Taking an end of season break from cycling: the effects and benefits explained

Vicky Ware explains the annual cycling training hiatus

As an amateur cyclist who likely has a full-time job, you probably didn’t train or race quite as much as Chris Froome over the summer. Even so, you may well be physically and mentally ready for an end-of-season break.

Elliot Lipski, in-house scientist at Train Sharp Cycle Coaching, explains: “All cyclists should take a break at some point — exactly when depends on their race calendar, but you need some down-time to relax and refocus.”

Even if you’ve not ridden your bike as much as you’d have liked during the season, a break is for most still a good idea. It marks the transition between the training you’ve done for this year’s races and that you will do for the 2017 season, giving you time to take stock and make a plan while giving your body a break and re-motivating your mind.

How long should your break be? “Each individual is different. Working closely with a rider enables me to get a feel for how much time they might want off the bike — but this might be very different to what they need,” says Lipski.

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Many riders take at least a couple of weeks off, doing no training at all, but it may be useful to spend the subsequent few weeks cross-training.

Lipski explains: “The interpretation of the term ‘end-of-season break’ varies; many like to spend it round a pool with their feet up, while others like going on hikes, running, etc.

“At Train Sharp we recommend at least a few days of complete inactivity, regardless. After that, the key thing is to ride or exercise without structured efforts. Riding without [observing] heart rate or power can be quite a liberating experience, having spent all year training within specific windows.”

Once you’ve had some time off, getting back into training can seem daunting. “It will often take a couple of days to get back into the swing of things after a period of rest, so start steady,” advises Lipski.

“Don’t go back in with race-intensity efforts. The easiest way to ensure you don’t over-stretch yourself right from the off is to ride at the low end of the zones for your specific training sessions. You will still get the training effect but the session should be more manageable.”

The pro view

Dani King, Wiggle-High5 (soon to be Cylance Pro Cycling)

Dani King racing for Wiggle-High5. Photo: Andy Jones

Dani King in action. Photo: Andy Jones

“Now that I am a road rider, I do take an end-of-season break. When I was riding the track, there was never really an opportunity to totally switch off, which was quite hard at times.

“I have about two weeks completely off, but I have about a month off being super-relaxed — if it rains or I don’t fancy riding, I won’t. I take the break after my last race of the year, which is usually in October.

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“I’ve never deliberately not had an off-season break. I would highly recommend a break for all racing cyclists, more from a psychological point of view.”

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Effects and benefits of taking a break

Effect of taking a break: Re-charge physiological batteries
Benefit explained: The physical stress of training leads to adaptation and increased fitness, but if the stress you’re experiencing begins to overwhelm your body’s recovery capacity, you could suffer over-use injuries or physiological burnout. Taking a break allows your body to reset and repair, reducing your risk of these problems.

Effect: Boost your motivation before winter
Benefit: Having a break from specific training is a salve for the mind as much as for the body. Not riding for a couple of weeks will make the heart grow fonder for the sport, ensuring you start the winter raring to go.

Effect: Experiment with diet and equipment
Benefit: This is the ideal time to trial changes to your position, equipment or diet, i.e. without jeopardising key sessions or races. Now, you can tinker with your position or diet without serious worry.

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Effect: Plan ahead
Benefit: Having a break gives you time to think about what you want to achieve next year and make a plan of action. Look up exciting events and plan your yearly training cycles. Knowing why you’re training and exactly how long it is until your targeted event, will increase your chance of keeping up the commitment when it’s pouring down in mid-January.

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