OFF-SEASON IS NO TIME TO BE ON AUTOPILOT!!!
BY NEIL VALLANCE
Well…we are in the midst of the longest off-season in history! So how can we use the last 18 months and its challenges to take a step forward in our health and fitness? The two things common for most of us about off-season training are, one, there's more varied approaches to training than at any other time and two, it's the season we give the least thought of all to how we train. That's what makes the off-season special. It's the one time of year it seems safe to be unencumbered by the daily grind of goals and an organized training schedule. It feels great to just slip into autopilot for a while.
But this is the most important season of all in determining what kind of year you'll have in 2022 (or whenever the races truly open up). Simply put, great seasons are set up by what you do during the off-season. This does not mean you should already be deep into training for next year. The opposite might be better. It all depends on how your last campaign went and what you have planned for next year.
A good way to think of the off-season is like half time of a Springbok test match! What's the purpose of half time? More than just taking a break, it is the time to evaluate how the first half went and to make adjustments for the second half. Most rugby matches are won at half time by the coach who makes the best adjustments. Sometimes it's throwing away the game plan and starting all over. Sometimes, it's tweaking the game plan and focusing on better execution. Sometimes, it's sticking to the plan but lighting a fire in a team that's asleep at the wheel. And sometimes, the best adjustment is making no adjustment at all. Great coaches are masters of using half time to out think the other coach.
The same can be said for racing. The best seasons are achieved by the athletes who've made the best adjustments after last season. Besides recovering, the off season is all about adjustments from last season so you can begin training accordingly now. That might mean cranking it up, or it might mean taking a break. That's what makes this time of year so tricky.
The first rule of evaluating last year is that sometimes the obvious isn't so obvious. Don't be too quick to credit or blame your season outcome on in-season training. Look further back at the past off-season and what role it played in setting you up for success or failure. The best predictor of the future is the past. If you're having trouble making it through an entire season without burning out, it will probably keep happening unless you take a different break at season's end and/ or cut back on intensity during your off-season. If your season finished with a flurry, it can likely be duplicated next year IF you don't ratchet up too much from what worked so well last off season.
It seems easy, but it's not. Especially if you're one who likes routine and never changes your approach much from year-to-year. Two types of athletes with very different off-season approaches come to mind. Let us call the first type Dave the bear. Each spring he crawls out of the cave looking sleepy and soft and starts all over again. Sure enough though, by cranking hard he's typically back in great form by mid-summer, although he's prone to peaking early and running out of steam. Always at season's end, he's quickly disappeared back to his six-month hibernation. On the other extreme is Janet the sparrow. Thanks to an amazing work ethic, she wins numerous races every month of every calendar year in various sports and appears to race every weekend of the year.
TWO DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO LIFE BALANCE
Hot and Cold: AKA Dave! Dave made the conscious decision that balance was best achieved by running hot and cold at different times of the year. For half the year, his focus and training intensity is red hot and he races hard about eight times over four months. He sustains this intensity by going cold and shutting it down after the last big race and being more involved in family life.
Warm: AKA Janet! As a business owner and mother of two, Janet made the conscious decision that balance is best achieved by running mostly warm throughout the year. She races well all year long with a focus on a steady diet of moderate intensity and few breaks in the action. She's sustained her consistency by always being really fit so she can have the energy for a more involved family life.
THE FIFTY FACTOR - ADJUSTMENTS THAT WORKED
Dave the bear found that, with each passing year, it was more difficult to start over. His solution has been to add some warm (easy training) to his off-season and more cold (easy training) to his in-season. By adding a better level of off season fitness, he felt less urgency to push so hard to regain fitness early in the season.
Janet found that with each passing year, it was more difficult to sustain it. Her solution has been to add more hot and cold (variety) to her year-round steady approach. By mixing it up, she's feeling higher energy and less pressure to always be on top of her game.
The lockdowns we have experienced have definitely led to people trying different forms of exercise. From home workouts on Zoom, to backyard ultras, to trying a new sport as the gyms have been closed. The lesson taken from all that has happened is that change to your routine can be good for your physical development and performance. All you need to do know is have that half time chat with yourself (and Rassie) and plot your next move!