Consecutive days of rest or of lighter activity allow restoration and rejuvenation following a buildup of higher-effort days. This arrangement is known as a “recovery block,” and it is traditionally incorporated into a training program once every 4 weeks-with 3 weeks of building efforts followed by 1 week of lighter work. However, in my experience, an athlete undergoing 3 weeks of continuous building efforts will tend to accumulate too much fatigue over the long term. Most of my athletes practice 10 to 14 days of building efforts followed by 2 to 5 days of lighter activity. Thus, their recovery blocks are more frequent but shorter. This cycle seems more conducive to reaching our goal of long-term consistency and health. By being an active participant in your training, you can test and find what works best for you. Some athletes are more resilient and can handle more work with less recovery. This variation does not make one athlete superior to another; it only means that different recovery recipes are required.
I strongly recommend taking 10 days to 3 weeks away from structured training once or twice a year to get a bird’s-eye view of your journey as an endurance athlete, particularly for those who train year-round. Step back and allow yourself to rest. It’s fine to remain active, but avoid structured training! Be your own guide to find what is right for you. The goal is rejuvenation so that you can resume training refreshed and motivated. It’s rare for an athlete who excludes extended breaks to be successful season after season. On the heels of skipped breaks, performances tend to suffer. In the worst cases, complete burnout or chronic injury drives athletes away from the sport entirely.
If you have a multiyear vision for the athlete you want to become, extended breaks are a critical component to enable consistency season after season.
Many triathletes change up their proportion of training per sport during different times of the year. Typically, they use the post-season or early-season months to increase the load of swimming while reducing running and, to a degree, cycling. Running is a sport that places much higher stress on the musculoskeletal system than biking or swimming does. By doing more swim training in the post-and pre-season, you will allow the tissue that absorbs the most strain during running to recover while continuing to work toward your fitness goals. If there is a specific weakness in your swim, bike, or run, then the training mix might look different for you. The post-season and pre-season are ideal for focusing on your weakness, improving technique, and laying the foundation of endurance for the challenge of upcoming training.
Within each discipline, the post-season is a good time to mix things up with a little cross-training. You might mountain bike or do cyclocross in the fall and winter, or you might snowshoe or cross-country ski. It’s a time for progressing toward your goal by working on fitness, but all the while making space for recovery and rejuvenation to cope with the sport-specific fatigue that accumulates over the course of a season.
If you love this post, there’s more where that came from! Check out The Well-Built Triathlete: Turning Potential Into Performance by the head coach and founder of Purplepatch Fitness, Matt Dixon. Matt is also coach to professional triathlete and Habit Project founder Sarah Piampiano.