Off-season. What’s an off-season? I hardly remember what a true off-season is anymore because I race nearly year round. I can tell you, though, that I am anxiously looking forward to a few weeks off in February between the end of ‘cross season and the beginning of road racing.
Although in recent years I haven’t had a true “off-seasons”, I can tell you from past experience that the off-season is a time for reflection, a time to look back on the triumphs and disappointments from the past season. What went right/wrong in training? Were you happy with your race results? Could your nutrition have been handled better? Did you make the best out of every outcome – good or bad? What changes need to be made to make the coming season even better? Now is the time to consider all that went right and wrong in every facet of your cycling “life” to help prepare for a more successful 2012.
As you mull over 2011 and plan for 2012, think about how, when, where you’re going to give yourself some down time, too. Put the bike away for a few weeks. Walk. Hike. Run. Ski. Hit the gym. Do yoga or try pilates for the first time. Do all the things that you don’t get a chance to do during the season when all focus is on the bike.
In the days when I did have an off-season, I spent quite a bit of time in the gym working on my core and overall body strength and stability with Cross Fit. Unless a person is working on muscle imbalances or has a very specific focus, I believe that no cyclist needs to use a single static machine to build strength, power or endurance. Cycling is dynamic. Sure we are stationary on the saddle, but we are always in motion. It’s the coordination of muscles between the upper body, back and legs that power our movement on the bike, so why single out just one muscle? In one shot Cross Fit-type exercises incorporate almost every major muscle group into each different exercise, which improves stability, strength, power and endurance across multiple joints, not just a single muscle.
Don’t just toss your training program out the door. Eat the cookies you usually vehemently shake your head at in fear of gaining an extra pound. Have two (or three) beers instead of just one. Enjoy a Thanksgiving feast without guilt. Cut yourself some slack…for a little while anyway. Let your body recover from the strict limitations and stress that it deals with for five, six, seven months out of the year.
After a few weeks or so of unregimented “training”, slowly work yourself back into a casual training schedule. Don’t jump into intensity right away. Ride slow, long miles. Continue to mix in other activities as well. Reconsider drinking that third beer or eating that fourth cookie. As the weeks and months tick by, tighten the focus on your training and nutrition so when you line up for the first race of the year you are as best prepared as possible. That doesn’t mean you should be at your fittest, because few people need to be flying in March, but you should be on target to reach your 2012 goals.
If you want to bring out your wild and crazy side, try cyclocross. My only warning is that it is addictive. I know from experience. It’s why I haven’t had an off-season in several years. But, it’s also why in December when it’s cold and dreary outside I am happy to be on my bike. I can race instead of train and have a lot of fun doing it. Plus, I like getting muddy. Maybe you will, too.