The Transition Period

Thursday, October 18, 2012 | By Joe Friel
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Your season is probably over. It’s literally the “off season” - a time to take a break. Called the Transition Period, this runs from the completion of your last race, until the start of the Prep Period in a few weeks. Think of this Transition Period as the link between two annual training plans—it marks the end of last season and the official beginning of the next season.

This is typically the time of year when fatigue or burnout is the greatest. You may have become so used to being wasted—both physically and mentally—that you aren’t even aware of it. Weeks of training, competing, and juggling all of your other life commitments have taken their toll. Rest and recovery are needed to repair, rejuvenate and recharge.

Don’t make the mistake of many athletes this time of the year by starting to immediately push your body and mind to the limit with some obsessive, compulsive desire to train hard for the next race—which may not happen for 6 months or even more. If you have more than half a year until you once again go to a starting line, there is no reason to start pushing your limits now. Doing so is a sure way to end up frustrated, burned-out, or injured while having an uninspiring upcoming season.

Throughout a season, every athlete needs easy days, easy weeks, and easy months. Now is the time for an easy month. About 3 or 4 weeks of reduced activity will have you ready to go again, both physically and mentally.

Stay Active

In your Transition Period don’t stop working out completely—with one exception: Take a few days completely off from your sport following the last race of the season. After a couple of days of complete rest go out and exercise for the pure enjoyment of it—no plan, no agenda, no purpose. Just keep your body moving. Include one or two days of complete rest each week—no physical activity.

The Transition Period is not intended to turn you into a couch potato. And it is also not meant to be merely a continuation of the training you were doing at the end of the last season. Instead, it’s a time of staying active at a minimal level. It’s “exercise” rather than “training.” In other words, there is no race-preparation focus. Relax. Enjoy life with friends and family.

So if a little rest is so good, why not just take a few weeks completely off from all exercise? Complete rest is likely to prolong next year's Base Period and may even cut into your Build Period. You will simply find it difficult to establish the levels of base fitness needed and lag behind where your fitness should be throughout the winter and perhaps into the spring. With some non-race-specific exercise for a few weeks you will easily return to focused training and experience a more rapid increase in fitness when it’s time.

Fun—Not Fitness

The activities you do in the Transition Period should be for fun rather than fitness. If you happen to miss a day or two of exercise, don’t sweat it. However, do something to stay active on most days.

Go for hikes with your family. If you want to challenge yourself just a bit, wear a backpack filled with books. Or carry the baby on your back. Do a century ride or multi- day bike tour with friends who are slower than you. Join a yoga class, learn a new sport, or just take a walk. Go some place warm for a few days and play golf every day—walking and carrying your bag. Or play tennis, surf, climb mountains, play racquetball, take an aerobics class.

It’s okay to do sport-specific workouts also. But avoid structure and straight lines. Instead of the track or road, go to the trails for your runs. Ride your mountain or cyclocross bike off-road. Teach a newbie triathlete how to swim. Have fun!

Brain—Not Brawn

With your reduced workload during this period, you will also have more time to plan for your upcoming season. Having the year still fresh in your mind makes this a great time to analyze the last season and start mapping out your plan for the upcoming season. Ask yourself:

  • Did I meet my goals?
  • Did I follow my training plan (you had one, didn’t you)?
  • Did I address my limiters?
  • Was I able to stick to my training schedule?
  • Was I satisfied with my race results?

Answering these questions will help you to start planning appropriately for your next season.

Not only will you head into the new season rested and excited to train and race, but you will have started organizing your road map to a successful season.

During your Transition Period you are likely to feel you are a bit behind your training partners and your competition, who are hammering in the late fall and early winter while you are merely cruising along and playing. But come mid- and late- race season next year you will be fresher, more motivated, peaking at the right time, and racing faster while they will likely be burned out and dreading the next workout.

Bottom Line

Follow these suggestions for your Transition Period and take the first step to your best season ever:

  • Forget your training log and relax.
  • Ditch your heart-rate monitor, power meter, and GPS and go by feel.
  • Throw in a day or two of complete rest each week.
  • Stay off the roads and hit the trails on a mountain or cross bike.
  • Run trails with your buddies.
  • Try deep-water running or an aqua-fitness class.
  • Participate in an aerobics, Yoga, or Pilates class.
  • Take long walks or hikes with family, friends or a pet.
  • Head to the lake for a paddle in a kayak or canoe.
  • Take a break from your group workouts.
  • Swim on your own and do not count the yardage or time laps.
  • Skip the weight room and do body weight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, dips, walking lunges, squats, crunches, and planks.
  • Learn a new sport or activity.
  • Start to plan your upcoming season.
  • Sleep in frequently.
  • Have fun.
  • Play. 

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