Racing is coming... it's time to get ready!
After a year of disruption to racing and training (and everything else), many athletes are feeling a bit lost. You might have races pencilled into the diary - Ironman races in 2021 are totally sold out in many parts of the world already - but there's a lingering sense of doubt over what this year will bring. How do we prepare for this year’s goals when they can feel so far away?
Whatever 2021 does have in store for us, we can take out one element of uncertainty by being physically and mentally prepared. At some point, life will return to normal and we can take this time to prepare, build and grow, ultimately emerging in the best shape of our lives. It's time for pre-season training.
What is the goal of pre-season training?
Before we consider how to go about pre-season training, we need to know what outcome we want from it. At Energise, the goal of pre-season training is very simple:
“to prepare your body and mind for the demands of event specific training to come.”
Next season, your build and peak phases will take you to a new level of fitness and athletic performance, but only if you have laid the foundations for success.
Typical approaches to pre-season
Athletes take different approaches pre-season but few are making the most of their time. Many are actively harming their chances of a successful season to come!
Let’s take a look at some typical approaches to pre-season.
The Traditionalist believes winter should be spent accumulating long slow miles. There is no variety, no intensity and, for the typical time-limited amateur, no point. While this approach does address one of the key elements of the pre-season discussed below, it fails to provide adequate support for the intense work to come. On top of that, those long, slow miles take time. Amateur athletes training 8-12 hours a week don’t suddenly have 20 hours to train and even more to recover. This means the Traditionalist isn’t fully preparing for the demands of race training and faces a significant loss of fitness.
Like Arnie’s Terminator, the Bulldozer absolutely will not stop. Not wanting to face losing fitness, they take no off season. The day after the race, they’re back on the turbo or the track, banging out hard intervals. Surely, this means they will be ready to crush weak, lazy opponents next year! Sadly for the Bulldozer, they are destined to see early season form slide away in stagnation, burnout or injury. Peak fitness isn’t something you can hold year round. They have no chance to refresh mentally or physically and don’t take the time to build a solid platform from which to build to a greater level of peak fitness.
The Couch Potato
For the Couch Potato, this is the OFF season. A time to indulge, relax and put their feet up, safe in the knowledge that the race season is done. Throwing the trainers to the back of the cupboard and pulling the dust sheet over the turbo, the Couch Potato worries not about the loss of fitness, changes in body composition and loss of routine. When the time comes to think about next season’s goals, the Couch Potato will be found scrambling for a quick fix, ready-to-race in 4 weeks plan and will never achieve their athletic potential. So, what do we do at Energise? We address the key elements of pre-season preparation that will set up our athletes for their best season yet.
What are the key elements of pre-season preparation?
Recover and refresh
In the wake of a big race (or this year, even in the absence of a race) there should be time for a physical and mental break from the intensity and focus of peak performance. This is a time to deal with physical niggles so they don’t become season spoiling injuries. Make time for friends and family that have made their own sacrifices for your sport during your period of intense focus. Maybe reconnect with some other hobbies. At Energise, we also use time to review last season and plan for the next. What worked and what didn’t? What are your future athletic goals? Are you aiming to go faster or further? Are you considering a change in discipline? Swapping the TT bike for hill climbs or crits, switching from the road to the fells? What excites you for next year?
However, it is important that this phase doesn’t stretch out and become a Couch Potato’s “off season”. Depending on your event, a few weeks is probably enough before you start to build gently back into training.
The pre-season phase is for building physical competence and then strength. Hill running and low-cadence work on the bike will be part of the puzzle, but they aren’t building your fundamental strength. That only comes with dedicated strength work. Strength training will strengthen muscles, bones and connective tissue to withstand the training to come. It will also develop the neuromuscular pathways from brain to muscle to use the strength you have more effectively. Build your physical strength now and it will take far less effort to maintain it during the build and peak phases of your season. There is no need for complicated exercises and expensive equipment, but your regular routine should include the fundamental movements - squat, lunge, hinge, push, pull and brace. Include exercises that address these compound, multi-joint movements and you’re well on the way to being a stronger, more athletic human being.
To race fast, you need to move fast. Suddenly adding speed work after neglecting it all winter is a recipe for injury. Prepare your body for the work to come by incorporating running hill sprints and strides and cadence drills on the bike. These will teach your body to move fast with improved economy so you get a better return on the energy you use. Later, strength and speed can be turned into power but the time for that will come. Be patient!
Winter is the perfect time to cultivate a mobile body. Note that I didn’t say flexible body. Flexibility refers to the passive range of motion, whereas mobility refers to the range of motion that you can actively control. While flexibility may be desirable, what athletes need most is mobility. An excessive range of motion without the ability to control it may even increase your risk of injury. Drills and exercises that expand your mobility in the ankles, hips, trunk and shoulders should be a staple of your winter training. Yoga is another great option to build physical literacy, body awareness and proprioception along with mobility. These will help you to become a more efficient, robust and less injury-prone athlete for the season to come.
Finally, the part that most athletes will jump straight to when designing their winter programme. Your stronger, faster and more mobile body will need a solid aerobic foundation on which to build your best season yet. For all events lasting longer than a handful of seconds, aerobic fitness is critical. You can develop your peak fitness for racing in a surprisingly short time, but only if you have the aerobic base to start with. This is also the perfect time to cross train. Your can develop your general endurance while you mix it up, so get off road, dust off your mountain bike or trail shoes. This is a great chance to break up the routine and have some fun with no pressure on pace or power. A focus on aerobic fitness doesn’t mean a winter of just long, slow miles either. You may start with an emphasis on easy volume, but you can include increasing amounts of intensity with less formal structure - fartlek runs, progression runs and hilly rides. Just remember, you aren’t aiming to be in peak fitness right now. Peak fitness can only last for a matter of weeks, so don’t be a winter hero. Use your intense sessions sparingly and progressively to get ready for the high workload to come.
Remember the goal of pre-season training is to prepare your body and mind for the demands of event specific training to come. It isn’t to reach your peak fitness now. With diligence and patience, you can develop a rock solid foundation from which you will surge past your competitors who failed to prepare correctly in the pre-season. Use this time to develop your core competencies as an athlete:
If you would like guidance on preparing for your best season yet, get in touch and see how we can help.