Matt Chatlaong is currently completing his degree in Exercise Science as he races his bike for the Herbalife p/b Marc Pro – Nature’s Bakery cycling team.   In this article Matt shares some tips on identifying how much time to take off during the off-season.

October signals the end of the road racing calendar and the beginning of the off season.  It’s common to hear other riders’ plans to take time off the bike, sometimes a week, maybe even a month.  So how much “down time” is right for you?

What Does Time Off Equate To?

Extended time off = detraining (1).  The equation is simple enough; figuring out how much time to sit around might be a bit more challenging.  Let’s start by looking at some of the pros and cons.

Pros

  • An opportunity to evaluate the previous season and consider goals for the upcoming season.
  • Time to improve other life stressors.  We could all benefit here!
  • Increased motivation, as well as opportunities for variety while not having to worry about training.
  • Reduced stress hormone levels (1,5,6).
  • Potential time to recover from an over-trained state.

Cons

  • Within just a few days, significant decreases in blood volume (mostly the plasma portion), and in turn cardiac output have been documented (1,2).
  • Decrease in VO2 Max anywhere from 4-14%, as well as a decrease in lactate threshold as a percentage of Vo2 max have been documented in less than 4 weeks of inactivity in trained athletes (1).
  • Increased blood lactate levels per given workload has been shown in less than 4 weeks of inactivity (11).
  • Significant reduction in muscle glycogen content has been reported in as little as 1 week of inactivity (1,11,12).
  • Decrease in enzyme activity important for muscle oxidative capacity was seen in less than 4 weeks of inactivity (2,4,12)
  • Decrease in hippocampal and cerebral blood flow in as little as 10 days off, where exercise has been shown to affect hippocampal dependent cognition and to increase blood perfusion to this area (7,8).

Putting it Together

The take away: there are many benefits to taking  time off the bike, but with them are numerous physiological responses that will likely make you slower in the short term.  However, because there is so much variance among individuals, detraining may or may not affect you as much as the literature shows, and likewise, your response to retraining might be faster or slower than other individuals.

Developing a Strategy

In order to determine what type of post-season protocol is best for you, consider the following:

  • What are your goals for next season?  Do you want to be at your best in the early spring races?  Late summer?
  • Is your schedule predictable?  If so, you are probably OK to take more extended rest. The cycling season is long, and with your more ideal training availability, the retraining process might be easier to accomplish.
  • If your training availability is limited and/or unpredictable, it may be more difficult to retrain after extended rest, and you might benefit from less time off.

Meeting in the middle with your post-season strategy may also be a valuable option.  A simple reduction in training volume and intensity has been shown to help maintain many of the benefits of training  while offering opportunities for variety and rest (5,6,9,10,11).

This could mean 3-4 weeks of unstructured riding at moderate intensities with reduced volume, allowing you to take a “mental break” from the demands of structure and the discomfort of intensity. If you’ve already taken some time off and you feel motivated, get back on your bike for some unstructured riding!

Your best strategy for “time off” depends on considering all of these variables, identifying your priorities, and committing to a strategy that makes the most sense.  The bottom line is that there is no post-season protocol that works best for everyone, consider the available pro’s and con’s then make a plan.

Summary

  • There are many benefits to detraining, including more available time to reduce overall stress while addressing neglected areas of life from previous months of focused training/racing.
  • The physiological decline in response to detraining will have to be rebuilt prior to making new progress in the upcoming season.  Consider how much training availability you have to rebuild your fitness before taking too much time off the bike.
  • The best off season plan is the one that takes these variables into consideration, along with your priorities, and is one that you can commit to.

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Matt Chatlaong
Data Driven Athlete

References

1.  Mujika, I., & Padilla, S. (2000). Detraining: Loss of Training-Induced Physiological and Performance Adaptations. Part I. Sports Medicine, 30(2), 79-87.
2.  Coyle EF, Hemmert MK, Coggan AR. Effects of detraining on cardiovascular responses to exercise: role of blood volume. J Appl Physiol 1986; 60 (1): 95-9
3.  Costill DL, Thomas R, Robergs RA, et al. Adaptations to swimming training: influence of training volume. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1991; 23 (3): 371-7
4.  E. F. Coyle, W. H. Martin, S. A. Bloomfield, O. H. Lowry, J. O. Holloszy (1985). Effects of detraining on responses to submaximal exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 59 (3) 853-859.
5.  Garcia-Pallares, Jesus, Carrasco, Luis, Diaz, Arturo, & Sanchez-Medina, Luis. (2009). Post-season detraining effects on physiological and performance parameters in top-level kayakers: Comparison of two recovery strategies.(Research article)(Report).Journal of Sports Science and Medicine,8(4), 622.
6.  Mujika, I., & Padilla, S. (2000). Detraining: Loss of Training-Induced Physiological and Performance Adaptations. Part II. Sports Medicine, 30(3), 145-154.
7.  Alfini, Alfonso J., Weiss, Lauren R., Leitner, Brooks P., Smith, Theresa J., Hagberg, James M., & Smith, J. Carson. (2016). Hippocampal and Cerebral Blood Flow after Exercise Cessation in Master Athletes. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, August 5, 2016.
8.  Pereira, A.C., Huddleston, D.E., Brickman, A.M., Sosunov, A.A., Hen, R., and Brown, T.R.(2007).An invivo correlate of exercise-induced neurogenesis In the adult dentate gyrus. Proc. Natl .Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 104,5638–5643.doi:10.1073/pnas.0611721104
9.  Rietjens, G. J. W. M., Keizer, H. A., Kuipers, H., & Saris, W. H. M. (2001). A reduction in training volume and intensity for 21 days does not impair performance in cyclists.(Statistical Data Included). British Journal of Sports Medicine, 35(6), 431.
10.  Houmard JA, Costill DL, Mitchell JB, et al. Reduced training maintains performance in distance runners. Int J Sports Med 1990; 11 (1): 46-52
11.  Neufer, P. D., Costill, D. L., Fielding, R. A., Flynn, M. G., & Kirwan, J. P. (1987). Effect of reduced training on muscular strength and endurance in competitive swimmers. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 19(5). doi:10.1249/00005768-198710000-00011
12.  Costill, D. L., Fink, W. J., Hargreaves, M., King, D. S., Thomas, R., & Fielding, R. (1985). Metabolic characteristics of skeletal muscle during detraining from competitive swimming. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 17(3). doi:10.1249/00005768-198506000-00007

Written by Matt Chatlaong

Coach at Data Driven Athlete, Student of Exercise Science, Cat 1 Road Racer for Herbalife p/b Marc Pro - Nature's Bakery, Sprinter, and Carbohydrate Lover ... Feel free to contact me with any questions, comments, or feedback at matt@datadrivenathlete.com !