“Transition phase” is a term that is frequently misunderstood and often not known about. This is traditionally a phase of active rest and recuperation and commonly prescribed after the season has finished.
Some feel that it is a time to be taken off completely, while others think of it as an opportunity to prepare for the upcoming season. This can create confusion as to what to do when and how.
Transition phase comprises of both the elements mentioned above; a period where you are not racing or having to focus on the elements and variables around racing and performance, and also an opportunity to build towards your approaching season, which is critically important due to the increasingly congested race calendars.
In this article, we shed some light on what a well-planned off-season should consist of in order for you to have a successful season ahead.
There are three main components of the transition phase:
- Physical rest
- Mental rest
- Injury treatment and prevention
Directly after the commencement of the off-season, a complete break from cycling is usually prescribed. This is usually a period of approximately 2 to 4 weeks. Some coaches have prescribed longer periods, but there is mounting evidence suggesting that prolonged rest erodes many of the training adaptations that have been built up during the season. As a result, athletes should start physical activity after a 10 to 14 day rest period, but avoid longer periods of inactivity.
A key point is that these physical activities do not need to involve cycling. Hiking, swimming, surfing and all manner of other sports allow continued physical conditioning while providing a break from cycling. This will help an athlete to not suffer burn out. “Burnout” is defined as “a syndrome caused by continuous exposure to an a environment and which is associated with underperformance and increased risk of injury and or illness” In this case, it would be cycling.
The prolonged, congested competitive seasons experienced by most modern-day professional athletes leads to significant mental fatigue at the end of a season.
Motivation can progressively decrease as this fatigue sets in and can manifest in a variety of ways, including; incomplete training sessions, under-performance in races, reduced communication with the coach and many other subtle tells.
Central nervous system fatigue can take significantly longer to recover from compared to the physical fatigue of training and racing. After a major stage race, an athlete may feel normal again with respect to stiffness and other physical symptoms, but it could very well take up to three weeks or more for their mind to freshen up completely.
The off-season is therefore focused, to a large extent, on allowing the athlete to recover mentally. There should be limited structure in the off-season and athletes should be encouraged to participate in exercise, which is fun and novel. There are numerous alternative activities such hiking, running and swimming which can provide an excellent physical stimulus with a fun element.
Athletes often develop anxiety about taking time off due to detraining. A limited amount of deconditioning is actually desired as the reduced stress allows physical recovery and can result in greater gains in the coming season. The athlete should, therefore, see this as a positive process that will result in net gains.
Another concern for many athletes is weight gain. Athletes often gain weight during this period, but this is completely normal and healthy. The body cannot sustain the optimal race weight all year as it predisposes to illness and injury. Once focused training is recommenced this weight will be lost fairly quickly and during the early phases of the new season of training a gain of a few kilograms is acceptable.
Injury management and prevention:
During this off the bike time, it is also the perfect opportunity to address any injuries. This may be as trivial as a chronic muscle strain, but in some cases, there may be a need for off-season surgery. In cycling, evaluating biomechanics and optimizing bike fit are best done in the off-season to allow the muscle tendon units and joints to adapt to alteration when the load is gradually increased in the new season. A sudden change mid-season when loads are highest can result in injury, discomfort or temporary loss of performance.
Addressing strength deficits in key muscle groups and stabilizers should also be done towards the end of the off-season and before proper loading is introduced.
Review your previous season in order to plan the season ahead:
It is always a good idea to review the season, which has just been completed, whether you are a mid-pack fun rider or a professional heading to the World Championships. When reviewing your season you need to be honest with yourself about factors that affected performance. The best way to do this is to go through your training data with your coach to assess where things were done well and where mistakes were made.
You need to highlight weaknesses as well as areas where gains were made. Once that is done, you need to evaluate how to eliminate mistakes and translate those areas into success for the following year.
Once this is addressed correctly, you can then start planning your new and upcoming season with the correct training periodization and annual planning.