By Mark Deterline
Fall is a great time of year for cyclists, as well as athletes of all kinds. Many Utahns travel out of state to compete at USA Cycling National Championship events, or in nationally renowned local events, such as LOTOJA or the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run.
As coaches, we have prepared many clients over several months to take on those formidable, end-of-season challenges. Their fitness is the result of focus, sacrifice and much, much hard work. Preparation coming to fruition is one of the most exciting things about coaching and being coached.
Especially in Utah, fall is an exciting season. Myriad outdoor activities beckon to us, often following a spring and summer dedicated to a particular competitive series or athletic pursuit. Many cyclists are tapering down from the road and mountain bike season, while others have already begun building for cyclocross, or a very different passion – such as cross-country and/or downhill skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, etc.
Add fall colors to the mix, and these weeks offer a spectacular outdoor backdrop, as well as a great context for adding variety to one’s training.
More and more, our athletes are staying on a training plan through the fall and early winter months. All cyclists and active individuals should consider a plan or structure of some kind this time of year, which can provide immense inherent benefits while helping them reach their goals.
Some important areas of focus:
– Staying lean while enjoying some indulgence
– Cross-training for overall health and injury prevention
– Building strength for increased speed or power
– Establishing a foundation upon which to build sport-specific fitness
– Functional training to enhance efficiency & performance
– Mental freshness and motivation
Staying lean AND indulging a little
This is the first item listed since weight and nutrition tend to be one of the most significant concerns athletes express to us, regardless of their sport, competitive level or background. We believe in eating well, which includes a variety of healthy foods as well as some indulgence in good drink and moderate sweets. Like with most things, it’s all about proper balance.
Athletes transitioning to hiking or trail running, or others ramping up for cyclocross or snow season, may continue to enjoy a high metabolism. However, for those whose seasons are winding down, especially if they decide to “take a break” in the form of complete inactivity, the lower rate of calorie burning can prove problematic. Weight gain can create a variety of issues, including making preparation for a coming season more arduous.
Staying lean provides all of the obvious health benefits, with the added advantage that staying active and excelling in one’s chosen sport will be that much easier in the short and long terms.
Cross-training for overall health and injury prevention
There are so many positive dimensions to cross training. Cycling, for example, is a sport of infinite repetitions and unidirectional movements. It builds very specific types of strength and stamina. It is essentially a healthy and even a popular rehabilitation tool. Yet, its advantages as a low impact and non-weight bearing sport are also its shortcomings.
It is important to complement cycling fitness with activities that build lateral stabilizing muscles and core strength for overall physical well being and injury prevention, as well as weight bearing strength to promote better bone density (see Bone Health article in this issue).
Building strength for increased speed or power
Strength training is often a key component of improvement in any discipline. It can facilitate more explosive power, sustained power (i.e. higher speeds on the bike) and less fatigue. Strength training, often performed indoors and therefore neglected during an outdoor sport season, is a great activity to pursue given colder temperatures and shorter daylight cycles over the winter. And some strength training, such as upper and lower body plyometrics, can be effectively implemented outdoors, as well.
Strength training may only begin as a means to an end for athletes implementing it to enhance performance in a chosen discipline. Yet many end up enjoying the activity because of the simplicity and flexibility it affords.
Strength training can make an athlete feel strong and energized in an exciting new way, often without the sensation of being worn out. And witnessing improved muscle tone and definition is always exciting. Because of its vast benefits, we encourage athletes to consider its implementation, especially in the off and pre-season, and even throughout the year.
Establishing a foundation upon which to build sport-specific fitness
For all of the reasons already stated above, transitioning to or adding different sports and emphasizing foundational strength from late summer through the winter will make enthusiasts more effective in their chosen sport(s). Having a foundation on which to build the specificity training required by a particular sport promotes better health and longevity.
Functional training to enhance efficiency & performance
Although much of this can likewise be addressed in the pre-season – i.e. closer to a competitive series or targeted events – this time of year is a great opportunity to slow down, regroup and focus on technique. Running stride, pedaling technique and balance, bike fit, cross-country ski specific drills and roller skiing, better fitting or suited gear, etc, can all contribute to more enjoyment, comfort and improved performance.
Mental freshness and motivation
Our bodies and minds benefit greatly from change and balance. During a sport-specific season, we may neglect other areas of our lives, or lose some of the physical freshness or mental edge that keep us motivated to exercise, eat well and take care of our bodies.
The end of summer is a unique time to use the fitness we’ve gained to simply feel good, enjoy the outdoors more while we exercise, pursue activities that are more social in nature, and turn our attention to helping others get more involved in a sport or training.
We are so fortunate to live in the state we do, where world-class indoor and outdoor fitness opportunities abound, often just around the corner or up a nearby hill. Take advantage of them, and don’t hesitate to seek the help of a qualified expert to make it happen – you may benefit greatly from the direction and additional motivation.
Mark Deterline and Dave Harward offer over thirty years of combined endurance training and competitive experience. Plan 7 Endurance Coaching provides professional coaching, biomechanics (bike fit or runner’s stride analysis) and performance testing for athletes of all levels. Email them at: [email protected].