My job as a Derailleur is to support you on your journey. Both your journey in-season and off-season. Your in-season journey may include becoming a stronger rider on hills. Your in-season journey may include mastering sneaking out of your house to get your ride in so you have “you time”. There is no judgment either way. There is an ebb and flow to your journey and that includes allowing yourself an off-season. For both your body AND mind. So what is your off-season journey made up of?
For those of us who call New England home, the off-season is a forced break from the treacherous, icy roads when we instead spend countless hours on our indoor trainer. Off-season for some in more “more temperate” climates may mean that their competition schedule is over and they are just “riding to ride” – mileage gets lower and training less intense. Or in the example of my friend in Florida, her off-season is in the dead of summer when temperatures and humidity force a counter-seasonal off-season for her. She claims her best rides are in the winter. So be it.
Either way, we all have to face the off-season. This means the foam roller may make its initial debut or that we head to the much needed Chiropractor or Functional Movement Screener. But this year, I challenge you to focus on what is and isn’t working during your off-season in your body AND mind.
Some of us work all year so we can have an off-season, while others dread it; afraid of slowing down, losing strength, gaining weight, etc. But you don’t have to be an Olympian to feel the “off-season blues. It is normal to feel fear around “slowing down” or “throttling back” when we have been pushing ourselves to move forward. Perhaps another way to look at this time is as a “Transition Period”. This to me means we are transitioning from a yearlong season of races or hard training into something less taxing and less “traditional”. Much different than the usual thought that an Off-Season means that you just stop what you are doing.
I prescribe off-season time for my athletes as a chance for them to reflect, recoup, recharge and regain. And to fall in love again. It benefits both their bodies and mind. An intentional well-executed transition period puts one in a better position to perform in the new season when it’s productive and enjoyable. A poorly planned/executed off-season leads to not being as fresh, or a potential dead battery far from recharged. So I ask my athletes to fall head over heals in love again during this transition period with their sport. As an athlete, you must rediscover why you fell in love with your sport in the first place. We often lose the “whys” during season. By taking a step back so that you can reflect will give you back that perspective. And one heck of a recharge.
I have never claimed to be a trainer of the body, but more of a trainer of the mind. However, I would like to offer some examples of how my athletes use their “off-season” to recharge their body ultimately increasing their mental conditioning.
For some of my athletes, they stay strong in the off-season by reducing volume, not intensity. Study after study reinforce the idea that it is possible to reduce the volume of training by more than two thirds without a drop in conditioning levels as long as the intensity level was sufficient. My athletes use general, not specific training during this time period. They do something different than being hunched over their bikes. These new activities invigorate them. Try a sport that makes you stand upright or an activity that is counter to the one you have been doing in-season. For some, that might mean developing the weaker muscles that gets underutilized during the season but when strengthened, adds to the overall conditioning of the athlete. My athletes find that “playing” in the off-season more than training is the key. Make it fun. But most importantly, make it different that what you would do “in-season”.
Some of my athletes swear by the “Pajama Day” in the off-season where the day is dedicated to rest and absolutely no work. Nurse those old injuries and let their body heal. Pajama day isn’t an everyday occurrence but more of a treat that forces you to stay home, stay horizontal and enjoy a good book or a motivating movie. Good for the body and mind. And whoever gets the benefit of having you home all-day.
As mentioned previously, there is room for a mental regiment as well during off-season. In-season is dedicated to our schedule. Off-season is dictated by our dedication. It can take the form of revisiting what is important to you and re-examining your core values and what is most important about doing your sport. By reflecting on your personal motivation, you can trump other negative emotions that hurt performance. Try writing a love letter to your sport. Remind yourself why you love what you do; why you suffer the aches and pains, endless hours training, and in some cases, time away from much-loved family. Why do you do what you do? Write it out and remind yourself of what you have to look forward to when season comes back around again.
Another part of off-season mental conditioning is to appreciate what you have accomplished. Look back at the season, the accomplishments, the “Atta-Girls” you earned. What worked? What surprised you in a good way about the year?
Finally, it is ok to look at the coming year to create goals for what you want to accomplish in the next season. No time better to look ahead, but remember, you have goals as well in the off-season that are just as important. (So don’t spring ahead to in-season goals during the off-season.) Goals may include learning a new skill (conquering hills), improving on a technique, a new move, or strengthening a weaker area. (Although the weak area may never get “strong”, a goal might be to make that area less impactful.) So get those goals on paper and start to break down how and what you need to accomplish them.
I leave you with the reminder that it’s not only what you do physically that matters but it’s what you do mentally that probably matters more during this time period. So enjoy the off-season. I am off to the slopes.