This time of the year is the end of a long season for many and it can be a difficult period to manage. Some are burned out, dispirited, lack motivation and have no clear goals for the following season. Others can be at the opposite end of the spectrum – raring to go and reluctant to give up their hard-won fitness.
At A1 Coaching we see this as a crucial part of the year for guiding our clients, even though it is not seen as a priority period by many.
Here, A1 Head Coach, Anthony Walsh, gives his 10 top-tips for managing the inter-season period.
1. Rest and recover
Rest is a crucial part of achieving optimum performance. When we train hard we only create the potential for improvement. Fitness is actually realized after a period of structured rest and adaptation. Therefore, proper training is a series of efforts and rests, and this is the time for your major annual rest. A period off the bike is necessary to mentally and physically recharge, and to come back to the bike hungry and healthy.
2. Don’t be afraid to let go of that fitness
You’ve spent all season logging miles, building condition and sticking to a plan. You are very fit now and maybe reluctant to take a break and lose it. Don’t make that mistake! Your 2016 campaign depends on you letting go of your current level so you can start to rebuild for a long season ahead.
3. Allow your hormone balance re-adjust
The body produces the hormone cortisol in response to stressors, whether physical or mental. Cortisol profoundly affects our quality of sleep and thus our ability to fully recover. A long season of balancing work, family and training obligations can result in a build up of cortisol. Use your off season to de-stress and return to baseline cortisol levels.
4. Renew relationships
Cycling can be all-absorbing. Throughout the season you’ve missed friends’ birthdays, gone home early on nights out or influenced the structure of family holidays. Maybe you’ve strained a lot of personal relationships. Use this down-time to rebuild.
5. Enjoy other activities and cross-training
We avoid other sports or activities during the season as we are wary of injury or residual fatigue. We choose not to play football with our friends or golf with our co-workers. Use this time to remedy that and enjoy other activities. Also, engaging in weight-bearing activities such as hiking, walking or running can act as a counterpoint to a season of cycling and improve bone density.
6. Review and plan
Whether your target for next season is the Ring of Kerry or a podium in a National Championships, it’s important not to just drift through the off-season without a plan. A critical review of last season now, both in terms of performance and enjoyment will help you identify obstacles to success. I always recommend athletes sit down with a friend, teammate or coach because we often lack objectivity when it comes to assessing our own ability. We may view ourselves as a ‘sprinter’ and thus justify our poor climbing ability, but a teammate may view us as an average sprinter who is too heavy for the hills. This critical assessment of last season will help you plan smart goals for the season to come.
7. Watch the diet
A little extra attention to diet now will ensure you hit the training period without much excess weight. Winter is not the time to pack on excess weight and then face months of the competitive season trying to shift it. So, don’t let your defenses down too much – avoid eating three hours before bed and be careful of those excess calories, especially in the form of soft drinks, beers and confectionery. Enjoy the nice things, but in moderation, and snack on fruit, nuts and nut-butters instead of sugary snacks.
8. Get a checkup
Mark Cavendish was much below his usual standards for much of the 2012 season due to extensive dental work which needed to be carried out in the early part of the season. A full medical check in the inter-season period could pre-empt problems before they materialize further down the road.
9. Examine your infrastructure for success
The inter-season is a time to ensure we have the necessary training infrastructure in place. Do we have a functioning winter training bike? An adequate indoor training solution? A coach? Do we need to renew or replace equipment for next year? Does that head-bearing in your best bike need replacement? Time will be a commodity in short supply when training for 2016 starts, so use your excess time now to ensure that you have the best infrastructure for the year ahead.
10. Celebrate and appreciate
Many of us have high expectations and we can be hard on ourselves. We can view the season past as a glass half-empty rather than a glass half-full. Whether your season was good, bad or indifferent, celebrate your efforts and appreciate the health, fitness and wonderful sport that you have.