Whether you're riding a fitness high or struggling to hang with the bunch, a mid-season break could be the difference between a season of success and one of disappointment.
It's common for both beginning and seasoned riders to overlook a nice break during the season. While it may seem counterintuitive, the ideal time to break is after you peak, while you're still riding well, rather than when you're already on a downward slide.
The typical rider will often try to milk everything they can out of their good form, often leaving them physically and/or psychologically drained and unable to achieve late-season goals. However, goals are the key to planning an ideal break time, as is a detailed periodization plan.
Whether you have one, both or neither, the following article will help you establish what type of "break" works best for you. To understand why you should take a break, we first need to revisit some basic training tenets, like periodization and some principles of training.
The Science Behind Taking a "Break"
The idea of down time during the season is rooted within the principles of periodization. Continual long-term performance improvement can only be realized when the athlete uses the following: appropriate training at the appropriate time with a progressive and varying training load (volume and intensity and an optimal relationship between training and recovery). The longer the build-up period, the longer and more stable the peak. By repeatedly building-up and recovering we can achieve a continual super-compensation effect.
However, months of physical preparation and competition, along with the psychological stress that comes with it, can leave even the most seasoned racer struggling to finish races. Constantly fighting against this tide can lead to some level of overtraining. Rather than fighting in vain, make a strategic withdrawal and then assess your season.
Step 1: Take stock of your current situation.
You can't determine where you are going until you know where you are. To do this:
A) Write down what you hoped to accomplish up until today e.g., I wanted to win the Podunk Championships.
B) Assess how successful you were in those endeavors and why e.g., you achieved it all; you achieved nothing; you achieved some goals and are happy/sad; you have no idea why you even bothered throwing your leg over the bike, etc.
C) Assess how you feel physically and mentally now and over the past couple weeks e.g., you feel super/terrible; you love the bike and can't imagine doing anything else; you despise all things cycling or something in between.
D) Write down specific goals for the remaining season e.g., I want to win the XYZ criterium; I want to finish top three at cyclo-cross nationals; I want to cut 30 seconds off my 10 mile TT time, etc.