Don’t squander hard-earned fitness with fall idleness
This is an all too common scenario if you’re a summer warrior – particularly this year when the weather was fine, and we played to the point of exhaustion. We’re looking forward to a bit of couch time and the start of football season.
The trouble with getting in shape is maintaining it. All those weeks of hard-earned fitness can be erased within a two-week period of inactivity. It takes an astonishingly short amount of time to lose the strength and endurance gained from hours in the saddle and doing hard interval work.
Rather than detrain completely from getting in the best shape of your life, the fall season should be the time to get going on building the foundation for an even better cycling season next year.
Fall has traditionally been called the off season, but these days there really is no off season for cyclists. Cycling coaches refer to this as the transition phase—when we are reducing our activity level to allow our bodies to recover from the stresses and strains of a busy season of riding.
What does a transition phase training program look like? Typically, for about a three month period, training volume (total workout time) is reduced. Intensity (how hard you work out) is reduced but not eliminated altogether. Gone are the days of purely long, slow distance training during this time of year.
By peppering your workouts with short bursts of high intensity, athletes detrain less than those who eliminate it altogether and focus on exercising at low speed. If you detrain too much in the transition phase, you just have that much farther to go when training picks up in the winter and spring.
Fall and winter is also a great time to cross-train and participate in other sports. Strength training, hiking and cross-country skiing are activities that complement cycling and develop areas of deficiency that cycling doesn’t cover.
Strength training should be done under the supervision of a certified trainer. It is particularly important for masters-age athletes to prevent muscle loss and preserve bone density. Hiking in many ways resembles cycling because you use your quadricep and gluteal muscles when going uphill and it is a great cardiovascular workout. Cross-country skiing is probably one of the best cross-training exercises—when you ski you engage just about every muscle group in the body and it is aerobically taxing.
This isn’t to say that your bike should be hanging from the rafters during the transition phase. September has occasional good weather for riding outdoors. Try to get in one long weekend ride per week at an easy to moderate pace to maintain endurance. During the week, two or three short rides with some hills at a brisk pace will help preserve upper-end cardiovascular fitness.
With reduced activity comes the tendency to put on weight. When you’re training hard you burn a lot of calories. But if you don’t taper back your caloric intake when you’re spending more time on the couch, those pounds that you struggled to take off to improve your power to weight ratio will creep back on.
Use this time to take stock of your pantry and refrigerator and purge them of high-fat and highly refined food items. If the bad stuff never makes it into the house, it’ll never make it into your mouth. The less weight you gain during the transition phase means the less you’ll have to work later on to take it off. ◆