Let’s first clarify that yes – every sport SHOULD have an off-season. If you aren’t training for anything specific but train for life, you should still have a few months where you slow down and focus on things that you may have neglected due to lack of time, interest, or just because it isn’t a part of your daily routine.
In Vancouver where we can ride almost year round, the off-season can be short – only a few months sometimes. Some cyclists are more fair weather riders and take a full 5 months before getting back on the road. But, either way, relying on spin classes alone should not be your only off-season training. If you hope to continue moving well for the remainder of your life, your training program needs to support this.
The number one thing that everyone should be incorporating in their off-season is weight training.
Starting from the age of 30, we lose 3-8% of muscle mass per decade. This number increases dramatically after the age of 65. Cycling is great to build muscles for the legs, but does nothing for the upper body. In addition, cycling is a non-impact sport, so it won’t help build strong bones. If you don’t want to become frail as you age, you MUST maintain a weight training program year round. The off-season is a good time to start. Everyone should aim for three 45min strength workouts per week, unless you have an active job that requires a lot of lifting. Throughout the cycling season, you can drop back to once a week to maintain the fitness you have gained.
But not everyone is ready to jump into the gym to start picking up weights. Some may need to take a step back and deal with prior injuries or poor mobility before undertaking a weight training program.
Before you can start to weight train, you first need to be injury free. Trying to build muscle on a torn tendon or tissue will create a larger problem. Find a physio. Do your exercises, and don’t start to add weights until you are pain free. If you have a chronic problem that won’t get better with physio (torn knees or blown out hips), make sure that you are doing exercises that support your injury and aren’t making it worse.
Having poor mobility is a precursor to injury. If a joint can’t move like it should, your body will compensate. This works for awhile, but the added and repeated stress will eventually take a toll on your body and you will be back to the physio again. Having adequate mobility in every joint should be the FIRST goal for every lifelong athlete.
If you want to cycle when you are 80, now is the time to prepare your body, slowing down the natural decline that happens with age.
Starting a workout without adequate recovery, could be doing more damage than good.
Do this too many times in a row, and performance will quickly decline.
For many of us, when we see ourselves getting slower, we think we need to train more. This is the last thing we should do!!!!! In many cases, more training will cause an injury or result in some sort of illness as the immune system can’t keep up. If you find yourself chronically fatigued, the fastest way to get back on track, is to first let your body heal.
One way to avoid over-training is to follow a pre-planned program which includes both recovery days and a full week of recovery once a month. Even if you are feeling strong, DON’T SKIP THE RECOVERY WEEK(S).
But recovery isn’t about doing nothing. It can include easy workouts, stretching, yoga, and “fun days”. These are added to the training program for a reason; they all help your muscles recover faster and mentally reduce stress.
So how do you make the most of your recovery time?
The more intense the workout, the more recovery time you need.
48hrs should be enough rest, but you may need to extend this time if you made a big jump in your training volume/intensity or after a hard race or event. If you still don’t feel rested before your next strenuous workout, it is best to skip it and take more time to recover.
When you first start any sport there is going to a period of adaptation. For cycling, this feeling lasts a bit longer as you are building an endurance base. Once you have established a solid base (of 2-3 hours comfortably), you should no longer be bagged and need a nap after your long rides.
OTHER TIPS (specifically to cycling but can be adapted to other sports)
1. Add in a short (30-60min) recovery ride the day after an intense workout. Keep your recovery rides light and easy, spinning the legs quickly (over 85 RPM) with very little to no intensity.
2. Stretch hip flexors (top of legs into the abs), glutes (buttocks), quads (front of legs), low back, and hamstrings (back of legs) religiously. Ideally, do a movement stretching program instead of static holds.
3. Enjoy time off the bike to cross-train. Doing something new is a great stress reliever but will also help strengthen muscles you are not using on the bike. The most complimentary sports are swimming, yoga, tai chi, or weight training (Your focus should be on core and upper body during the summer. Hard leg and weight training are best done in the off-season during the fall and winter).
4. Your body is trying to heal from the moment you get off the bike until you get back on again. Plan meals ahead of time to ensure you are well-fuelled (both food and water) before and after each workout.
5. Muscles repair during sleep, so don’t skimp on your zzz’s.
6. If you are suffering from fatigue, frequent colds/flu, injuries, general fatigue, depression, or more frequent irritation, it may mean that you are overtraining. Take a few days off until you feel better. When you come back to training, ease back into it slowly. Training when you are sick will likely only prolong your illness.
7. If you follow the Kits Energy Training Program, you will see a recovery week every 4th week. During a recovery week, your volume/distance is reduced, BUT your intensity is NOT. By maintaining intensity, you will not lose any fitness. After the week is over, your body should have adapted to the previous month’s stress, and you will be ready to add more stress/training again.
SIDE NOTE: If you are new to cycling or a more “seasoned” rider, you may need a recovery week every 3rd week instead of four. Listen to your body as it always knows best.
Riding in a pace line is the best way to save energy, and when mastered can make cycling more fun! But, to keep a group safe, everyone must know what their responsibility is, and commit to working together.
The following are 10 tips that will help you on your next group ride.
When leading or pulling, maintain the average speed of the group to keep everyone together. You WILL need to look over your shoulder often, especially on hills, to make sure you haven’t dropped anyone. If you drop a few riders on the climb, wait for them at the top.
Point out obstacles that may be harmful such as rocks, gravel, cars, glass, etc. Pass this information down the line.
If you are getting too close to the person in front of you and need to slow down, try to do so by moving to the right or left of the tire in front of you and sit up taller on your bike to slow yourself down. If this doesn’t work, try to LIGHTLY squeeze both the brakes so your decrease in speed is not sudden or extreme. Do not jam on the brakes as this will cause a domino effect down the line and be disastrous to those in the back of the pack – ie: they will crash.
