As we all have experienced, cycling has a very long season and the demands on athletes can be extreme given: weather conditions, potential for injury, and for most of us, balancing our work lives with being athletes. This month, we asked pros Aaron Olsen (T-Mobile) and Dario Cioni (Predictor-Lotto) who just finished a small race called the Giro, a couple questions about their mid-season break. To no surprise, they are right in their middle of their own “half time.” Let’s see what they have to say and what we can learn from their answers:
Pez: What do you do during the mid-season break?
Aaron: For the two weeks following the Giro, other than a few races, my riding will consist of 2-3 hours per day, easy, just to keep the blood flowing to the muscles, and to recover from the 3500km in 3 weeks and all the mountains. Then, after a couple weeks, I’ll begin to do some longer rides, 5-6 hours, and more races/intensity as well. I came out of the Giro feeling much better this year, so I will just continue to listen to my body, rest, but keep the legs moving, and rest the mind as well.
Dario: It has been a few weeks since the Giro and I am right in the middle of a short break, nearly ready to get rolling again. I always try to take some time off after I have finished a major goal of the season, and in this case it just so happens to be a 3 week stage race, so I need some good rest. Even if you have peaked for a series of one day races you still need some time off to get some physical, but also some mental rest. My next big goal of the season is the Tour de France. I have the problem in that these two goals are really close so I cannot take too much of a break. My training plan was riding for the first 3 days after the Giro, then taking 2 days off the bike and riding 3 hours, then 2 off and 3 hours, 1 off and then resume full training. I will lose some fitness but more importantly, recover mentally. I really need that mental break and I feel this schedule can allow me gain the edge again. I will do an altitude training camp at Stelvio at 2750 meters to help me prepare for the Tour.
Pez: How long do you determine you need “off” during this break?
Aaron: For me, there is no set time for recovery, just see how I feel, I have last year’s Giro to go from, but I was crashed in 2006, and came out of 2007 feeling much better. So, maybe I will need less time to recover. Time will tell.
Dario: To reach an important goal takes a lot of physiological effort; so, the length of the break depends a lot on your next goal, but usually for me, it is 1 week, maximum 10 days long. It cannot be 1 month like the winter break as you do not want to lose all your fitness, unless your last goal is really far away. You try to balance it between the loss of fitness and a feeling that allows you to go hard again, both mentally and physically.
Break defined - The obvious thing is there has to be a break and the length of the break is based on feel and experience. During the majority of the racing season, most riders do not train 7 days a week and feel they really don’t need any time off. The suggestion is to still take the break (perhaps just 4-5 days) to give your mind a rest and a chance to redefine your goals and find motivation (and a few household chores you’ve been putting off.)
Body and Mind – Both Dario and Aaron make strong points that they need both physical and mental rest. Depending on what you have done over the first part of the season, the physical recovery really doesn’t take that long. It’s more the mental recovery that riders feel takes time. Examine your motivation to travel, compete and suffer as guides for knowing when you are ready to resume your training and racing.
Don’t’ stress – Fitness holds – One of the amazing things about the human body is that fitness will hold longer than you think, especially if you have been consistent in your training and racing. During the break you will lose something, usually on the anaerobic side. Don’t stress over it, because the gains you will make after the break will far outweigh any loss of fitness. What Dario mentions is important; find a balance between the small loss of fitness and the discovery of new energy. But make no mistake about it, recovery leading to new energy is most important. Without it, your second half may be very mediocre.
After a major event – A common trait we find in bike racers is that after a major goal has been accomplished, rider still feels good physically, but when they go out and train too soon after their even, they just can’t seem to perform like they feel they should. Focusing 100% on a goal requires an enormous amount of energy. A lot of times, your body will shut down, even though you don’t think it should.
Hindsight is 20/20 – I can’t tell you how many times I have heard from riders after they have been forced to take a break that they never would have taken, how beneficial it was. It is usually forced time off due to injury or some type of extended business trip. They were worried their seasons were lost. “I have to go away for a week without my bike, my season is over!” They come back, completely rested and motivated, and their fitness skyrockets to another level. With that increased fitness, comes a renewed sense of motivation.
Race/Recovery, breaking the habit. – Do you race a lot, almost every weekend? If you do and feel good, consider an extended rest and resumption of a structured aerobic based training program. Believe it or not, racing a lot can create an imbalance in your fitness. Too much of good thing so to speak. We see this a lot in our performance testing where the high end of the lactate curve is improved, but the threshold part of the curve is the same, if not worse. Balance your season, by going back to structured aerobic training to improve your overall fitness.
As always, we thank both Aaron and Dario for their time. Even though professional athletes lead a unique type of life and program, we can learn a lot of things from them if we listen carefully. As I have said many times, a successful athlete is someone who continues to listen and learn, apply new ideas, going outside the box. There is no one set program or rule that applies to all athletes, only guidelines. Take the time to pay attention to your body, try new things and be on the trend to getting better and better every year.
Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at www.athleticamps.com