The season is coming to an end. The last races are on the schedule, training is already being reduced or limited to the bare minimum. But recovery is on the horizon: the Transition Period (TTP). It represents the connection between the competitions of the past, and the preparation for the upcoming season. Those who may have competed in their first races back in March, or those who spent the summer travelling from race to race at the weekends, are now looking forward to putting their feet up for a few weeks and leaving the – hopefully enjoyable – stress of the past few months behind them. That’s the idea behind the transition period: mental and physical regeneration.
However, dropping the discipline that dominated the past few months from one week to the next is not easy for everyone. Body and mind are used to regular exercise, for many people the legs start to tingle again after less than two weeks and the head demands physical activity.
At this point at the latest, a big question arises: how to train now? Opinions are divided on this question, because the options are very contradictory: try to maintain form, or deliberately lose form and thus possibly recover more sustainably?
If one decides to maintain the shape with the wheel, there are again various approaches to choose from:
Continue to train on the road as usual. So little form is lost and it is trained very specifically. However, it doesn’t hurt to bring some variety into the daily training routine and to develop some mental distance to racing. Besides, not everyone lives in a climatically favorable region such that year-round training on the road is possible.
In addition, the cross-country season is approaching. Why not – with reduced distances during the week, some running training and high-intensity races on the weekend – try to conserve or build on the form? The cross-country sport originated as a winter training for road riders and only later developed into its own discipline. So the training would be very similar to the road season – an advantage because you don’t have to worry about how to translate the skills you’ve trained into performance on the bike. Furthermore, riding off-road trains your riding technique to a high degree.
HIT (High Intensity Interval Training), the buzzword of the past few years. The idea is to maintain the best possible form with a greatly reduced amount of training. With intensive intervals – ideally trained in blocks – threshold power and anaerobic capacity are kept at a high level. Various recent studies prove that this approach can work. A few of these studies even show that basic endurance can be developed with this approach. And that’s with about half the time it usually takes to do it. To a large extent, this also coincides with the approach of cross-country training, because here the exact loads occur that are used in HIT training. However, of course, not purposefully controlled, but rather designed as a driving game.
However, this is of course a stark contrast to the popular belief that you should focus on training basic endurance during the transition and preparation period. But right here we are at the point that has been discussed more frequently lately: does training basic endurance automatically mean training in basic endurance zone 1 (GA1)? Or can the effect also be achieved by training in other areas?
If one decides for the other approach, one can live with a certain loss of form, one follows the “classical” approach of the transition period. This approach includes on the one hand targeted training of the individual skills endurance, strength and coordination, on the other hand working on this skill complex in the form of compensatory sports. You should always keep in mind that this phase is the ideal time to work on specific deficits or to prevent them. Because right now, you should have the necessary time and peace of mind to work such habits into your daily life, which are very helpful in the long run. It is optimal to choose sports that are not only fun for the individual, but also demand a lot of asymmetrical movements and thus offer a balance to cycling as an extremely symmetrical sport.
“Possible deficits”, “prevent”, many cyclists should spontaneously think of their core muscles when hearing these buzzwords. If you have experienced back pain in the past weeks and months or if you are in a “typical” cycling position (rounded back, shoulders pulled forward/up) when reading this article, you should now start to change your posture in a physiologically advantageous way.
To finish the cycling season mentally and in terms of the load profile, team sports and backstroke games are ideal. On the one hand, because of the often necessary physical confrontation, which sometimes makes considerable demands on strength and assertiveness. On the other hand, neglected coordinative skills are also addressed – and last but not least, sports games are intensive training units that can also be enormous fun because of the many participants.
But other endurance sports also entice with their charms. In addition to the “classics” of swimming and skiing, if there is no snow, you can also take to the trails on roller skis or skikes. A popular variant in temperate latitudes is also the participation in winter running series. This approach is not entirely dissimilar to “working out”, but because of the different movements, it is a pleasant change for some.
Often neglected is also the wheel technology. Riding on the rear wheel (wheelie) may seem like a gimmick for BMX and MTB riders – but in fact the balance required to do so has a positive effect on the road and in races. Full braking with the rear wheel lifting off (stoppie) can also be practiced well off-road with the appropriate wheel and create reserves for races in the coming year. Other suggestions for bike technique training would be unicycling, generally riding off-road with MTB or crosser, riding with rigid gears, riding with decoupled cranks (SmartCranks), bike hockey, etc.
“Power” is a skill that is often talked about in cycling. In fact, lack of power should rarely be a race deciding factor, as it can be compensated for very well in road cycling – but a well-developed power ability is never a disadvantage. Those who think with horror of growing mountains of muscle when they think of “strength training” are not necessarily right – strength training can lead to positive effects even without significant muscle growth. For example, intensive strength training can significantly increase the proportion of muscle fibres that can be activated voluntarily. But also the aspect “muscle growth”, feared by many a cyclist, can be used quite consciously. Finally, muscle mass is also a limiting factor for peak performance. However, if the ideal weight has not yet been reached at the beginning of the season due to the trained muscles, this would not be a cause for concern. The body is an excellent self-regulating system: underutilized muscles – non-functional muscle mass – are quickly reduced to the bare minimum during the competition period. Exactly this effect can be used again: start the season with some excess muscle mass to have a depot of protein that can be broken down without negatively affecting performance.
Since some muscle groups are hardly used during cycling, cyclists tend to develop unhealthy imbalances, as mentioned above. To counteract this, exercises for the trunk – or more modern: core – are often recommended, which corresponds to the well-known athletic training. However, the trunk can also be trained very well with sports such as climbing and in various game sports. If you want to focus more on the lower extremities, all variants of skiing are possible. You can also do some relatively bike-specific training in the weight room. The main exercises are leg press and leg curls on machines or squats and deadlifts with barbells. Add in bench presses and pulls and you’ve covered the muscle loops relevant to cycling. However, one should prepare these strength exercises with an intensive training of the stabilizing trunk musculature, in order to prevent injuries. However, the transfer of the thus acquired strength to the bike must be consciously worked out, otherwise exactly what has just been described will happen – the muscles will be broken down again within a few weeks.
How you finally decide is of course up to you. The main thing is that after the transition period, you are ready to prepare for the upcoming season. As you have already noticed, some of the suggestions are aimed to be continued in the following preparation periods, for example trunk and coordination training. In this way, the skills and abilities addressed are further developed and maintained. Accordingly, it is advisable to keep these exercises or units during the season – and thus to loosen up the training a bit. This may result next year in training and racing being perceived as not as stressful and actually being less stressful. This reduces the need for a recovery phase at the end of the season, or this phase can be used in a more relaxed manner.