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Sunday, December 2, 2012

What to do Before the Off Season

After a hard competitive season with races on back to back weekends and little rest, you may be wondering- what now?
It may not be obvious at first, but the first critical step is to take a break and give your body time to repair the damage caused by racing.  On the other hand, your bike probably doesn't need a break, but it probably needs a cleaning!

In a periodized training program, this first step is called the transition phase.  Lasting up to six weeks, the number one goal during this time period is to rehabilitate and recover by cutting mileage down significantly.

I'm probably not the only one who thinks that six weeks of low mileage training feels like an eternity, but trust me, it's absolutely necessary if you want a successful off-season.  Starting the off-season without rehabilitating injuries or correcting muscular imbalances will lead to a frustrating off-season riddled with unpredictable recovery days.  This brings us to the next important question:

Answer: Unfortunately, there isn't a cookie-cutter answer to this question because it varies heavily from person to person.  Fortunately, it's not very difficult to calculate your personalized training volume for the transition phase.  Just follow the step-by-step instructions below:

Thanks to advancements in technology, anyone with a smart phone can easily track workouts with training websites such as Polar Personal TrainerGarmin ConnectStrava and Endomondo.  If you do things the old school way with paper and pencil, that works too!  If you have neither, you'll be doing a lot of guesswork, but you'll still benefit by reading on.

There are three basic pieces of information that should be easily accessible in your training log: frequency, intensity and duration. These variables describe the overload used in your training program. Below is a quick review of the three variables which make up overload.
  1. Frequency: Number of training sessions per day or week.
  2. Intensity: Describes the difficulty of the workout.
    • The level of work (distance, weight, etc.)
    • Calories expended
    • Heart rate
    • Percent of VO2
    • METs
  3. Duration: Amount of time spent per session.
If you take a look at the screen capture below, the Strava training calendar shows my frequency and total duration for the month of July. The majority of my workouts also have heart rate information which represents the intensity of each workout.
Most of my workouts were labeled with additional information to make comparing and filtering workouts easier to do.  For example, if I wanted to determine whether a new PR was my work or mother nature's, I would simply search "SSW" in Strava and all of my workouts with this tag will pop up.  If you're interested in copying my labeling method, you can check it below.  If not, skip to step three!
  • Date, solo/group?, Workout type (aerobic, interval, etc.), HR zone, Duration, Distance, Avg speed, Temperature, wind speed direction
  • **EXAMPLE (Basic aerobic workout)** 07/22/2012 solo, recovery, Aero, 01:42:13, 30.44 mi, 17.8 mph avg, 97 deg, 15 mph SSW
  • **EXAMPLE (Interval workout)** 07/22/2012 solo, intervals, Lactic Threshold, 75s on: 50s off *24reps, 80% HRmax work, 65% HRmax rest, 97 deg, 15 mph SSW
Now that you have a training log and clear descriptors for each workout, you're ready for the easy final step!  All you have to do now is keep the intensity the same and cut your training volume by 1/3 or 2/3.

This may sounds like too drastic of a change, but research consistently shows that as long as intensity is maintained, training volume can be reduced by 1/3 to 2/3 without any detraining.  I want to emphasize that intensity must remain the same!  If you reduce intensity along with training volume, you will detrain.  However, if intensity is maintained despite a significant cut in training volume, physiological adaptations will be retained and performance will either stay the same or improve. (1,3,4,5,6) [page 132].  I hope this is clear. If it's not, refer to the cliff notes version below for step three:
  1. Maintain training intensity!
  2. Reduce training duration by 60-90%
  3. Maintain training frequency by more than 80% (highly trained) and 30-50% for moderately trained individuals
If the transition is performed correctly, the reward is a "clean, fresh slate" to train on.  When you start the off-season and resume hard training, recovery times will be predictable and much shorter.  Also, if enough time was spent on fully rehabilitating injuries, you might not experience the slightest sign of an injury next season!

  • Costill, D. L., D. S. King, M. Hargreaves, and R. Thomas. "Effects of reduced training on muscular power in swimmers." Physi-cian and Sportsmedicine 13 (1985): 94-101. Print.
  • Kibler, W. B., & T. J. Chandler: Sport-specific conditioning. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 22(3):424–432 (1994).
  • Padilla, S., and I. Mujika. "Scientifi c bases for precompetition tapering strategies." Medicine and science in sports and exercise 35.7 (2003): 1182–1187. Print.
  • Roemmich, J. M., R. C. Hickner, S. H. Park, J. B. Mitchell, D. L. Costill, and J. A. Houmard. "Reduced training main-tains performance in distance runners."International Journal of Sports Medicine 11 (1990): 46–52. Print.
  • Shinebarger, M. H., J. M. Wells, N. J. Bruno, T. Hortobagyi, R. W. Kobe, J. A. Houmard, and R. A. Johns. "Effects of taper on swim power, stroke distance, and performance."Medicine and science in sports and exercise10.24 (1992): 1141–1146. Print.
  • Tarnopolsky, M., G. Coates, J. R. Sutton, N. Cipriano, and Shepley, B., J. D. MacDougall. "Physiological effects of tapering in highly trained athletes." Journal of applied Physiology72 (1992): 706–711. Print.