How To Prepare Your Best Sport Or Racing Season

It can be very tempting at this time of year to take your foot off the gas and settle into an end-of-year slumber for a few weeks.

Though taking some downtime has its advantages, it’s vital to keep your fitness ticking over throughout December, in order to kick off 2017 in the best possible condition.

Here are nine ideas to keep you motivated, conditioned and prepared for upping the ante come the new year

1. Do some plyometrics

It may be a rather niche area of training for cyclists, but plyometrics can bring about improvements on the bike while also adding an interesting aspect to your off-bike training.

Plyometric training consists of completing exercises in which muscles exert maximum force for short periods of time.

Steve Mellor, exercise lead and personal trainer at the Centre of Health and Human Performance, shines a light on the potential benefits of  these sessions:

“Plyometric training improves neuromuscular adaptation and power output without increasing muscular size.

“It does this by improving the ability to recruit the agonist muscles which are the ones that produce the force, while also reducing the co-activation of muscles that activate to ‘protect’ the body and ultimately reduce power output.”

>>> How to use strength training to boost your cycling (video)

Because plyometric training places high stresses on muscles, it is important to introduce it into your training programme only gradually under the supervision of a personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach.

Implementing strength training prior to performing plyometrics helps address pre-existing imbalances across the body and reduces the likelihood of injury.

“Plyometric exercises for the lower body need to be added with caution and precision. The simplest way to introduce plyometrics is with the use of adding jumping into your programme.

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However, there are many prerequisites, including joint stability and dynamic control, as well as muscle strength and activation, to name a few. To say, ‘Just add some jumps to your workout,’ is careless and wrong,” says Mellor.

Resistance training may have to come at the sacrifice of cutting your mileage on the road to allow for the benefits of plyometrics to pay off. Thus, the off-season, says Mellor, is the ideal time to introduce this type of training into your programme.

>>> Six winter cycling exercises for strength and conditioning (video)

“Concurrent resistance and aerobic exercise is a very powerful combination. However, recovery from training is essential to ensure that your hard work on the road and in the gym is paying off and making you faster.

“Countless studies have shown how the managing of training load is the key factor in ensuring your training is making you faster. More is not always better.”

2. Ride free, unencumbered by technology

Remove the computer, add more pleasure? Photo: Chris Catchpole

Remove the computer, add more pleasure? Photo: Chris Catchpole

This may be a slightly scary thought for some, but leaving your bike computer at home every now and then is allowed.

Despite the urge to go Strava segment-hunting, you’re unlikely to be in peak physical condition during the winter months.

Therefore, staring at your stem feeling disheartened that you are 20 watts down on your summer power is pointless and potentially counter-productive.

So, leave the tech behind sometimes, even if just for one ride a week.

3. Do some yoga

The old-school cycling community may well sneer at the thought of yoga being a useful addition to a training programme, but it’s an activity swiftly gaining popularity among pros and amateurs alike. Stephanie Pena specialises in yoga for cyclists.

“Yoga is definitely not just stretching,” she says. “It is a combination of stretching, holding and moving between postures, creating balance, building strength and flexibility with the breath in a healthy and beneficial way for the body to function optimally.”

Cycling can result in many different types of muscle tightness and imbalances. To this end, yoga can be an effective tool in pushing and developing a cyclist’s body beyond the usual single range of motion required when on the bike.

>>> Should cyclists stretch to prevent injury?

The constant repetition of the same fixed movement while cycling means muscles and joints are not fully used or taken through their full range of motion, which can lead to imbalances.

Pena continues: “The forward-leaning position adopted by cyclists leads to hip flexor tightness. This shortening can result in pelvic tilt and cause the lower back to arch. This can lead not only to lower back pain but also reduced power output and ultimately lower maximum force attainable from your gluteal muscles.

“This position can also cause you to overreach, meaning more weight is put on the front part of the body and tightness can develop across the upper back and neck.”

Stephanie Pena’s top yoga exercises for cyclists

Downward-facing dog

This is an all-round good posture for cyclists that helps to strengthen the medial deltoids, biceps and triceps. As well as stretching out the hamstring and gluteals, it balances out the effects of rounded shoulders and pressure on the lower back by stretching out the erector spinae, latissimus dorsi and pectorals.

Single-leg forward bend

This posture gives you a strong stretch in the hamstrings, as well as the hips, spine and calves and strengthening your legs and core. Be patient and gently ease into the posture especially when dealing with any form of tightness.

Cobbler’s pose

A seated posture that stretches
adductors, strengthens core abdominal and back muscles as well as opening the hips. It can also help relieve sacroiliac and sciatic pain and discomfort.

Christmas food isn’t all bad

4. Eat well before the Christmas splurge

It may be unrealistic to expect you to maintain immaculate eating and drinking habits over the festive period, but ensuring you have a strong nutritional strategy before the Christmas season kicks in, thereby limiting the damage, can be a smart way to ensure you get back on track fast come January.

Head of nutrition at Cannondale-Drapac Nigel Mitchell has some advice for limiting Christmas eating excesses

“I always say to people to have a good Christmas dinner and good new year, but don’t start it two weeks before Christmas and finish it two weeks after.”

Mitchell warns that overindulgence at this time of year can lead to riders — even professionals — gaining six or seven kilograms in a short space of time: “With pro riders, we find that if they get to January and are more than 10 per cent overweight, from a racing point of view, then they are on the back foot and never quite get [back up to speed in time].

