During a training season, we spend a lot of time and energy getting prepared for our target goals and through the year, the stress of training affects us both psychologically and physiologically. Every athlete needs a break or down-time, we call it the off-season.
The off-season can be divided in four elements:
1 - Physical rest: To allow your body to recover from all the seasons' hard work
Week 1 and 2: Allow a break from training of one or two weeks, during which you will focus on resting. This rest period does not necessarily mean you have to stop all workouts, you can continue very light activity.
Week 2 and 4: You will gradually start to increase your training time, in preparation for the coming season.
2 - Psychological rest: Restore your mind
Usually athletes are extremely focused, and the goals they have set are constantly in the back of their mind. "Switching off" is a necessity, but not an easy task. You can help this process by doing some of the activities you had to give up during the year. Spend time with your family and friends, sleep in, go to the cinema, out for dinner, take nice walks, or even holidays. After this revitalising time, you will be ready to start your new season with a fresh and positive approach.
3 - Set new goals: After your psychologically rested, start thinking about your new season.
Take time to set new challenges with a rested mind. By doing this you will be more objective about which event/s are important. And as you have had a break from training, you will easily chose objectives that are right for you. Once your new season planned, your motivation will increase and you will naturally want to get back into your training routine.
4 - Set new training priorities: Prepare your body for the new demands
Often a season ends after many weeks of specific race training and series of races. To allow the body to sustain such high demands we have to reduce or stop other aspects of our training, such as strength training, cross training... From the 3rd or 4th week of the off-season you can reintroduce some of this type of training. This training indirectly increases your performance. Give yourself time to discover other activities that you think could be interesting, such as yoga, meditation, stretching... and maybe think about introducing them in your new season.
We would all like to maintain peak fitness levels all year long, but the reality is we cannot sustain the high training levels all year long. Achieving a good off-season is taking a step forward towards future gains.