TOOLBOX: The days are getting shorter, the big events have passed, and our attention is turning to preparation for next season. Cyclists and endurance athletes are entering the rest and transition phase that marks the start of off-season training. Here’s an effective 6 week plan to design and execute this off-season phase to pay big dividends later.
What is Off-season and What is Transition?
The transition season is so named because it is the transition between seasons. My endurance athletes associate it simply with rest, but what if we recognize its greater importance? I like to take a periodized approach to planning the transition phase. It typically lasts somewhere between 2-6 weeks, depending on each athlete’s goals and needs.
Let’s take a look at important transition goals over a period of three micro cycles and twelve weeks. This time period encompasses bases 1 and 2 in a traditional periodization, but to me early base is part of transition, and I think about it this way:
• Phase 1: Rest (traditional transition)
• Phase 2: Rejuvenation (prep)
• Phase 3: Recovery (traditional base 1)
Why do it this way? I’ve observed most athletes struggle to prescribe the right activities and workload in this phase of annual training. Bringing more attention to it in a periodized fashion allows us to better focus on micro-goals of recovery as part of the plan.
Phase 1: Rest (traditional transition)
At this point at the end of the season, you’re tired all the way down to your central nervous system. Your body needs some rest, and Phase 1 is where we get it. The goal of phase one is to truly rest and let the body and the mind heal.
Time: Four weeks for younger riders with a high training load, 2-4 weeks for masters riders with a medium to high training load.
Physical focus: Resting both the body and the mind. This means we need to focus on things that support such resting, such as sleeping an extra hour a night, eating well, and avoiding stress. Light aerobic exercises help too, as long as “light” and “relaxing” are the key words. Walking in the mornings, hiking at local parks, and canoeing or kayaking are all great ways to unwind in the fall.
Mental focus: This is an excellent time to begin thinking about next year, but don’t complete any planning. By allowing both the body and mind to recover, we typically discover more motivation, and this motivation needs to be part of the goal-setting process. I typically schedule season goal setting at the end of this phase.
Phase 2: Rejuvenation (traditional prep)
Time: 4-6 weeks
Physical focus: Rejuvenation through functional strength building, cross training, and endurance riding. Starting your strength building with functional strength helps first balance the body’s muscular system for more rigorous strength training in Phase 3, while at the same time helping to repair typical imbalances associated with a hard cycling season. I typically build three to four functional strength workouts a week based on each athlete’s needs. The goal here is not actually strength building, though; it is repair and balance. We return to base-building rides during this phase, but with lots of focus on cross training also; be sure to get in some running, rowing, and other activities to help rejuvenate your body. This cross training works with unstructured aerobic cycling to halt the detraining of phase one.
Mental focus: Now it’s time for goal setting. For me this phase typically starts with the finalization of next season’s goals and filling in the details. Once goals are set, this is the period to build a good annual training plan. I include this in mental focus because a good annual plan will contain training milestones and benchmarks and should be an extension of the goal setting process.
Phase 3: Recovery (traditional base 1)
Time: 4-6 weeks
Physical focus: During this phase we evolve the functional strength workouts into traditional strength resistance work to strengthen the body in preparation for an injury-free season. Also, this phase sees the return of structured aerobic riding focused on rebuilding aerobic fitness. Typically I’ll schedule two or three strength workouts and three or four aerobic rides during this phase. Based on each athlete’s conditioning and maturity, aerobic rides will include tempo and SST.
Mental focus: During Phase 3 I encourage my athletes to work on their mental game. This is an often overlooked aspect of cycling that can lead to significant improvements if the athlete is willing to put in the time, and there are plenty of resources available. If you’re not sure where to start, we’ll be happy to help!
The goal of periodizing your transition is to focus on rest, rejuvenation, and recovery. This is not a radical change to periodized planning norms; it is simply an attempt to improve mental focus on what should be happening to help improve our season.
Make it strong!
Tim Cusick is the TrainingPeaks WKO4 Product Development Leader, specializing in data analytics and performance metrics for endurance athletes. In addition to his role with TrainingPeaks, Tim is also Head Coach at Velocious Cycling Adventures. You can reach Tim for comments at email@example.com . To learn more about TrainingPeaks and WKO4 visit us at TrainingPeaks.com.