This article originally appeared in the BC Randonneurs on-line newsletter, October 2006.
Now that the Randonneur season is officially over in BC, time to put your feet up! Wrong! Well, you are allowed to reflect on your past season and bask in your glories a little bit There technically is such a thing as "off-season," however, *IMHO, these fall months are perhaps the most important phase of an endurance athlete's training. Along with recovering from the past season, this is the time you can focus on strengthening any weaknesses you might have.
These weaknesses include both physical and mental aspects of your "performance." Maybe you get a sore neck on longer rides, maybe over the season one knee or hip has been a minor irritation, or perhaps your climbing needs improving. This is the time to address those issues before they potentially interfere with your love of cycling!
IMHO, all of us can benefit from strength training. This doesn't have to mean squatting 200 lb but it does mean following a set program, which should be specific to your needs. Spin classes and yoga are fine for learning techniques and your weaknesses, but everyone has unique needs and focusing on these will provide the most benefit to your cycling ability. The social aspect of classes may be the motivation you need to get out, but these sessions may not be the most efficient way of addressing your personal needs.
Personally I find I get more benefit from going to the gym to work on key exercises, which I know will strengthen problem areas. My gym session includes cross-training to warm up (rowing), lots of stretching, lots of core exercises, and a focus on supporting and smaller muscles used in cycling e.g. lunges, crunches, leg raises (in various directions), hamstring curls, heel drops and toe raises. I gradually build sets, repetitions and a small amount of weight or resistance but my primary objective it to leave feeling stronger and more balanced. I actually feel more relaxed leaving because my exercises have "fired" certain lazier muscle groups thus allowing other tighter ones to finally relax.
To determine which exercises will most help you there are lots of free resources, on-line or in your library or local community centre, or you can pay for a consultation with a personal trainer. If you have even a minor injury, see your doctor now, get a referral to a physiotherapist, and they can give you lots of "interesting" exercises that you can take to the gym (and impress your friends :).
The "off-season" is also an important time for mental preparation for the coming season. In assessing the past season, you can realistically set goals and plan for next season. For many of us, our 2007 goal will be going to PBP. The motivation you can generate from such a formidable goal is huge and can be used to make big gains in your level of fitness (especially if we're lucky with a warm and dry spring!). This goal requires completing a full series by early June. Injuries are a reality for many riders working towards a PBP goal, so take advantage of the "off-season" to prepare yourself better to meet the challenges you will set for yourself in 2007.
Remember that in January the gyms will be packed and the rain will be in full swing, so take advantage now of others' procrastination and get started on making yourself a stronger rider!
* Please note that I am just another rider without any credentials whatsoever in coaching or training! I encourage you to seek out the experts and get a more professional assessment. This is just my perspective after racing on the bike for "a few years."
© Cheryl Lynch - October, 2006