Taking a break from training in the off season can be a challenge and many people ignore this important time of year. I find people either love or hate time off; I go back and forth every year. What I have found is the longer and more intensive my competition schedule is, the longer a break I need and the more I enjoy and look forward to this break. It can seem counter-productive to purposely lose fitness after working for so long, but a break should be looked at not as an indulgence but as an investment towards the upcoming season.
Instructions for exercise addicts: When, what, and how does one “take a break”??
Time should begin after your last race of the season. A break from structured training often lasts a few weeks, depending on both mental and physical factors. For example, a mentally burnt out and/or physically injured athlete may require more time off than someone who had a seamless season.
Remember everyone is different and the best way to dictate how much time off is to listen to your body. If your schedule says it's time to come back to training but you still feel mentally fatigued or just haven't found renewed excitement for training, then you probably aren't ready yet.
Athletes are active people by nature, and there is no need to cut out all exercise! Low impact aerobic activities that don’t fit into your training schedule at other times of the year are fun and refreshing. You could try hiking, cross country skiing, swimming, biking, or even rowing, all weather permitting of course! For you OCR athletes, climbing and bouldering is a great activity to get into during this time to keep your upper body strong and work on your grip strength.
The most important thing to remember is to keep activities fun, light, and non-competitive. Exercise if you want to, not because you have to!
What's the point of taking time of?
For me, the most important benefit is a mental break. I use this time to unwind and regain joy and excitement towards my training which sometimes wane at the end of a long season.
The second benefit is to deal with nagging aches, pains and injuries. Allowing your body to have a break from high impact training is vital for you to make it through the next season healthy. For those fortunate athletes who have no injuries, this is a time you can work on your weakness which get neglected in season such as flexibility, strength imbalances, and of course a great time to get back to doing those physio and injury prevention exercises.
The last benefit I'll discuss is performance. I don't know a single high level athlete that trains all year. Many of Olympic medalists we know take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months off following a major championship. In a proper periodized training plan, rest is vital if you want to peak later in the season and reduce the risk of injury or burn out. To achieve peak performance, there needs to be a proper build up of training volume and this build begins after the body is fully rested, recovered and healthy.
So, we encourage you to think about the off season as just another phase of your yearly training plan. Resist the urge to train through this phase,and you will be unstoppable when it matters the most!