To the disappointment of many and the exhilaration of a few hard-riding fools – the debate about whether or not to go ‘off-season’ is continuously leaning towards consistent training verses an abandonment of strict discipline in favor of late mornings, leisurely base miles, and general enjoyment. It has historically been a time when a racer pulled out the old winter bike, enjoyed a comfortable coffee with mates, and generally didn’t focus much on a training regime.
Those days aren’t necessarily gone as long as you have a plan…
Originally: off season for competitive cyclists came about mainly because the weather was shockingly awful and no one really wants to ride in damp, wet, and cold misery that is winter for many parts of the world. Longer, slower, rides were common and it was a great chance to avoid feeling pushed out into nasty weather and catch up with old friends. However if you are a lucky soul that lives in milder winter climates … there really isn’t an excuse not to get out on your bike.
If you truly cannot get outside to keep up a regular cycling plan, here’s a great article about transitioning into off-season and how to maintain your fitness with cross training.
Regardless of where you live, research is pointing more firmly to the benefits of maintaining a regular training regime all year long.
Bummer. So much for goofing off for about six months…
Being one of those hard-headed fools, I’ve never really taken an ‘off season’, per se. Having the luxury of a mild winter climate and a genuine love for cycling, my riding rarely fluctuates from month to month with the exception of setting my alarm for silly o’clock in the summer to avoid heat stroke. I goof off all year! The bonus of maintaining a regular riding schedule is that I don’t lose significant fitness in the winter and I’m reasonably ready to enter into the next race season having kept a steady riding routine.
I’m ready… I didn’t say I was fit! There’s a certain amount of discipline that some can find constricting in order to maintain race-level fitness.
Giving yourself a week or two off, however, is not necessarily a bad thing – especially if you competed often during the race season. Taking a break, mentally and physically, is a good way to avoid burn-out. Even the Pros prefer to walk away from the bike briefly and reacquaint themselves with why they love riding. As difficult as it is to swallow: I’m slowly realizing that one does need to plan rest intervals into any kind of regular riding lifestyle – especially if you frequently get outside of your comfort zone.
Speaking of comfort zones – why not allow yourself to Switch Up during the off season?
Trying something new and getting out of your comfort zone is a great way to build muscle strength, gain skills, and avoid being in a rut. Now that Cyclocross (‘Cross is Boss’!) is all the rage, there’s plenty of CX events to choose from to test your skills and have fun. Face it, getting beer hand-ups and grabbing dollar bills on a run-up doesn’t suck. There aren’t any beer hand-ups in road racing (maybe we should change that?) and most ‘Cross events are fairly laid-back filled with family fun, heckling, and tons of encouragement from your cycle-mates. CX takes my favorite things from Crit racing and mountain bike racing, throws it together in a big bowl and serves up a side of gritty good times!
Cyclocross might be just be best thing ever, except for when it rains…
If you are completely toasted from a long season of racing and grimace at the very thought of committing to a race event of any kind: maybe you can just try something different to shake things up a bit. Do a gravel grinder on your mountain bike or CX bike. Go bike-packing with some buddies or plan a mini bike tour over a long weekend. Strike out and find different roads to explore or pack up the bikes for a holiday. Whatever it is, you don’t have to compete in the off-season to stay in good form.
If you LOVE road racing and you LOVE cyclocross – make sure you don’t burn yourself out in road season as this can lead to injuries due to prolonged periods of excursion without recuperation.
If you have the band-width: use your off-season to focus yourself on skills you would like to develop. Not having a competitive event on the immediate horizon allows you to throw caution to the winds and dive into something that will probably wear you out. Whenever you are working on an area of your cycling that is either not your natural strength zone or unfamiliar territory, it WILL exhaust you more than normal. If you want to be a top competitor, being competent in aspects of your favorite type of racing event is best. I typically avoid road races because, to me, they are (1) long, (2) boring, and (3) tiring. I’m lazy and I like to sprint – so I stick to Crits. Problem is: allowing these limitations on endurance can hold me back – even in a good Crit event.
Working on an area to improve isn’t a bad idea on the off season if you are a competitive cyclist. You have the ability to cycle yourself flat and the time to recover. But remember: you can’t rewrite DNA. If endurance road events or sprinting isn’t in your genes – it probably won’t magically show up even if you work on it. Always, always, always focus on your strengths and work to mitigate your weaknesses. Balance is everything and if you don’t have it … well, you fall over!