There is no doubt that the definition of the cycling offseason has changed over the years. It used to be the offseason meant having this major break off the bike. There didn't seem to be much happening in the world of cycling and you would look forward to your monthly copy of Velo News in the mail to see what was transpiring in the dead of winter. You couldn't wait until spring!
Fast forward to a world of mass media and technology including the Internet, online forums, and mobile devices to follow Facebook and Twitter. Yes, the offseason seems to be this hazy transition from year to year where athletes are not sure what to participate in with the availability of so many competitive options (like Cyclocross and mountain biking.) Add in different offseason activities prescribed by coaches and articles (like these), and the offseason has become a season in itself!
It's pretty overwhelming, so let's look at some common questions athletes ask about what to do in the offseason and answer them best we can.
What is the meaning of break and how long should it be?
The first thing to do is defining a break and determining how long that break should be. Does it mean putting the bike away for a while with no riding at all? Does it mean you can ride, but "not much?" Or does it mean you can ride different disciplines like MTB or Cross?
I think the first thing to understand, that unless you are totally wasted and over-trained, the body really doesn't need that much time to recover and become fresh again. Most athletes can take 4-6 days off the bike and feel pretty good in the legs and have good energy. A lot of you see this by taking a few days off and see how your heart rate becomes so responsive and higher than normal.
The more important question is how are you mentally? How motivated are you to truly dedicate 100 percent of your cycling energy to your next season goals? Now we are talking about a different animal here. This is where you have to evaluate your mental state and make sure you define the time off the bike and allow yourself to mentally get recharged. It takes different amounts of time for different athletes. Just a suggestion, if it takes you a month, take 5-6 weeks. Always give yourself a bit more time; better a bit more than a bit less.
As an important side note, I think it's a good idea for active athletes to have blood work done a at least once a year, just to make sure everything is in good shape. We put our bodies through an immense amount of stress from training, career, and life in general. A lot of times I will see athletes get normal blood work done and have some inconsistent values. They don't feel bad, but the values are either out of range or at the extreme edges of normal. It could be because of all the training stress. These values like ferritin or hemoglobin just don't "fill up" again like fluids in your car; they can take months to get back to what would be considered normal. And a big component of getting them back is REST. So by checking your blood, you may be avoiding problems as far out as the middle of next year.