Do You Have A Cycle?
Christine Fletcher, Head Coach
Brite Coaching www.brite.coach
Summer feels like yesterday and yet for those of you living in northern climate, the days have turned cooler and definitely shorter. In the world of endurance sports it can often seems like everyone is at the height of their fitness towards the end of the summer. Maybe target Fall races or maybe just enjoying being fit in the outdoors. Nevertheless and no matter who you are, it’s always a good idea to press pause and take a short break from structured training, reconnect with friends and family and allow a little bit of dust to accumulate on our training devices. This “pause” need not last long; a week or three is plenty for most healthy endurance athletes. The main reason for this is to simply focus on global health and invigoration as a brilliant set up for the coming season.
If you are one of the lucky few that decided to healthily take a step back and have now developed an appetite to get back into the swing of things and start planning your 2019, let’s look at how you might navigate the next few months.
We will start by clarifying the difference between exercising vs. training. Many spirited athletes when allured by the latest rowing spinning, TRX, boxing or Callisthenics craze often misunderstand the distinction of the two forms of activity. These crazes are what we would call: “Random Exercise”. “Training”, on the other hand, is a progressive approach to building fitness based on long-term goals and current fitness levels. “Training” yields results. “Exercise” yields quick hits and eventually plateaus.
Ultimately “random exercising” has a lifespan that leads athletes in one of three directions: to seek the next craze or to find boredom and burnout or to hunt for a better method towards performance and lasting results. If performance is what you are after, let’s agree that a smart progressive training plan is key for you, regardless of whether you are trying to win a title or just trying to thrive in life. A certain amount of planning of that training is required to ensure the key elements of performance to shine. Those key elements are anchored around on Specificity, Consistency and Progression.
For most athletes its easy to imagine what a specific and progressive plan would look like for the challenging sessions: make them longer and harder, evolving over weeks as your body responds to the specific training stress that is applied. But sport, training and adaptations are rarely, if ever, linear. Rather, they are cyclical. As you read through the rest of this article, reflect on whether you have a cycle in your year that rejuvenates you, challenges you, tests you and guides you. Only once we respect the training, resting and rebuilding phases can we truly plan for success in performance and in life…year after year.
Where Do We Start?
Exactly where you are.
No matter who you are or what your goals are in sport, this phase is predominantly preventative and preparatory in nature. Fortunately for Masters athletes living abundant lives, it is also the phase with the lowest investment of time. It lays the technical platform for future training, habit creation and the ever-important shift to biomechanics. It delivers the structural readiness to absorb and adapt to the tangentially hard work that is coming in the months ahead. Said another way, this is the phase of training when we are not actually searching for massive fitness gains nor are we searching for huge performance development. Instead, it’s preparatory in nature. It’s setting you up for a resilient, injury proof and performance based season ahead.
How Long Does This Phase Last?
Six to nine weeks (depending on your fitness level). This time commitment could be THE important one you make all year. In fact, when we go back and identify the athletes that have demonstrated the “wow” factor with breakthroughs, the most consistent factor that we identify is a really well executed pre-season phase. At the other end of the spectrum, skipping this phase is the most common theme with athletes that have plateaued, fizzled out or developped injuries mid-season. Coming into your season with attention to this phase could be your hidden giant, your secret sauce, or your rise to occasion.
Guiding Principles to this Phase
Below are six cues that can help you guide this phase:
Lowest Physical & Time Load (despite being the most critical phase of your year).Doing All Things Better. Gain Technique. Ex: swim stroke mechanics, running posture, pedal stroke efficiency. Fill in your blanks…Muscular, Skeletal & Hormonal Preparation. Prepare the body and tissues to absorb and adapt the upcoming work. Go Fast With Great Form. Train variables far removed from the energy systems you would normal race at for endurance athletes. Short powerful efforts on long rest with impeccable form. Habit Creation. Ex: diet, sleep, recovery, trainer set up. Fill in the blanks…Strength & Conditioning. Ex: mobility, stability, power, coordination.
These cues cover a lot that is unsaid but we would be remiss not to mention that the main objective of this phase is to keep you (or leave you) emotionally fresh to progress into the next phase of your cycle. I often recommend athletes be playful by getting off the beaten path at this time of year. Perhaps that means trying a new sport, hitting the Nordic trails, strapping on some snowshoes or rolling out on a Fat Tire bike. Anchor your adventures with the specific and consistent workouts related to the above cues but sprinkle in ample playtime general in nature but specific to endurance. This becomes as much an art as a science.
Let’s leave you with this thought: sport, like life, is never linear, it’s cyclical. Allow the ebb and flow to elevate your game, make space for playtime and create a program that prepares your precious temple and powerful mind for the work necessary to perform on your sporting and living stage we call life.
Christine is the founder and head coach of Brite Coaching as well as a professional triathlete specializing in long course events. A McGill University graduate of Exercise Science, Training Peaks Certified, USAT Certified Coach, an ex-Professional cyclist, avid skate skier and 38-time Ironman (6 times at the Hawaii Ironman World Championships), Christine breathes participation into everything she does. Her resume of race experiences is endless including 10km, half & full marathons and ultras, adventure racing, major USA & Canadian cycling races (Redlands, Columbia Plateau, Tours, etc) and all distances of triathlon.