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“I do a lot of work with riders at this time of year to assist their thinking about the health immunity aspect and focusing on the quality of their diet, as this is the time of year people can be more prone to picking up winter bugs.

“While the body is under a lot of stress, your iron levels can go down throughout the season. So we push high-iron foods and supplements to rebuild the ferritin stores, so that they can start from a good base in the new year.”

Fewer calories, just as much fun

5. Rest and recover the right way

You might assume that rest and recovery are simply a case of putting your feet up and scaling back your mileage.

Though these strategies are beneficial to a certain degree, optimum recovery requires a little more thought and planning.

Nick Dinsdale of NJD Sports Injury Centre explains: “Rest and recovery are essentially interlinked and interdependent components of the natural progressive training cycle. Without them, a cyclist’s physiological capability will rapidly decline and the training cycle will become regressive.

“In essence, the off-season provides the all-important opportunity to recharge your batteries as a fundamental part of the ongoing progressive structured annual training cycle.”

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Collecting quantifiable physiological and psychological data on targets as well as training and racing stresses is advantageous for post-season analysis, says Dinsdale: “Consider the levels of fatigue you enter the off-season period with; ideally these should be established from some form of objective data in addition to gathering subjective data.

“Other things include the forthcoming year’s objectives, any ongoing injury concerns and the need for preventative strategies or treatment plans such as medical interventions.

“The use of a SWOT analysis [Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats] is a very effective management tool to help establish a structured rest and recovery plan.”

>>> Dos and don’ts of winter training (video)

Rest and recovery covers a broad range of areas, including addressing potential problems or imbalances such as reoccurring injuries and pre-established weaknesses.

“The prevention of a major physiological ‘burn-out’ is the main reason for off-season periodisation,” says Dinsdale.

“Therefore, the evaluation of objective data via ongoing testing and analysis — bloods, pulse, strength, flexibility, staleness, if available — can help identify specific recovery needs as well as any inherent weaknesses. I like to work on the basis that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

6. Make indoor training more exciting

Interval training turbo trainer garage indoor

Indoor training has come a long way in the last few years, with a number of smart trainers hitting the market to help make turbo work less dull and more effective.

Software programs and videos such as Zwift and Sufferfest help diminish boredom and distract from the inevitable pain.

>>> Eight ways to make your turbo sessions more enjoyable

If you want to stick to the standard rollers or turbo-training sessions, inviting along a few club-mates for a group session — for example, at a club facility — will not only make it more manageable but may help you push yourself hard.

7. Get off the bike and do some cross-training

If you keep a keen eye on professional riders during the off-season, you’ll notice many of them testing their legs over different terrains.

The benefits of hitting the trails or the water during time off the bike include cardiovascular fitness maintenance and full-body conditioning. Of course, there are a few risks attached, as Nick Dinsdale warns.

“Diversifying in the form of cross-training appears to be the norm nowadays and is especially beneficial at assisting the recovery from mental and physical staleness,” he says.

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“However, the careful selection of suitable activities and their make-up should be guided.

“Cyclists often have disparate capabilities — highly conditioned cardio-respiratory yet unconditioned musculoskeletal system.

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“This means that their engine is too fast for their chassis. As a consequence, they often break down with lower-limb injury shortly after embarking on a running programme. It normally requires a transitional period of approximately five to six weeks for the musculoskeletal system to adapt to running.”

8. Create a training plan for 2017

Make a training and recovery plan that suits you. Photo: Jesse Wild

Make a training and recovery plan that suits you. Photo: Jesse Wild

In all likelihood, your main goal for next year isn’t set for January or February. You have plenty of time.

Therefore, it’s important your training plan is structured accordingly to peak for the main event.

Tom Kirk from Custom Cycle Coaching highlights how this can be achieved: “Training should be specific for your goals as much as possible, taking into account your current level, strengths and weaknesses and how they relate to that event as well as your time availability.

>>> Find an event to train for with Cycling Weekly’s calendar

“The key to any training plan is consistency. Rather than smashing yourself for a short period of time, running the risk of overtraining or getting ill, it’s much better to plan progressively, incorporating periods of rest or lower training load to allow you to increase your training load gradually.”

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Kirk also emphasises the importance of ironing out weaknesses during the off-season: “Generally you will still be good at your strengths and these will require a relatively short period of training to get back to your best, while aspects of fitness in which you’re relatively weak take more development. Remember, train your weaknesses and race to your strengths!”

Creating a plan for the entire season may be convenient and time-saving, but is probably unrealistic and in the long run not very helpful. Set a realistic time frame that you will actually follow.

“A good coach will ensure that your training plan adapts to your changing needs as you get fitter. For that reason, I think planning any more than four to six weeks in advance is too much.

>>> How to tell whether you are overtraining, and how to avoid it

“Even then, it’s best to communicate with your coach or analyse your training and be prepared to change your plans depending on your progression.

“Other aspects of your life cannot be ignored and many people don’t know their schedule and commitments very far in advance, so flexibility is key to optimise your training.”

9. Embrace winter — get out there and enjoy it

cycling weekly winter clothing 2012

Riding in winter brings a rather different set of pleasures than does hitting the road in the summer months.

>>> 15 reasons why cycling in the winter is great

You may well have to safeguard yourself against the plummeting temperatures and drenching downpours, but crisp winter mornings can also bring some of the most picturesque cycling conditions of the year.

You will not only avoid falling into a winter fug psychologically, you can also ensure your bike isn’t completely alien to you when you wake up bleary-eyed and in need of a hangover-clearing ride on January 1.