Remember that the person behind you can only react to what you do so you must ride predictably and avoid any sudden movements or changes in direction. ALL riders must ride in a straight line!
If you are within 1/2 a bike length from each other, ride through intersections and roundabouts as one “vehicle”.
Everyone MUST pull when it is their time or you will confuse the order. If you are tired, you can take a shorter pull – even if it is only 10seconds. If you are a strong rider and can hold the pace easily, you may take a longer pull such as 1 -10 minutes, depending on how long your ride is, and what the group decides is fair.
Do NOT drink, eat, adjust your bike or do anything EXTRA when you are pulling. You have the entire group trusting your judgment and cycling skills so you need to be alert and consistent. If you need to eat, drink or adjust something, pull out and move to the back.
Communicate within the group, letting the lead rider know when they have dropped a rider or when the pace is too fast.
No matter which position you are in the group, pay attention to the road and what is happening in front, behind, and beside you. Do not blindly follow the leader.
When you have finished your pull, move to the left away from the rider behind you, then slow down to allow the group to ride past you. You want to quickly get back in the draft and out of traffic which is not only safer but will also help preserve your energy. NOTE: If you find yourself out in traffic with a car coming behind you, indicate to the rider beside you that you would like to move back in. This rider can slow down and once an opening is made, you can move back into the middle of the line.. You now have a new order – which is fine.
“I’m hate … (fill in the blank) exercise or drill.”
And sure enough, you have proven yourself correct. You suck at climbing, your weak leg can’t do as many reps as your “good” side, and the exercise you hate is as terrible as always.
What if you changed how you spoke to yourself? Why not try boosting yourself up with a positive thought or encouragement instead of negative? How do you think that would change the outcome?
By choosing to look at a situation (that you usually dislike) with positivity and a sense of play, you not only improve your experience, but your thoughts can and will change your reality. Look at every mountain as an opportunity to grow stronger and soon you will become a monster on hills. Imagine your “weak side” as being made of steel, impossible to break, and soon it will become just as strong as the other side. Use those “awful” exercises as a way to build mental strength and resilience so nothing can break you.
Deena Kastor, Olympic medalist in the marathon and an elite runner in almost every distance wrote an excellent memoir titled, Let Your Mind Run, which I highly recommend for any and every athlete. Deena believes that changing her mindset to become more encouraging, kind, and resilient was the key to her success. I have read many self help books on positive thinking, and I will tell you – this one is unique and interesting to read about the path of an olympian. Her journey is not only inspiring, it is full of ups and downs that, at many times, threatened her career as a runner. In many ways, each of us can relate to her experiences as they include depression, insecurity, losing focus, broken bones, and having children. Even if you do not consider yourself to be competitive, Deena’s practice of having a positive mindset works for all aspects of life.
If you want to learn more about how to change your mindset, specifically for sports and performance, the next book I recommend reading is, In Pursuit of Excellence, by Terry Orlick. The first time I read this book was in 2009 when I was training for Ironman Canada, but I believe it is timeless. This book has practical tips and tools to help you stay focused during training and performance.
Next time you catch yourself thinking, I don’t like …, see if you can reframe it into an opportunity, challenge, or even a game.
Before you can think about climbing faster, you need to make sure that you have first built your aerobic foundation. As the saying goes, “you can’t run before you learn to walk”. To read more about building an aerobic base please go back to the newsletter titled, Building an Aerobic Base.
So once you have set your aerobic base, how do you get faster on hills?
1. Ride lots. Ride lots of hills.
2. When climbing think of form: efficient pedal strokes and relaxed upper body.
3. Learn to pace yourself for the entire length of the climb. Learning what your pace should be will come after riding lots of hills 🙂
4. Give the appropriate amount of effort for the type of hill /ride/workout you are doing that day. Example: In a Spanish Banks workout of 5 hill repeats, you will likely be putting out maximum effort on each – that’s the goal of the workout. But for a long training ride, where Spanish Banks is just one of many on the ride, slow down your pace and take it easy or ride at a pace you can handle, as you still have a long ways to go.
In this newsletter, I’m going to focus on point number 4, which relates to effort.
During training it is important to give the appropriate amount of effort, appropriate for the workout.
In the Kits Energy workouts, your coach will tell you how much effort you should be exerting. If you want to get faster, and get the most benefit from the workout, it is important to follow the instructions. To improve, you need to work beyond your comfort zones into new territory, which should feel uncomfortable. Through proper and adequate (24-48hrs) rest and recovery, your body will adapt to the stress and grow stronger. It is through this process, repeated over and over, that you will gain increased strength and endurance.
BUT….. here is the caveat.
But, if you try adding intensity without a solid base, other rides to support your intensity ride, or you try to progress too quickly, you run the risk of breaking down the body, instead of building it up.
You may get away with it for a month of two but eventually, if you try to increase intensity without a solid base and other rides to support it, it will catch up with you. Your speed and strength will become stagnant and/or you may notice that you are actually slowing down!
When this happens, the tendency is to do more training, with exacerbates the problem.
You may also notice several nagging symptoms that don’t seem to go away. These symptoms are usually a combination of: loss of strength/endurance, chronic fatigue, chronic muscle pain, insomnia, depression, irritation, weight gain, and frequent illness such as colds and flus. If are feeling any of these symptoms, back off on your training for a few weeks until they subside.
When you return to training, build up slowly and create that base again. Always listen to what your body is telling you. If it is too much – back off again. Use the weekly workouts as endurance training instead of a interval training. I know it’s hard on the ego – but your body will thank you in the long run.
Remember, cycling is a lifestyle choice and one that you want to do for as long as your body will let you. Think long term.