Are you someone who has an iron-will all year round without taking a proper break from structured training?
Learning to know when to take a break and for how long, is key, before it damages your performance.
Particularly if you’re someone who follows a steady training regime for 3-4 months of the year or longer, it’s a tactic in your training arsenal that you probably can’t afford to skip.
Rather than launch yourself straight into a winter’s hard graft as if it’s unthinkable to lose even a shred of your summer fitness, a good training break, executed properly, will allow both your body and mind to return refreshed and enthusiastic.
If you’re someone who finds that training motivation wains in the winter, it can also help you commit to a period of ‘off-time’, rather than sliding into a never-ending cycle of bad training habits and poor quality training without any goals.
Time away from a strict training pattern offers a well-timed opportunity to review the season, identify your strengths and weaknesses, towards making a solid plan for the year ahead.
Typically, athletes take 3-4 weeks off at the end of the season in October, with a view to begin rebuilding their training base in the early weeks of November, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
We asked some of our #HIGH5fuelled elite athletes, who know how to train hard and rest hard, how they choose to re-charge the batteries after a season’s training and racing.
Gemma Steel – British long distance runner & European cross country champion
With the winter cross country running season just around the corner, British long distance runner and cross country champion, Gemma Steel, doesn’t typically have an off-season, so only has a small window of downtime which allows her to refocus on her new targets. Following this year’s Great North Run, Gemma went with her sponsors, New Balance, to a summit weekend in Wales to relax and try outdoor pursuits including abseiling and trekking in the mountains.
“It was great to let my hair down a bit,” she explains.
“It’s important not to burn out mentally and physically. A rest is crucial as a reward for all the hard training to refresh and refocus on the season ahead. We are only human after all.
“I think it’s important to do these types of activities as you can get so caught up in your own little bubble of training and recovering. It makes us the athletes that we are, but we can forget to enjoy ourselves sometimes. It really helped me to regroup with fellow athletes and realise that despite our dedication towards our sport, we can also have fun.”
Vicky Holland – GB Olympic triathlete
Despite being injured this year, Olympic triathlete Vicky Holland says time off is very important to re-charge and helps to avoid un-necessary risk of injury or illness. The triathlete typically takes three to four weeks, sometimes longer, to rest and relax after a full racing season, and only begins again when she feels ready.
Vicky limits physical activity and avoids anything structured, to allow her body and mind to refresh as much as possible. She’ll use this time to visit friends and family, take a holiday, or make appearances for her sponsors, even visiting schools. To beat any physical activity cravings, she plays tennis, takes walks and has even tried hitting the waves and learning to surf.
“It’s good to take a break from it every year so that when I start again, I’m excited to get going and push myself once more.
“It’s strange going from your fittest – which we often are at the end of the season – to our most unfit within the space of about two weeks, but it’s all part of allowing myself to completely switch off and recharge. I often find after the first week my appetite changes and it’s the only time of year I ever really forget about food,” she says.
Vicky also uses this period to sit down with her coach and review her racing season. At the end of her downtime, she likes to ease back into training with 1 -2 sessions a week before starting to increase her training volume.
“My only training commitment is to develop a plan for the next season which includes the races I want to target and the key areas we are going to try to improve upon in training. My coach then writes an overview of my plan for the coming year and we take it block by block, usually four weeks at a time, and adapt after each block if necessary.”
Kenta Gallagher – World Cup DH mountain bike rider – Polygon UR team
After a string of good results in the world of professional XC and cyclocross, Kenta followed his heart and made the switch to downhill competition in 2015. With a long racing season and competitions every weekend, he finds that travelling and prepping for races can make him physically and mentally drained after the season.
He takes 2-3 weeks to unwind, but emphasizes that it’s important not to feel like you’re throwing away all the fitness gains you’ve made in the season. Instead, he likes to limit any structure and focus on having fun.
“I like to play on my hardtail and do some trips. I’ll also hang out and have a laugh with my friends and family. I think that’s really important because you barely see them when you’re training and racing every weekend,” he explains.
“I also use the time to look at what my strong points were through the season and what I need to plan for the season ahead. This year I’ve been injured, so I know I need to concentrate on doing some work in the winter to regain my fitness. I’ll look at what’s worked for me and what hasn’t, and come up with a plan so I don’t go into the unknown. I’ve got a set routine that I can just go straight into. I don’t tend to stress about food – I like a few beers, and as long as you’ve got a smile on your face, it’s going to be doing you good.
“The key is to make sure you’re going into the season fresh, with all the structure you need laid out. Get a good support network around you and let everyone know what your plans are. A couple of weeks before I know I’m going to get back training, I’ll do a couple of rides in the week to make sure it’s not a shock to the system. The last thing you want is to be feeling rubbish after a break, so it’s important to make a steady transition.”
To get the best from your ‘off-time’, it’s still important to stay properly hydrated and to optimise your recovery after training, even if you plan to take a break or you’re staying active for long periods for fun. HIGH5 uses high quality why protein isolate for optimal recovery after hard exercise. Check out the benefits and browse our range of delicious tasting sports nutrition to help you recover better, faster, here: https://highfive.co.uk/product-category/recovery/