We’ve hit that time of year again, where the weather starts to change. Getting outside to train is getting harder and the races are getting fewer and farther between. On the other hand, maybe you never even had the chance to race this season. No races can make this time of year feel even more challenging because this end to the season feels anti-climactic. After months and months of training, you have the time craved into your schedule and it feels tempting to just keep pushing. Don’t do it! You have to let off of the gas eventually. I know so many people who feel tempted to keep training now, but feel tired and burnt out come June or July when the weather is nice and the races are back in full swing. It’s better to take time off pro-actively than reactively when you are sick, injured, or burnt out.
Why Take an Off-Season/Transition Season?
The off-season can be defined as the period of time in which there is no racing. That means that taking an off-season may be out of your control. A transition season or transition period, on the other hand, is the time in which you take away from training. The transition period is usually just a couple of weeks, but the off-season may last for months.
It is critical to hang up your equipment and take a transition period at least once a year. The time is essential both physically and mentally. The physical break allows your body to rebuild and replenish. It can help to heal or minimize any over-use or chronic injuries that you have been warding off. You might not even know that your body is suffering from small aliments, but some time spent focused on rest may be exactly what your body needs to not succumb to the injuries.
It also allows for mental rejuvenation. Even if you don’t feel like you ‘need’ an off-season, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Taking time away from your dedicated sport will allow you to come back with great ferocity or allow you to maintain your motivation throughout the entire season.
When to take an Off-Season?
This will be different for everyone. It can be influenced by the type of season that you had before. Was it a long season? A season plagued with injuries? Was it a break through year? When are you racing next? How long of a break do you want/need? All of these questions will help you decide exactly when you will take time to transition.
As a general rule of thumb, you want 12-24 weeks to build toward your A race. If that seems like a big range, it’s because it is. A newer or beginner athlete may need more time to train and build a base than a more experienced athlete with years of training already in their legs. Depending on your goal, plan for at least 12 weeks of structured training, and then tack on weeks of endurance build as needed beyond that.
How Long Should the Break Be?
As long as you need it to be. You should take at least 2 weeks off. That’s the minimum! If you need more, then you should take more! The last thing that you want to do is start ramping up the training when you are still feeling frail or fatigued mentally or physically. It’s perfect if you want to take 2 weeks off and then begin light activity or unstructured exercise for a couple more weeks.
What can I do during my transition period?
The transition period, or time completely away from your sport of choice, should really be just that. Avoid doing your specific sport, but feel free to enjoy any other activities that you WANT to do. At no point during your transition period should you be forcing yourself out of the door to exercise, however, if a hike or different activity sounds like fun then have at it!
After your transition period, during your off-season, focus on having fun! Feel free to complete your sport of choice, but you should still follow your instincts and ask yourself what you WANT to do and not what you SHOULD do.
I do this a little different each year. Sometimes I am tired and I just focus on recovery. I catch up on computer work or I go on a vacation. Other times I feel antsy and I enjoy mixing up my activities with hiking, swimming, running, skiing etc. There is no right or wrong answer.
One rule for your transition period or off-season is no worrying allowed. You aren’t fully recovering if you are wasting mentally energy concerned about your time off. Remember that you don’t lose your fitness as quickly as you think you do. In a study with collegiate swimmers it was revealed that after 4 weeks of inactivity, there was no loss in arm or shoulder strength. Power was only reduced by 8%-14% after 4 weeks of reduced or no activity. So, take a deep breath and kick your feet up. You’ve earned it.