I’ve been cross-country skiing for 13 weeks and having a blast! I’ve done four races and met or exceeded my goals each time. I’m skiing better than I have in years!
Winter started early in Colorado, and I was on the snow in the middle of November. After months of great conditions we now have temps in the 40s in the mountains. The ski trails are thawing during the day and freezing overnight, resulting in terrible conditions.
I want to ski! But I’m forced to take time off. Turns out, despite being a coach, I’m just like every other athlete when it comes to finding balance between training and recovery.
“Dial Back the Training and Increase the Recovery”
Almost every new coaching client I have has trained more before starting to work with me than they do when they’re my client. Part of my job as a coach is to dial back the training and increase the recovery.
Here’s why: The most effective way to train is to do the least amount of training that, combined with good recovery, continues to produce improvement.
I limit clients to not more than three challenging workouts a week. A challenging workout could be a longer-than-usual ride. Or a tough intensity session. Or riding a harder route. The other days are either active recovery or rest days.
I also mix harder and easier weeks. For clients under 50 I’ll program a 4- to 5-week cycle, building the volume / intensity for 3 or 4 weeks followed by a lighter week. For older clients I’ll program a 4- or 6-week cycle alternating harder and easier weeks. For all my clients each successive cycle is harder than the preceding one.
After several months of progressively harder training cycles I program an off week from working out before I ratchet up the training a notch. All the client is supposed to do during the “break week” is a few hours of easy riding / walking, core strength work and stretching.
The week off usually is around a holiday, an important family event such as a wedding or a work obligation such as a conference. At times like these the client often feels a bit guilty, “I should be training.” By programming a recovery week I give the client permission not to feel guilty.
Clients worry that they are losing fitness by not riding. They are. But they are also recovering fully. The body recovers much faster than fitness declines, so that by the end of a week or so the rider has regained freshness and can get the most benefit out of the next phase of training.
What can I do during my recovery week? What could you do?
Recovery doesn’t just mean sitting around. There are several things you and I can do during our break weeks:
- Active Recovery: Muscles get tight when they go through a limited range of motion, whether it’s cycling, skiing or some other activity. Sitting on my butt won’t help that. Going for a walk, easy ride or ski will.
- Stretching: I sometimes skip stretching when I get too busy. Stretching feels good and is another way to relieve tightness.
- Self-massage: I can use my hands and a hard foam roller to work on muscles that are still tight after active recovery walks and stretching.
- Catching up on Sleep: I cram a lot into every 24 hours and sometimes sleep suffers. My body only produces human growth hormone, which rebuilds muscles, while I sleep. I’m getting to bed on time this week.
Work on Non-training Factors
When not working out as much, you and I have time for other activities that will benefit our performance in our sports:
- Goal-Setting and Planning: Last fall I developed specific goals and a plan for the skiing season. Now it’s time to set my 2016 cycling goals and riding plan.
- Learning: Train smarter, not harder, is an important maxim. There are always new developments in exercise science. I’m catching up on my reading so that I’ll be a better coach and author of RBR articles.
- Technique drills: Forward momentum in cross-country skiing results from pushing off from one ski and gliding forward on the other ski. The more fully I shift my weight to the gliding ski, the less drag there is from the other ski and the more momentum. I can do balance drills this week. Similarly, one-leg pedaling helps to improve pedaling economy.
- Auxiliary exercise: I program core strength exercises for every client. Some clients don’t make these a priority. I’m one of those, and I pay for it: My back hurts during long skis. This week I’m spending extra time strengthening my core muscles to support my back better.
Catch Up On Life
- Family: My sister-in-law, whom I like, is visiting. When I’m training, my family sometimes feels like an impediment. This week during my off week, I can relax and enjoy plenty of time with my wife and her twin sister.
- Good health: During both the skiing and cycling seasons I use my body a lot without checking how it’s doing overall. Make sure you have a regular medical checkup, and visit the dentist and eye doctor regularly, as well, in addition to any specialists you see.
- To-do list: I finally have time to work on equipment and do projects around the house.
Allowing your body to recover fully yields more improvement than continual training – and taking time off from training provides the opportunity to do any number of both “active recovery” and “life activities” during your down time.
Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance – 10 different recovery techniques illustrated with 14 photos including how to do self-massage.
Your Best Season Ever, Part 1: How to Plan and Get the Most Out of Your Training – How to create your own specific, personalized training plan just like a coach would do (for considerably less money!) and then get the most out of your training.
Your Best Season Ever, Part 2: Peaking for and Riding Your Event – How to use the same process I use with clients to achieve your best performance leading up to and during your specific event(s).
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.