With the end of the road season fast approaching or already here for the majority of the US, it’s time for the offseason to begin in earnest. There are a lot of great reasons to really take time off and take a step back from bike racing and serious training. Many are transitioning to cyclocross, but there are some among us who’d rather take the winter to relax, stay warm. Here are a few of my favorite things, both as a coach and athlete about taking offseason off.
Expand your activity portfolio.
In the offseason, I really enjoy doing other types exercise and physical activities. For me, this includes everything from weightlifting and running to “real” sports like basketball, ultimate Frisbee, and soccer. These things make for a really nice change of pace and refresh your outlook on how awesome bike racing can be. For those with children and friends outside of cycling, other activities are also a great way to connect with people and simultaneously stay in shape while away from the bike. Don’t skip arm day, for once!
Mental fatigue is very real in bike racing, especially with the season lasting from late January all the way up to October in some cases, like Texas. Mental stress and physical stress are incredibly similar in terms of physiological response; taking a real offseason can be equivalent to a vacation from work. It’s not uncommon to come back from even a weeklong vacation performing as well as before, and even better in the following weeks. Even a short break makes a big difference in mental outlook. The break often allows you to focus and work better following a period of rest. Recovery is the part of training that makes you adapt and get better, so it’s only natural that an extended recovery period of a few weeks can result in better performance. It’s a lot easier to jump back into training after a break than to continue right through the end of the season on to the next one.
Detraining occurs depressingly fast after time off the bike. If you’ve been off the bike for even 2 weeks, you’ve certainly experienced this phenomenon. However, once you’re back on the horse, it’s easier than before to get back where you were. Detraining makes you worse quickly, but it doesn’t affect major mechanical adaptations nearly so quickly. Things like capillary density and heart size can actually improve between seasons even with 2-4 weeks totally off the bike. Ultimately, the break ends up netting a benefit. If your goal is race performance or a big event during the year, there’s little point to being fit in the middle of winter anyway. Stay inside a little bit, stay warm, and enjoy yourself.
How to offseason.
The best part about offseason is that you can pretty much do whatever you want. I’ll typically place 2-3 aerobic type activities on a schedule each week for 2-4 weeks to maintain some sort of activity, but otherwise it’s totally open. I encourage athletes to do what they want during this time. Eat a little more, do a little less, the important thing is to relax, whatever that means for you, as long as it’s not 20 hours of riding each week. Taking longer than 4 weeks off the bike starts to have more serious consequences in detraining and takes more willpower to get back in the habit, so I don’t recommend an offseason longer than that. So drink that extra beer, take the short route, drive a car to work for once (ok, maybe keep the commute alive),
Once offseason is over, it’s time to get serious again. In the meantime, here are a few offseason thoughts from bike racers doing what’s been termed #ahhhhffseason correctly. It’s important to note that these are all real conversations I’ve had.
My longest walk today was to the fridge for second breakfast.
I weighed 72kg three weeks ago during stage races. Now I’m 79kg. I’m not worried about it.
But when is second dessert?
I was going to ride today, but I had to watch my cookies bake instead. Then I had to eat them. Then I had to make more because I ran out…
Is it still an afternoon nap if you’ve been asleep since 10pm?
I had vegetables for dinner, as long as supreme pizza counts as vegetables.
What’s the smallest size of ice cream you can eat in one sitting without it being weird?
Follow up: what counts as “one sitting”?
Mitchell Sides recently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BSEd in Exercise Science and is the newest addition to the team at Source Endurance. He’s transitioned from a self-proclaimed overweight couch resident into a member of Texas’s first UCI continental professional cycling team, Elevate Pro Cycling. He specializes in coaching road cycling and is inspired by the mentorship aspect of the sport. Learn more about Mitchell.