Toolbox: Back To Basics Transition Period
Hard day, easy day, repeat. Most athletes are familiar with the core tenant of periodized training. Despite the familiar work rest pattern, the concept is often lost when it comes time to apply it to the bigger training picture. The need for a recovery phase following the ‘hard ‘ part of the season is often over looked, undervalued and misunderstood.
By Kristen Dieffenbach, Ph.D.
Beautiful fall foliage, crisp mornings and cool evenings signal the end of summer and, for many, the end of a long racing season.
A. I heave a sigh of relief, store my bike and hibernate on the couch for the winter watching tour re-runs. I earned a break.
B. I dive right into heavy training. I make the most of the fading daylight and do as much as possible to ensure I am ready for next season.
C. I jump straight into cyclocross. I will be racing every weekend for the next few months and that will end just in time to start the next road season.
Choose wisely and plan accordingly. Your approach towards the transition phase between seasons has important implications on long term gains (or losses).
Coaches dread it, athletes misunderstand it and often the time gets squandered. Just what is the ‘transition phase’ besides being the fourth phase of periodization following the more tangible base, build and peak phases in the training sequence?
Begin by understanding what it is not. The transition phase is not a ‘dead’ or blank phase in the training cycle when nothing happens. It is not a free for all that ends when the next build cycle begins. This section of the training calendar provides time for growth and rejuvenation, re-assessments and re-alignment of resources, skills and goals. None of which will necessarily happen if not planned.
Done well, the transition period helps ensure that you can capitalize on and carry forward gains made in the previous cycle and it prepares you to make the most of future training. Keep in mind that while the physical volume of training may be reduced or de-emphasized during the transition phase, there is plenty to be done on the mental side to enhance your upcoming season. The emphasis of this article is on how to make the most of transition time training, not just passing the time or logging miles.
Keeping the ‘Off’ in Off-season
First and foremost, respect the ‘off’ in off-season. The purpose of time off is to provide both a physical and mental break from the routine and structure of intense training allowing your body to rebuild and your mind to refresh. Even if you don’t think you need a break, take one. Think along the lines of the adage ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder.’ Some time away from the bike and from structured workout expectations at some point during the transition phase will help you come back to training feeling refreshed and enthusiastic, something especially important if you have a long winter of basement miles ahead of you.
While it is technically the ‘off season’, the transition period is not a free pass to do nothing. Sustained lack of training is de-training and you will regret the related loss of fitness and the required rebuilding necessary before you can begin next season.
During the transition phase, staying active and trying other activities will help you maintain base fitness. More importantly it will give you an opportunity to enjoy being active without the mental pressures and expectations of being ‘in training’ attached.
Use the time to get back in touch with the basic things you enjoy about being outside and being physically active. Enjoy your level of physical fitness for the experiences it can provide you beyond the numbers you can generate and the competition applications. Refreshing this enjoyment will help reinforce the internal or intrinsic motivation necessary for the sustained season to come.
Less? More? How Much to Train?
Once you resume riding during the transition period you will need to decide – more saddle time? Less? Harder? Slower? Your physical training load needs will depend on your upcoming season goals and is a question best answered by your coach. Regardless of what your mileage looks like, the off-season provides a great training gain opportunity, if you are mindful in your approach to riding.
Honing Mental Skills in the Off-season
During the off-season, workouts often focus on things like refreshing basic motor pathways through fast pedals and foundation fitness. This time can also be used to build and reinforce key mental skills like goal setting and focus. Just like developing and maintaining an efficient spin, without intentional practice, mental skills associated with high performance get rusty without regular use. Rebuilding and reinforcing these skills in the off-season will allow you to enter the season better prepared.
Have a clear purpose for each week and for daily workouts. The slower pace of the off-season is an ideal time to develop and reinforce the habit of daily goal setting and evaluation. Use the extra time afforded by a lower or less intense training load to spend a few moments before and after each training session to clarify the purpose and expectations before and to reflect on how things went after. Use the extra weekend time to reflect on the previous week’s progress and to think about clear goals for the upcoming week. Remember to keep these goals process focused and in line with your overall plan.
Transition phase workouts are rarely exciting. Fast pedals, lower cadence tempo work and endurance focused rides can be a bit dull, particularly when done indoors. Use the time wisely by practicing your mental focus skills in addition to the physical emphasis. Identify and practice focusing on and shifting focus between key ‘markers’ during interval efforts.
For example, when doing lower cadence tempo work, practice actively shifting your focus between paying attention to heart rate, breathing rate, evaluating overall perceived effort, and other valuable pieces of information. It is unrealistic to expect to stay hyper-focused for very long periods of time, however, longer rides and intervals are great opportunities to practice being attentive to what you are thinking about and to practice re-focusing on and evaluating effort-based markers at regular intervals.
At home with Etixx-Quick Step’s Niki Terpstra
Additional Benefits of a Mindful Off-season
Being a competitive cyclist is a busy lifestyle, more so if you are a competitive cyclist with a full time career and family. The time, structure and daily coordination required to fit everything in is practically acrobatic and for most athletes there are key others who are supportive and who help make it work. The off-season is the ideal time to give back to these relationships and to let the folks who matter know how much you appreciate their support. Use your extra off-season time wisely. Look for downtime with your significant other. Participate in more activities with your kids and re-connecting with non-cycling friends. Investing in these areas now, while the demands of training are low, will help you maintain strong relationships.
One final note, both quality and quantity are important elements of an effective transition phase. The quantity of time needed will vary depending on personal training response, accomplishment goals, competing life responsibilities, and racing schedule. Make sure you plan accordingly based on your own situation. Regardless of whether your off-season is 2 weeks or 2 months, do not compromise on the quality of the transition phase. Planning for a quality off-season is essential to protect your training assets and to ensure continued enjoyment and gains for seasons to come.
Kristen Dieffenbach, Ph.D., CC AASP
Kristen is an associate professor of Athletic Coaching Education at West Virginia University and an Association of Applied Sport Psychology certified consultant. In addition to providing peak performance education and support for coaches, athletes and teams through her company Mountains, Marathons and More, Kristen is a professional coach with Peaks Coaching Group, specializing in working with developmental and Espior cyclists. She is the co-author of Bike Racing for Juniors and has written over 20 chapters on sport psychology topics for peak performance. She can be reached at [email protected] .