the race season, with target races from April through July, that means it’s time to start by November 1.
So, welcome to the preseason, enjoy your strength, base, and winter riding! Read more educational content on the blog.