The prospect of getting back into training after a normal off-season break can be intimidating, but getting started after you’ve fallen off the training wagon — for example, following a prolonged Christmas break that soon become a new year break, too — is even more difficult.
Training plans, alas, don’t cover how to get back on track if you’re a usually well-trained cyclist who’s ‘accidentally’ spent eight weeks lying around gorging on mince pies, port and puddings.
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Help is at hand, though, as sport scientist Elliot Lipski from Train Sharp Cycle Coaching shares some of his restart rules.
What’s the key to returning to training? “Don’t go in full steam ahead,” Lipski says.
“We’ve all been guilty of leaping back in to training after a period off the bike, but more isn’t always best. I recommend taking at least 10 per cent off your target [power or time] numbers, and building into the sessions.”
- Start and build slowly
- Back off if you start to feel injury niggles
- Rest is important
- All is not lost for 2020; there is still time to train
How much you should do when you first get back on the bike isn’t set in stone. “It varies for each individual,” Lipski explains.
“Some riders have the constitution to get back on the bike and go into 15 hours a week after a period off, and others need to dip their toe in the water a little more. One approach is not necessarily better than the other; do not feel under pressure to conform.
“After a break, look back at your training data to identify what you can and can’t handle in terms of volume and intensity.”
If you’ve had a slightly shorter off-season break you should return to training feeling well rested and raring to go.
Even so, it is important to remember it’s still very early in the season, as Lipski explains: “You will often feel quite fresh after a short period off and the first session or two may feel like you are in the form of your life. Again, be careful not to over-do it at this point.”
There’s no need to rush back to full fitness. Think back to previous years; riders who were lacking at the beginning of the year often come out on top when the season starts in earnest, while others may be mentally and physically fatigued.
“The cycling season is a long one; you don’t have to be on peak form in March or April,” Lipski says.
“Some of our top riders have three or more ‘off’ weeks throughout the year where they put their bike in the garage and forget about it. It can be very beneficial for both the mind and body.”
Do: have a couple of weeks’ unstructured ‘just riding for fun’ without a speedo or Garmin tracking your ride. This will stop you comparing your riding with previous times on a loop or Strava segment.
Do: watch out for over-use injuries caused by getting back into training too quickly, such as knee pain. Ligaments and tendons need time to get used to the stress you’re putting on them, so build slowly.
Do: talk to a coach if you’re not sure how to get back into training. They’ll be able to plan your rebuild, taking into account how strong you’ve been in the past and how long you had off.
Do: set goals for the year ahead if you haven’t already and change them if you’ve left it too late to start training. Realistic planning is the most likely to lead to success.
Don’t: compare your training with other riders on Strava. It’s not helpful and will never lead to positive feelings if you’re not feeling fit yourself. Focus on yourself and you’ll be back to fitness in no time.
Don’t: try and ‘catch up’ on missed training. Start from where you are and progress steadily from there. Trying to catch up on weeks or months lost
may lead to overuse injuries and fatigue.
Don’t: put off getting back on the bike for longer and longer. They say there’s no time like the present, and this couldn’t be truer for getting back into training.
Don’t: worry that you’ll have lost all fitness. It comes back quicker than you think.