It can be hard to convince a person to do it as well as convincing perhaps yourself to do it, but a good few weeks off of training each year is very beneficial to any endurance athlete.
How about us endurance athletes look at ourselves in the mirror for a sec. What are we? Besides a swimmer, biker, and/or a runner what kind of person are we? It may not come to a person right when they begin their endurance sport adventures but over time many endurance athletes are very ‘Type A‘. If you know many other endurance athletes you may notice that most are this type of personality as well…and for good reason. They are self motivated, like to test themselves, and don’t like too much time laying on the couch doing nothing. And you can probably guess that the idea that perhaps taking 2-4 weeks at the end of each training year to not train at all is crazy. Well perhaps doing it will help you more next year than hurt you.
Heal the body
Unfortunately it is very common for endurance athletes to train through each year battling a sore body, aches, pains, niggles, or more serious injuries that sideline us. Training smarter can definitely help prevent many of these issues but sometimes the body needs a rest. Even if you perhaps may not notice any bodily pains that may lead to injury there is no guarantee that there’s not something lurking that’s ready to show itself after a year of hard training. Be on the safe side. If you plan your year right you shouldn’t have any hard racing anyways for a good 3-4+ months after your last hard race so there’s plenty of time to get back into good form. Take time off!
Heal the mind
The body is nothing without the mind. Every athletes has different sets of motivating factors that keeps themselves going through hard times. Over time these types of self motivators can fizzle out and too much hard training, fatigue, and mental burnout triumphs any desire to train. If these traits were to happen it would ideally be only for the last month or so of training in the season (sometimes pro’s have to deal with 2-3+ months). For the athlete that wants to get the most out of themselves they need to push beyond their known limits even when they don’t feel great. This can last for a little while but there comes a time when the fire is out and the only thing that is needed is lots of rest.
Another nice addition from the time off is that you can catch up on things you may not have been able to do as much when serious training was going on. For example I like to donate blood, hang out with friends I don’t get to see as often, work a little bit more (which I do enjoy), and stay up a bit later than usual. It’s a nice break.
Reset the clock
Trying to set a personal goal to be in tip top peak fitness year round is physiologically impossible. It is also equally impossible to try to take that same fitness and push it to a higher level you haven’t seen yet in your adventures without proper planning. Try to picture your year long fitness as a few waves. The start of a training season is the bottom of one wave. Over time you will get to the crest of one wave, or your first A race. Then you will come back down and bit and build back to a higher wave which will be your last race of the season/year. Accept that low points in fitness will result in even higher ones when the time comes. If you track top athletes who tend to win big world champion events they tend to not do as well in races leading up to the main events as their body is still building.
“But Mike, I need to keep training or I will be starting from square one again!”
Indeed you will naturally lose fitness over the break but the fitness from the year prior is still deep inside your body. Give it time and it’ll come back. The more years you are involve in endurance sports the faster the fitness comes back. If a few weeks off isn’t taken and you try to keep pushing it after a year of hard racing you will need to take time off in the middle of hard training due to injury, illness, or burnout from overreaching. Taking a week or two off of training due to those reasons in the middle of a year is very counterproductive and the time off at the end of each year helps with that.
How much time off?
They’re some factors that can lead up to the decision on how much time off would be necessary. For the top/pro athlete that may need to race respectably rather early in their training year perhaps only 1-2 weeks could be sufficient. However for most from the ‘I just want to finish’ athletes to top age groupers I would suggest 2-4 weeks. 2 would be on the low side if perhaps you are feeling really good after the break and perhaps need to start training a little earlier for an early race. 4 weeks is a little on the high side and could work but it’s definitely more for people who definitely noticed some extra aches/pains during training, high mental burnout, and no racing for a good 4+ months after training starts up again. Some data testing could be used if available but that’s perhaps for another post.
For example some top Ironman pro’s such as Chris Lieto and Craig Alexander have been known to only take 7-10 days off completely. While others such as Chris McCormack and Chrissie Wellington take 3-4 weeks of no swimming, biking, or running.
Building back up
When starting back into training definitely take the ‘less is more’ approach. 3-4 days max of training a week for a good 2-3 weeks. For example 15 minute jogs, 30-60 minute bike spins, 30 minute drill swims are suffice for the time being. After a few weeks slowly start building back up the volume to a comfortable weekly amount that you can sustain for the base phase of training.
Other activities that are low impact but give you a little sweat are also great time during this period such as hiking.
So next time definitely put this block of training into your season and see how it goes. More than likely you will thank yourself for it.