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Training: Off Season Break & Winter Training for Cyclists
By Staff
Date: 11/5/2009
Training: Off Season Break & Winter Training for Cyclists

Training: Off Season Break & Winter Training for Cyclists
Thank god for the off-season! The majority of professional cyclists feel a huge weight lift off of their shoulders at the conclusion of a season... Importance of a break and how to utilize your time in preparation for the next season

DayByDay Cycle Coaching
Off-Season Break & Winter Training for Cyclists
By Ben Day

Thank god for the off-season! The majority of professional cyclists feel a huge weight lift off of their shoulders at the conclusion of a season. Months and months of progressing the form, watching what one eats and also the mental stress of racing, accumulate to a point where the cyclist is begging for the light at the end of the tunnel. Here today, I want to stress to you all, the importance of an end of season break (and a mid year break!), and how to best utilize your time in preparation for the next season.

The Power of the Mind
Have you ever contemplated that the single most influential thing that stops you from pushing just that little bit harder is your mind? There are some athletes in this world, such as Tyler Hamilton (ground down teeth in pain during the Tour de France), Chris Leigh (had part of his intestine removed from digging too deep at the Hawaii Ironman), Muhammad Ali (Parkinson’s disease from boxing injuries) who obviously had a pain tolerance that is above the norm. This is the power of their mind. They were able to take themselves to the point where they did things that irreversibly harmed their bodies.

Feeling the pain  Photo © 2009 Isabelle Vachon

This is an extreme example of how important the mental side of cycling is. Now to apply this acknowledgement to our yearly training schedules, we need to appreciate the importance of balancing progressive training with recovery of both the physical and mental being. Do we ever want something more as when we can’t have it for a while? I can apply that to wanting a Ferrari, being a kid in a candy store and every off season when I force myself to take more time off the bike than I may want.

Usually the first week I have off is great, I need it, the second week I become a little lost, and the third week I am screaming to get back on my bike again… waiting till the end of that screaming period means I come back on the bike fresh, determined and 100% committed to doing all the little things correctly again. Mentally, I am charged and ready to go.

Recharging the Motor
Physically, the body starts becoming a little less efficient as the season progresses into its last legs. Signs of fatigue are indicated by feelings of depression, irritability, lack of motivation, a change in appetite, a weakened immune system, muscle soreness, a change in blood chemistry and more. It’s like running old, dirty oil through your car’s engine.

By having a small hiatus mid season of 4-7 days and then a longer one at the end of the season of between 2-3 weeks, you will be able to maintain intensity and most importantly, quality training for longer. Most commonly, at this point of the season, the cyclist will be at a point of “overtraining” and it is the rest that will help him or her perform better. Remember, we will not be fitter, stronger or faster until after we have recovered from hard training sessions or racing. This is the break down and rebuild effect of “periodized” training that our bodies adapt to so well.

My personal thought is that cycling shouldn’t be a chore, it is something that we all choose to do and it is hard! So why not take the right steps to keep it as something fresh and exciting for ourselves? The most successful life is a balance that we need to respect.

Structuring Your Off-Season
Now that we have established that time away from the bike is productive, let’s look for some alternatives and then how to resume your cycle training again. In North America and Europe, the off-season coincides with winter which is in some ways, a blessing. Winter brings about a different set of sports which can act as a great means to cross training. Cross country skiing, ice-skating, hiking, snow shoeing, swimming and any other endurance based sports all serve as something that helps a cyclist address something that is usually neglected: general health and fitness.

Cross Training    Photo © 2009 Isabelle Vachon

Road cyclists dedicate so much time to the specifics of riding a bike that this creates physical imbalances that, if aren’t ever addressed, will cause issues down the line. Can you touch your toes in order to tie your shoelaces? Are you able to work in the back yard without suffering from intense back pain? Can you browse the shopping malls for hours without having sore legs? How is your core and upper body strength?

Giving your body a chance to develop strength from your spine outwards to your fingertips by including a range of different activities in your life, creates a resilient and solid platform on which you can make incredible strength gains during your next cycling season. An improved level of general health and fitness means your body will have stronger immunity against illness and injury, something which surely is conducive to an improvement in your cycling performances. This is a fundamental component of your creating your base foundation.

Winter Recommendations
What I encourage my athletes to do during the off season is to take a hiatus of 2-3 weeks, removing the environment of structured training during this time, a chance for them to let the hair down and to be able to do those things that they have been putting off throughout the course of their cycling season. During this time, the only structure that I will give them is a gym program heavily concentrating on core stability and addressing muscle imbalances.

I also encourage some alternative activities such as running, hiking and cross country skiing. After this, it is important to maintain some of the muscle memory your body has attained from specific cycling training so I build a weekly program of 2-3 sessions of core strength training, 3-4 sessions of cycling indoors or outdoors as the weather permits and 2-3 sessions of cross training activities. For example:

  • Monday: 1.5hrs core stability exercises & 1-2hrs cycling (low intensities, high cadences)
  • Tuesday: 1hr cross training activities
  • Wednesday: 1hr core stability exercises
  • Thursday: 1-2hrs cycling (big gears, low cadences)
  • Friday: Day off
  • Saturday: 1.5hrs core stability exercises & 1-2hr of cycling (free riding)
    Sunday: 2hrs cross training activities

After taking down the Christmas Tree

Photos © 2009 Isabelle Vachon

As the winter progresses and the new racing season approaches, it will be necessary to once again tweak this weekly balance to once again build specific cycling endurance. If you enjoyed this article and would like to know more specifics or about how to take these next steps, let the editor know or contact me at DayByDay Cycle Coaching. Enjoy your off-season!

DayByDay Cycle Coaching
DayByDay Cycle Coaching is run by Ben Day, a current 9 year professional road cyclist who has competed throughout the world and in some of the biggest races including the World Championships, Commonwealth Games and World Cup races. Acknowledging the importance of practical experience and scientific wisdom, Ben has developed a coaching program and network that imparts the knowledge gained from racing against the best cyclists in the world and from working with the top coaches and physiologists that the sport has had to offer in a manner that the athlete can relate to, and with a mindset of treating each person as the individual that they are. Currently, Ben is the road captain for the Fly V Australia cycling team. For further information, please visit

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