Downtime – Not just an off season thing 

Often we hear people talking about the off-season and downtime like it’s some sort of shining oasis in the distance. Something that provides a break at the end of the season for us to overcome some of the slowly compiling injuries and to take a mental break from the months of loading we have placed our bodies under. As a statement this is not un-true, but it is vastly oversimplified. Honestly if a break is looking that appealing to you, then you are well past the point at which you should have taken one.  

Downtime is more than the break we take at the end of a season. It is a tool that can aid us in both our physiological and psychological development when periodized correctly into a training program. In order to achieve this we first need to get away form the idea of having set training parameters as they relate to both Macro-cycles (large time periods) as well as Micro-cycles (short time periods).  Ask yourself why does our training year have to be set up in such a way that we start in March/April and finish in October/November? Why do training weeks need to be 7-day cycles arranged Monday to Sunday. If the goal of an athlete is to improve year to year having these as fixed points limits our creative scope as coaches and potentially an athletes short and long term performances.  

So lets look at training periodization without these pre-set parameters. Yes we all need downtime to recover and refresh but why does it need to be such a long period over the winter that puts athletes back to a point that is close to square one again? Having a 3 to 4 month break in the off season makes little if any sense at all when the goal is year to year improvement. Instead why not have 3 x 2week breaks throughout the year with a 4 week break at the end of the season? Or even 3 x 4 week breaks with 2 weeks off and 2 weeks of unstructured training? From a training periodization point of view both of these options work better than taking the winter off and will allow you to maintain greater levels of fitness thought the year.  

In the above proposed scenarios you could train hard though the winter and come out dominating the early season races. Also because the breaks are short enough to refresh, recover but not to de-train you could also then dominate the mid-season and also late season.  Remember to best way to climb a ladder is not two steps forward, one back but rather to be consistent in your forward progression. Breaking things up in this way may not be ideal for everyone but it is important as coaches that we leave these options on the table and are not limited in our thought process.  

We see this simple theory play out time and time again with athletes that get injured. Athletes come into the season racing great and dominating the competition. They then get injured mid season and are off for 3-5 weeks. They come back into the season having had this training break and go on to dominate the back part of the season. Now think for a moment how much better this would be if this athlete took this time but didn’t have the injury. They could essentially keep stepping up, going from strength to strength with little or no de-training between Macro-cycles. 

This same logic holds true for Micro-cycles.  Why is it that just because many of us work a Monday to Friday job that we feel the need as coaches to create 7 day training cycles with our athletes programs? This is especially true when we have athletes with flexible schedules who often have to check a calendar just to figure out what day of the week it is and yet we insist in sticking with these 7 day cycles. Over the years I have written Micro-cycles that range from 3 days to 14 days in duration. More often than not 7day cycles work because people do also. However to only write 7day cycles places foolish and unnecessary limits on us as coaches. When working with athletes that have flexible schedules these self-imposed limiters will often constrain our programing and thus our athlete’s development. 

So as you move forward into the Fall season with your athletes try to think clearly about their programs and don’t limit yourself to the same old training patterns that you may have used in the past. Long downtime periods will cause your athletes to become de-trained and make building back up slower. Shorter recovery periods more regularly will allow your athletes to refresh with out de-training. It will also allow your athletes be much more consistent in their forward development year in, year out.  

When you next sit down to developing your training programs start with this simple question, “Is this going to make my athlete/s faster?” If you are honest with yourself and review much of what you have prescribed in the past it will leave you answering, NO! So this year step back, assess what will make your athlete’s faster, make a plan and take a big step forward.

Article by – EP Coaching Team