Australian Mountain Bike - - Front Page - WORDS: JENNI KING

With the sum­mer sea­son now fin­ished and the colder months on their way, many of you will be think­ing about tak­ing a well-earned rest. While it is im­por­tant to take a break from train­ing and rac­ing, for both phys­i­cal and men­tal re­cu­per­a­tion, it is also im­por­tant to be mind­ful of how quickly fit­ness lev­els will drop dur­ing a pe­riod of lit­tle to no ex­er­cise. Most re­search shows that phys­i­o­log­i­cal per­for­mance de­clines quite rapidly on com­plete rest. This is largely due to lower stroke vol­ume and car­diac out­put re­sult­ing in re­duced max­i­mal oxy­gen up­take (VO2). While it may well have taken weeks, if not months, to in­crease your lac­tate thresh­old; on com­plete rest it doesn’t take very long for it to re­turn to base­line lev­els. Un­for­tu­nately the re­search sug­gests that there is a lot of truth in the be­lief that it takes twice as long to gain fit­ness as it does to lose it! It’s not all bad news though. For those of you fin­ish­ing a long, hard race sea­son or sum­mer of bulk rid­ing and crav­ing “break time”, this is still a highly im­por­tant phase and it cer­tainly shouldn’t be skipped. It is in­evitable that some amount of de­train­ing will oc­cur and fit­ness lev­els will drop while you take a break. The key is not to let lev­els drop so much that you drift right back to base-line lev­els there­fore un­do­ing all of the hard work you put in dur­ing last year’s pre­sea­son train­ing. In this ar­ti­cle I have out­lined some point­ers on how you can gain the most out of your off-sea­son / win­ter train­ing while feel­ing refreshed and ready to go when it comes time to start building the base miles again.


Firstly, as I’ve al­ready men­tioned, it is im­per­a­tive to take a short pe­riod of to­tal time-out. This is par­tic­u­larly the case if you have been train­ing hard for longer than a cou­ple of months. Train­ing at high in­ten­si­ties or for long du­ra­tions is both men­tally and phys­i­cally tax­ing. Hope­fully, you will have in­cor­po­rated rest days and re­cov­ery weeks into the train­ing plan on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, to re­duce fa­tigue lev­els and al­low for fit­ness adap­ta­tion. It is also most im­por­tant to in­clude a longer pe­riod of rest at the end of your main race sea­son. Those ath­letes who at­tempt to skip this im­por­tant “break phase”, quite of­ten fall apart a few months down the track and risk burn-out. So how long to take off? Stud­ies indicate that sig­nif­i­cant losses in aer­o­bic ca­pac­ity are not seen un­til 2-3 weeks of no ex­er­cises what­so­ever. Af­ter this point, a much more rapid decline in fit­ness is seen. I would there­fore sug­gest tak­ing ap­prox­i­mately this amount of time to­tally off. Use the ex­tra time you have to eval­u­ate your pre­vi­ous sea­son, set goals for your up­com­ing sea­son and get out and en­joy the things you don’t nor­mally have the time to do!


Fol­low­ing a 2-3 week pe­riod of in­ac­tiv­ity, I rec­om­mend eas­ing your­self back into train­ing with less struc­tured rid­ing and also more cross train­ing. Ex­er­cise when you feel like it; not be­cause you have to and don’t worry about your

heart rates or power dur­ing this phase. This is the per­fect time of year to get out and en­joy some dif­fer­ent forms of ex­er­cise. Par­tic­i­pat­ing in dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­ity to the usual cy­cle ac­tion, will al­low you to build fit­ness while keeping the “fun” in train­ing. As a gen­eral rule, train­ing should be­come more spe­cific to your goal-event the closer you get to it and there is no rea­son why you shouldn’t in­cor­po­rate more cross-train­ing while you are a long time away from com­pet­ing. Ide­ally, try to stick to sim­i­lar-mode ex­er­cise to gain most ben­e­fit. Ac­tiv­i­ties such as hik­ing, rock-climb­ing, off-bike strength train­ing (gym) and swim­ming all work very well in main­tain­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar fit­ness as well as mus­cu­lar strength. Then, when it is time to get more struc­tured and spe­cific with your train­ing, you won’t have lost much fit­ness and most im­por­tantly will feel men­tally refreshed and ready to go.


Dur­ing your off-sea­son there is no rea­son to feel you have to keep up the du­ra­tion of rides and over­all vol­ume of train­ing. I’m sure you will get plenty of ‘sad­dle-time’ com­pleted dur­ing your base phase of train­ing later on. Most re­search shows that fit­ness is far bet­ter main­tained by fre­quently in­clud­ing some in­ten­sity rather than slog­ging out long train­ing ses­sions. A study per­formed by 2 highly re­garded sports phys­i­ol­o­gists, Mu­jika and Padilla, looked at: “De­train­ing fol­low­ing an in­suf­fi­cient train­ing stim­u­lus pe­riod longer than 4 weeks, as well as sev­eral strate­gies that may be use­ful to avoid its neg­a­tive im­pact” (Ma­jika and Padilla, 2000) The au­thors con­cluded that: “All these neg­a­tive ef­fects (of de­train­ing) can be avoided or limited by re­duced train­ing strate­gies, as long as train­ing in­ten­sity is main­tained and fre­quency re­duced only mod­er­ately. On the other hand, train­ing vol­ume can be markedly re­duced” (Ma­jika and Padilla, 2000) There are many other stud­ies that sup­port the the­ory that reg­u­lar ses­sions con­sist­ing of short bouts of high in­ten­sity ex­er­cise will main­tain the ma­jor­ity of aer­o­bic adap­ta­tions in terms of VO2 max, heart size and mi­to­chon­drial con­tent. This is def­i­nitely good news for the time-poor ath­lete! REF­ER­ENCED AR­TI­CLE Mu­jika, I. and Padilla, S. (2000). De­train­ing: Loss of Train­ing-In­duced Phys­i­o­log­i­cal and Per­for­mance Adap­ta­tions. Part II. Sports Medicine, 30(3), pp. 145-154.

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