Complete Rest: Benefits of Couch Time
Since most of you have been or will soon be taking some time away from the bike after a long, grueling season of racing or club riding, the first thing to do is to figure out just what taking time away means, and then to make plans for your best off-season yet. We start by advocating experiencing life as a couch potato.
We first posted this article October 2006. But the lesson bears repeating!
True to form, the Giro di Lombardia brought us a fabulous day of racing. Its prestige lies partly in it serving as the finale to the long European campaign that began for many at the Tour of Qatar or Tour Down Under back in January. Faster than the leaves falling and the sunlight fading, the Euro scene will soon be hibernating and we’ll be looking to the Southern Hemisphere for our racing fix.
Thus begins my favorite time of the year – the “Complete Rest” phase. This phase is required to reset your body and your mind so that, by the time you do start training again, you’ve regained all your passion and energy that might have dissipated over the course of the season. It is also designed to allow you to lose a little bit of fitness (this is not a typo!). It’s impossible for the body to maintain a high level of conditioning 12 months a year. Remember the old adage: “The bigger the valley the higher the peak.” It’s also a good time to remind your family who you are again!
The first question you may have is just how long do I spend on the couch? This phase can last anywhere from 2 weeks to a month or even more, depending on how long and intense your season has been. It is typically an inverse relationship – if you’ve been training hard and blowing the peloton apart since February like ProTour victor Cadel Evans or Paris-Nice and Tour winner Alberto Contador, you need to recover from that level of intensity and peak fitness by really letting yourself go for a good long while to completely recharge physically and mentally. On that front, this is exactly why Tour winners like Lance and Contador essentially pull the plug on their season after the Tour and a few August criteriums – the Tour has become so physically and mentally intense that the recovery phase needs to start almost immediately afterwards.
There certainly are exceptions to this pattern. The 2006-retired Viacheslav “Eki” Ekimov’s fanatical devotion to the bike and training is legendary. The same is true of Erik Zabel, who is competitive throughout the road season and then often jumps into the Six-Day circuit. On the other hand, if you’ve just been riding mostly at a moderate or recreational level, taking two months completely off isn’t necessary or helpful, and a shorter rest phase will be sufficient.
How to Do Nothing
The next question is just what does complete rest mean? Do not confuse this with the “recovery weeks” that are planned at the end of training cycles throughout the season. During a recovery week, you will usually ride easy at least 3 or 4 times to keep your muscles moving and the blood flowing. There’s no hidden meaning or euphemisms here – I mean COMPLETE REST! Take wire cutters to the cables and have your friend/spouse hide away the quick releases!
Instead, give yourself as complete a break as possible from the physical and mental rigors of life as an athlete. You deserve it and it will make a big difference down the road. And when you’re absolutely climbing the walls and you don’t think you can wait one more day to get back on the bike…wait three more days. You’ll be glad you did by the time summer rolls around.
During this period, it will be tempting to jump into doing some core work or cross training. You might get bored one weekend and decided to go for a jog or do some sit ups. I suggest avoiding even this. Don’t take this opportunity to run that marathon you’ve been putting off. Don’t get a jump start on your cross-training or hit the weight room yet. All of that will come in good time. As much as possible, try not to even think about your body or even nutrition. I will even take a break from my strict regimen of mental training (See Periodization for the Mind) during this period.
In a few weeks, we’ll catch up again with thoughts about planning the off-season: base/strength building, cross-training, and resistance training. Until then, just be and enjoy the break!
Be Your Own Coach – The Basics
Josh Horowitz is a USCF Certified coach and an active Category 1 racer. For more information about his coaching services and any coaching questions you may have, check out his website at LiquidFitness.com. To find out more about the Liquid Cycling club, go to LiquidCycling.com.
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