The off-season is not a time to put your bike away, it is an enjoyable time and can benefit your spring training more than you realize. For most road riders and mountain bikers, the off-season is September and October. The racing season is done and dusted, the weather is still good for the most part and you are still carrying some good fitness. So don’t go hanging your bike in the garage saying, “I’ll see you in January pal.” Make the most of this part of your season by having a purpose to some of your rides.
I break the off-season down into three different segments: base building, skill set training, and strength training. The first two can be done together on the bike. The third segment takes place in a gym. You can take the next two months and make the most of them with some lightly structured training.
This is the easiest of the three and it is simple- build your base. Think of your training for 2016 as if you are building a house. Before you start on the first floor, you must first put the structure on a solid foundation. This is your base training. The more base fitness you carry into the off-season the less ground you have to make up when structured training for 2016 starts. No, this doesn’t mean doing intervals, etc. It is simply doing Zone 1 and Zone 2 rides through the months of September and October.
For outside rides, try to target similar training time per week as you did in the summer, but without the intensity. When you are no longer able to ride outside during the week due to weather and time, keep up weekend rides outdoors as long as possible. Plan on re-introducing yourself to weekday rides on the trainer by mid-November.
Skill Set Training
Being able to ride your bike and enjoy it without the pressure of “training” can bring enjoyment back to something that you have associated with pain and suffering since the beginning of the year. September and October is perfect time to fine tune certain skill sets. The first skill to work on is your pedal stroke. This is broken down into two parts: high cadence and a full circle efficient pedal stroke.
By the end of the racing season, some of us have forgotten how to spin and reverted back to pushing the bigger gears. Re-familiarize yourself with a higher spin. Have a target for the low 90s. If possible, have cadence displayed on the main screen of your computer. Your legs will soon remember the suppleness that is involved with a higher rpm.
In addition to working on cadence, make sure you have not forgotten how to pedal a full circle. One of the best ways to do this is by doing low cadence drills. An entire workout dedicated to full circle pedaling is not necessary during the off-season. Instead, pick a flat section of road or a steady 2 to 4 percent grade and spend 3 to 5 minutes doing low cadence drills weekly. Just like keeping a higher cadence, it should not take long for the mechanics of a consistent push and pull to return. By combining these two workouts, you are re-establishing two critical components of a fluid and efficient pedal stroke.
The second skill set that you can re-train in the off-season is your climbing technique. Without the pressure of having to meet a certain heart rate or wattage target when climbing, you can focus on the basics; form and technique.
Some key points:
- Make sure you spin as much as possible on the hills in the off-season. Doing this helps keep the pressure of your legs, using finesse to climb the hill rather than brute strength. No need to muscle up the hills.
- On longer climbs, keep your hands on the tops of the bars, shoulders and arms relaxed. No need to tug and pull on the handlebars.
- All the work is being done from your hips down. Perform a nice fluid push and pull on each pedal stroke. * On climbs more than 1 minute, try to alter your position on the bike. Come out of the saddle for 30-40 seconds, then back down. Repeat, etc. Try to keep your intensity the same. Changing positions on the bike works different muscles and helps reduce the repeated motion on the same muscles.
Starting in the beginning of October, your 2016 season will benefit greatly by including a gym program. By going to the gym twice per week through the end of March, a solid strength base will add to the foundation you are building for the coming season. It also brings in variety for those that might be limited to riding the trainer during the winter months.
Find a trusted resource be it a coach or personal trainer, to develop a strength and endurance based weight lifting program. If this type of resistance training is new to you, make sure you allow 8 to 10 sessions to get your body acclimated to the routine before you start pushing it. If you have experience, this can be cut to 4 to 6 sessions. A solid gym program to follow would be:
- October – Transition and getting back into the gym routine
- November through end of January – Strength building
- February and March – One day of strength building and one day of endurance work
Approach the off-season with a relaxed attitude along with a purpose. By constructing a very strong basement during the months of September and October, you are laying a great foundation to build your 2016 cycling house.