Active Rest: Rejuvenate and Rekindle the Flames
As the racing season comes to a close and the colors of the trees start to change, Fall, the season of change, begins the athlete’s transition into rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. Want to win next year? Don’t think about it for the next two weeks!
By Brian Walton
The first step towards victory next year begins by getting away completely from this year! Before I discuss the reasoning and benefits of active rest, do your body a service and take time completely off the bike. I suggest you take a good two weeks off and knock out the annual ‘Honey Do’ list or go on that special vacation.
Plan “the break” with family and work in mind and simply relax from the bike. Earn those family brownie points so you can balance the hectic lifestyle that goes along with bike racing and traveling during the season. I promise you that your season will be long and fruitful if you plan your season properly, which includes your rest periods with all the variables involved.
I like to plan breaks differently for different athletes but it really comes down to three things: mental freshness, climate, and personal goals. If you are tired, mentally or physically, then take the break now. Don’t force it! When it is time, you must be ready and want to come back, but don’t even think about slinging a leg over the top tube until the momentum returns.
For athletes that live in areas that have true winters AND are still mentally fresh, then keep going with your training program and enjoy the fall weather. Group rides are common so hook up with some training partners for the company, increased intensity, and extra recovery that is conducive to riding in a group.
Rejuvenation through Remembering
In the winter of 1995 I decided to put all my focus into increasing my riding volume (see Recovery from Injury: From OR to Olympics) to prepare for the 1996 Olympic Games, ignoring the rule of “rejuvenation through cross training.” Cyclists of all levels may develop muscle imbalance issues and potential knee/ankle tracking problems and possible serious injuries if they only ride their bike throughout their season and career. Keep in mind that an average recreational racing cyclist training 12 hours a week, 40 weeks a year will turn the pedals more than 2.5 million times.
40weeks x 12hours x 60min x 90rpm equals over 2,562,000 million repetitions in just one season!
That’s a lot of repetitions of one motion! Promoting balance in mind and body through weight training, running, swimming, in-line skating, ball sports, yoga, walking, hiking, etc. can play a very important role towards the success of a cyclist.
From a diet and nutrition standpoint, the first two weeks of a break are critical. Even with greatly reduced activity levels, I found that my eating habits were hard to change. This is partially out of habit or what I like to call the “stage race hunger lag”. I sensed that my body still craved calories like I was racing my bike. Without care, I could gain as much as 5-10 pounds in this two week period!
To circumvent this unnecessary weight gain, I found it imperative to keep busy in other ways, and to make sure I wasn’t snacking just out of boredom but that, when I did snack, I did so with healthy foods, save the occasional favorite Oktoberfest brew, of course!
By maintaining “race” weight, I was able to dedicate the focus of my return to the bike on eliminating my weaknesses (pedal technique, leg speed, etc.) and reinforcing strengths rather than having to log “fat burning” endurance miles just to get my body into a base level of conditioning. Having to spend time trying to shed a few pounds can jeopardize a periodized training plan as well as put an athlete at risk for soft tissue injury if he or she is not used to bearing the increased body mass.
Only after you get away from your bike is it possible for you and your coach to objectively assess how your season played out, relative to your goals; and, only after carefully appraising the previous season, can you start to think about your goals for the year to come.
This doesn’t mean simply focusing on the negative. Don’t be too hard on yourself and be sure to give yourself some credit but, be objective.
It’s difficult for athletes to fit their racing schedule into their personal and work lives and it’s even more difficult for athletes to take a break and just sit back and relax. Plan intelligently and plan races that suit your strengths. However, enjoy the time off. Remember, you improve and rejuvenate when you are on the couch. When you start back, have a little less structure to your training and don’t worry about heart rates, wattage, etc. Enjoy the nice weather and ride based on how you feel. This was one of my favorite times of the year to ride because I was simply on my bike doing what I loved to do.
Brian Walton has a uniquely well-rounded perspective on training and coaching. He was one of the top Canadian riders of the 80s and 90s, riding as a pro with 7-Eleven, Motorola, and Saturn, and winning the 1989 Milk Race and silver in the 1996 Olympic Points Race. He then became the DS and coach for Team Snow Valley, turning it into the top Elite Men’s team in the USA. He is currently the Director of Performance for Cadence Cycling in Philadelphia, and can be reached for comments or coaching inquiries at [email protected].