Recently the Wall Street Journal featured an article about elite runner Bernard Laget. The article explores Laget’s off season ‘break’ as it were; something I recommend to all of my athletes regardless of level or skill. I actually blogged about something similar to this concept in September of last year in a post dedicated to post-Ironman recovery. I agree that a complete shut down for athletes of all levels is important from both a mental and physiological stand point.
The shut down allows an athlete to do several things:
- Mentally take a break – training 10-20 hours a week for 45+ weeks a year is relentless and takes a ton of mental energy. The freedom to sleep in, catch up on housework, projects, enjoy a hobby you don’t typically have time for is refreshing and energizing.
- Physiologically – De-conditioning is going to happen with a lack of physical stress. That is OK. We can’t be at our peak level of fitness year round. Once an athlete has developed several years of endurance work, he or she will see that the endurance and fitness returns pretty quickly once engaged in a structured program again. Newer athletes may take a little longer to regain the base fitness but with the help of your coach progress should be marked and evaluated on a regular basis to keep you motivated and on track.
- Relationships strengthen – training consistently can take a toll on a relationship. Spouses, partners, kids, pets :), all miss the athlete, get fed up with the tired, crankiness that comes along with an endurance athlete. Take advantage of the extra energy you have and focus on someone ELSE for a few weeks.
The recovery timeline does not necessarily have to be six weeks. I typically shut an athlete down for at LEAST a week- typically it’s a month. Some athletes choose to stay ‘off’ a training regimen longer than that because of coaching costs, but most athletes begin training again after about a month of little activity.
Athletes also have worries that they will gain weight, lose an incredible amount of fitness, or somehow ‘implode’ from a lack of exercise. While weight gain is definitely possible, a 2-5 lb weight gain is reasonable and somewhat expected. As previously mentioned, yes, fitness will decrease but that is OK. Have faith that when you start training again you’ll be able to get back to where you were and then some. This is the benefit of using a coach and tracking your data. As far as the implosion, find something else to occupy your extra time. If you really need to move, go for an easy short swim to keep a feel for the water, go on a long walk with your spouse, take your kids to a climbing wall. You can keep moving, just keep it FUN!