Not sure how everything happens so fast, but sure seems like the 2016 competitive season is wrapping up for most endurance athletes. Unless your racing cyclocross (which is just about the most fun you can have racing a bike) there is a good chance your last race of the year has either just happened or going to happen in the next few weeks. Locally here locally in Northern California there are a few road races, triathlons, and mountain bike races coming up but for the most part things are wrapping up within a week or two. Most athletes that have been racing since February are probably ready for a break. Even if you aren’t completely fried at this point, it is important to destress and reflect on the past season to ensure year-to-year gains.
I have written several times on the importance of recovery on an acute, day-to-day level. The gains we make from that hard interval session is realized through recovery. Along those same lines, year-to-year gains require a more extensive recovery period so that athletes don’t start the new season with a lot of residual fatigue. Typically, that recovery consists of just some time off the bike while doing other activities that you don’t have the time for during the season. That can be hiking with friends, surfing, or even just relaxing on the beach with some ice cream or a nice IPA. The main goal of this period is to mentally and physically destress from the training and racing during the season while focusing on activities that let you recharge before beginning the build to next year.
It is also good to reflect on the previous season at this point, celebrate the successes while identifying where you fell short, and start setting goals for the next year. I often look at season reviews from two different points of view: race results and fitness improvements. For most athletes, getting better race results is the ultimate goal but we also want to see what improvements in fitness happened over the year and did that meet the demands of their racing. Seeing better anaerobic power is good, but in a long course triathlete that won’t translate into better race results. Making adjustments to their training plan will help to target the fitness gains that will translate into better race results.
This is also the time of the year that we get athletes into the gym to start working on neglected muscles, core, and improving any nagging injuries that developed throughout the season. It is important to start slow and give yourself a few weeks to transition into the weight room. This will minimize some of the soreness and decrease your injury risk. After that transition period, it is time to get after it and start increasing the weights to build strength.
As an endurance athlete, your goal in the gym is to build strength. We do that through lower reps and higher weights, not lower weight higher reps. Low resistance and high reps is essentially what we do all year long in cycling, running, or swimming. The goal of a strength program for endurance athletes is to increase the amount of force we can produce and heavier weights is the quickest path to achieve that.
Here is a good example of how we progress strength workouts in endurance athletes. We would typically start transitioning into the gym with a lower body workout like this:
Box Squats 3 x 8 at body weight or approximately 50% of maximal weight
Deadlifts 3 x 8 at approximately 50% of maximal weight
Walking Lunges 3 x 8 at Body Weight
Hip Bridge 3 x 8 at Body Weight
After 2 – 3 weeks we would then progress this workout by upping the weight and decreasing the reps. As an athlete adapts to the stress of the increased weight, we would then up the sets to increase training load. We would follow this same progression with upper body weight workouts as well.
You can read more about how we incorporate strength work into an endurance athlete’s annual training plan as well as get a detailed strength program in my book: Strength Training for Cyclists: The Ultimate Guide.
Enjoy some time off and start setting big goals for 2017!