by Frank Overton, September 2018
A proper post season break is 100% individual and should be a collaboration between the coach and athlete. At the very least, the topic of not following a training plan (yes, I wrote that) warrants a discussion. A good coach will know the athlete and be able to read what is going to be the best form of break for them. Similarly, a good athlete is going to trust his or her coach and honor what they are being told (which is converse to riding/training/following a training plan). Because when a post season break is ‘done’ properly, the athlete will be able to draw upon the break and perform better next season.
Sports Psychologist, Dr. Kristin Keim, Ph.D, describes a post season break as the transition season where the athlete and coach work on objectives outside of training and competition. Aka the athlete’s mental game.
Not following a training plan for a period of time is actually a better description than ‘no bike’ when it comes to customizing a proper post season break. Getting out of one’s daily training routine is actually the best ‘training’ athletes can do following a long season of training and racing and sacrifice. Why? Because following a training plan is stressful and full of sacrifice. A proper post season break removes that stress and sacrifice to bring the athlete back in balance with life: family, work, kids, relationships, friends, plus other hobbies and interest. Most importantly, a proper post season break brings the athlete’s motivation back for the next season. Therefore a proper post season break is not to quote Dr. Keim “not about stopping all physical activity, but more about not have a strict regime of training, diet, traveling, and racing. The transition season is more about adding balance, working on other aspects of one’s life and identity (outside of sport), and slowly starting to work on the blue print and goals for the upcoming season. I like to look at it as hitting the “Reset Button” on life.”
3 Parameters of a Proper Post Season Break:
- Take 2 weeks off: Professional athletes may need 3-4 weeks of not following a training plan. Generally the length of your break is determined by how long you’ve been in the sport and how much time you have to train when it’s time to train. For the vast majority of athletes we coach though, 2 weeks off is ideal.
- Re-establish “Life Balance“: be a normal person that doesn’t get up at the crack of dawn to train, rush to work or get cranky. Focus on other areas of your life like the ones that matter more than sport. Be present in your relationships at work and at home.
- Soul Rides**: I define these as whatever ride makes the athlete happy. Perhaps you’ve heard of hashtag, ‘happiness watts’. A soul ride is the athlete’s favorite route with their favorite training partner. Its whatever they want for however long or short, hard or easy the athlete wants. It can also not be riding at all; that’s the beauty of not following a training plan. A total mental break from the pressure and stress that a training plan creates.
Above all, a proper post season break is a total mental and physiological break from the pressure and stress that a training plan and racing creates. A proper post season break brings the athlete back to a better space for training and racing than he or she was before the break.
What Should Athletes and Coaches ‘do’ beyond not following a plan during a Proper Post Season Break:
#1 Relax. There’s no pressure to complete 3 x 10 min of x,y, & z watts. Seriously, relax.
#2 Fix the nagging injury or heal from the one that ended your season
#3 Reconnect with you enjoyment of the bike (see Soul Rides**). Just reconnect with all aspect of life.
# 4 Meditate. This can be thru Yoga which has additional benefits. Read Dr. Keim’s 4 reason athletes should meditate here
A post season break is the time to address the complicated injuries that require time off from training. Back and knee pain are common for us endurance athletes but its whatever is an area of opportunity for when you ‘fix’ it. By taking a physical break from training, you will lay the foundation to start building upon for next season. Without being completely mentally and physically refreshed before beginning your training again for next season you will likely run into motivational or physical problems later on when it’s ‘go time’ for training and racing.
Racing takes so much mental energy that it’s nice to simply take a step back, sleep late, relax, and recharge. For those of us that have jobs, families, and relationships, it’s nice for once to not have to sacrifice time and energy at their expense. Now would be a good time to try to impress the boss at work and make up for all those Monday mornings you were spent from a weekend of racing. Equally as important would be the fact that you, for the first time in many months, have a weekend to do whatever you want with your family or girlfriend/boyfriend. Stay out late, take the kid to a ball game, or plan on a romantic weekend getaway with your significant other as a way of saying “thanks for putting up with me this season”.
Additional Considerations for Athletes:
Take a break from being a geeky regimented cyclist and/or endurance athlete. If you were following a strict performance diet, stop. Eat cookies, order the steak, whatever you want. If you were trying to get 8-9 hours of sleep a night, stay up late, don’t worry about it. Forget about your resting heart rate, staying off your feet, and your power to weight ratio. But remember all good things come to an end. The purpose of a break enables you to resume and hold all the components that go into being a performance cyclist. So whatever you fancy, do it now so that you can get back to full on training and racing for next season.
** One caveat to the soul ride is for the type A athletes who tend to overdo ‘it’. Coaches will recognize this and actually prescribed complete time off as opposed to the option for riding. We all love the bike and some more than others. It’s those athletes that may not benefit from a proper break and get 8-12 weeks into their annual training plan and need a break.
#1 Read the athlete’s motivation before and after the break. If there’s no improvement, the break wasn’t long enough. Wait for cues from the athlete.
#2 Advance Planning. This is the time to start working on the athletes Annual Training Plan (ATP). You won’t finish it (not even close) but when the athlete comes back from a break refreshed, motivated and ready to charge ahead, the coach needs to have the 10,000 ft aerial view plan. A blueprint for how the athlete is going to achieve his/her goals.
#3 Talk about Goals. I call this the ‘goal setting talk’. Like the ATP, you cannot have this talk at the beginning of the break because the athlete is not ready. You’ll know when they are ready when they start talking about their goals for next season. And you the coach need to have put some thought into how to shape that into a plan for them to achieve those goals.
As a coach, I enjoy this time of year as much as when its game on for an athlete’s goal events. This time is a terrific time and opportunity to work with the athlete on their mental game. I love to see an athlete go from worn out and unmotivated to talking about a podium and such and such race next summer. All in 2-4 weeks time. Having the time to step back and identify what happened in the past season and ways to improve for next are absolutely critical for the coach and athlete. I used to be a black and white “no bike for 2 whole weeks” type of coach. Nowadays, I find toeing a ‘gray’ line in collaboration with the athlete enables them to complete their break ready for the next season in the best way possible.
For some athletes, it takes a great deal of discipline to say goodbye to a training plan for 2 – 4 weeks. For others, it’s completely easy. In either case, the post season break is a different mindset than what’s been ingrained into an athlete’s daily routine for the past 11 months. But rest assured when the break is part of a greater annual training plan the athlete will benefit enormously.
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