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Coach's Column - Making the Transition Back to Training After the Off Season

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |March 21, 2014 2:08 AM

Coach's Column with Travis Woodruff - Making the Transition Back to Training After the Off Season

Question: In the off season, how much time is ok to spend off the bike if any?  How do I appropriately use cross-training workouts to help maintain some fitness and when do I need to transition to all Ďon the bikeí training again?


Answer: Youíve raised a couple of good questions to cover.  Iíll briefly overview how I prefer to organize a season so that choosing the right type of training (and knowing how cross training might fit in) can be an easier process.  Training works best when the daily workouts and the weekly objectives all fit into the bigger picture of the entire season.  There are lots of great ways to train, but timing it all in such a way that works well for your goals is the challenge that troubles many riders.


Off Season or Transition Phase

            This will typically follow your competition season and is characterized by little or no organized training. Keep active, have fun, but donít be concerned about training. Donít be stressed about losing fitness here. More than anything you need the down time.   


Base or Foundation Phase

            This can be thought of as training to train. The goal here is to build a bigger aerobic engine so that you can effectively be in the mix with your competition. With a higher threshold power or maximum sustainable pace, youíll be able to take your results up another notch. Depending on your goals and your training time available each week, there could be a wide range of workouts that are completely appropriate here, including cross training for strength and/or aerobic fitness. Please understand that base or foundation training does not equate to simply doing long easy rides. The foundation of your season hinges directly upon your threshold fitness, so much of this phase is directed towards improving it.


Build or Race Prep

            With your aerobic systems well developed and your threshold power largely in place the goal of this training phase is to specifically prepare for the intensity that youíll face in your upcoming competitions. Youíll want to maintain your aerobic development, but put an emphasis on including more high intensity work.  From here on in, your training should become increasingly specific to what you expect on race day.  This phase of training will be different for riders who are focusing on various mountain bike disciplines. Incorporating some racing will help you test your progress before getting to the races which matter the most for you. Cross training is less valuable here, but may still be applicable in some cases. Maintenance is often the best cross training strategy here if an athlete wants to or needs to keep something other than cycling in the mix.


Competition Phase

            Youíve put in the work over many weeks and months to get here. Now itís time to race fast and allow ample recovery from the big efforts that youíre making. Your overall training workload will be less while you Ďride outí the big fitness that youíve amassed. It wonít last forever, so be sure to enjoy those days where you can really let it rip! Be especially careful with any cross training during your competition phase. With your biggest races looming thereís no need to cause undue fatigue with exercises that arenít going to benefit your performance. The competition phase will typically last no longer than six weeks, so you can get back to your preferred cross-training once youíre wrapped up those races that matter the most.

A single mountain bike season might have you go through this full sequence of training once or twice, depending on what races youíre doing or how long your season stretches.  When it comes to the question of cross training, itís simply a matter of specificity. If youíre looking to build basic aerobic fitness or add to your muscular strength and coordination, then various modes of cross-training can be great. However cross training becomes less valuable as you get closer to the primetime of your season when specific training is a must.

When it comes to taking a break, whether itís a short in-season break or a longer post-season break, itís perfectly acceptable to hang the bike up if thatís what works best for you. Such rest periods are meant to allow for physical and mental regeneration so as long as thatís the case, then youíre doing it right whether or not you choose to ride. Donít be afraid to lose fitness during a break since taking the down time will allow you to train more effectively once youíre back at it.

Your cross training can certainly add to your season just as long as itís not a replacement for riding when you really need to be on the bike. Please feel free to follow up with me if I can help with any further questions.  Good luck with your season planning and have fun with it!

-TJ Woodruff

Travis Woodruff is a USAC Level I (elite) certified coach who holds a B.S. in Kinesiology with emphasis in Exercise Science. Heís coached riders to five MTB National Championship wins and has over 10 years of personal racing experience. Since 2005 heís competed as a pro mountain biker and has coached full-time. His business, Momentum Endurance LLC, is based out of Tucson, Arizona where he hosts wintertime training camps.

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