On top of a few days here and there to amplify recovery inside their season, high-performance athletes also take a few weeks off at the end of the season to completely reset the body and mind.
It is usually not a total break from physical training but more a shift to some sort of cross-training or fun activity that allows them to step away from the training regime.
In this article, Sports Psychologist, Dr. Andrew Lewis speaks to the psychology behind downtime in the training and competition program of every rider, not just the professionals.
Some athletes welcome a break from their sport to regroup and refresh. Others do not, as they believe it stands in the way of them constantly and consistently improving their fitness levels and skill-set.
Whatever your take on the matter is, a break from training and competition is necessary and just makes sense, otherwise, you run the risk of injury, fatigue, and even burnout. As an athlete, you also need the downtime to recover from the emotional and mental toll of competition. Consider this:
Cycling is more than just a physical activity. When riding you need to concentrate to process all the information around you and that involves both the conscious and unconscious states. In the process, you burn a lot of your mental and emotional energy reserves which all need to be replenished by taking a break.
Mental staleness, fatigue, and even burnout are very real outcomes of not taking a break. At the far end of the scale, burnout can mean psychological exhaustion, loss of motivation, diminished interest in riding, less involvement with family and friends, apathy, and even depression. This may even necessitate a forced break of several weeks or months which can seriously interfere with any training and competition schedule. If cycling is your profession, an outcome like this can further add to stress and anxiety levels.
I often work with riders who feel guilty when they have to take a few days off to recover, especially at a time when competitions are thick and furious. Some argue that they will miss out on honing their skills or form and need to push through to improve. They sometimes also get sucked into the contagion of their rival’s training schedules. Seeing other athletes and teammates training creates the mindset that we also have to be training like them, otherwise, they will outperform us. The reality is that their competitors only reveal certain aspects of their training and they are often taking their downtime anyway.
Take a guilt-free rest: The upcoming end-of-the-year festive season break is the ideal time to take a bit of a break. Typically, competitions and events have been down-scaled and the focus is more on fun events and family get-togethers. Factor this break or these short breaks into your training program and spend a bit of time with your loved ones, the investment is worth it. They get to see and experience you in a relaxed environment and you can have a bit of fun with your significant others as well.
Do something different: Taking a break doesn’t mean that you have to stand still…totally. You can do some physical activity other than cycling. Take a surf or swim in the ocean or a hike with the family. These are all activities that are different from cycling but can still keep the fitness levels ticking over while you are having fun with family and friends. Other muscle groups and pathways in the brain will benefit from a bit of variation in their usage and your mind gets to experience new activities that prevent boredom, staleness and fatigue.
Make peace with your decision: Set out a period of rest and adhere to it. Mother Nature does this and it works. She teaches this in the setting out of the seasons, with winter giving plants and animals time to relax so as to prepare for imminent growth and development during spring and summer. Let’s learn from the wisdom of Mother Nature and enjoy the break…the plants and animals do so with great success.
Actually, you know best: You know your training and competition program the best; as well as your goals and abilities. Stick to your routine as opposed to wanting to match and outdo others. If factoring in a break or downtime is part of your process, do so. Reflect on what works for you in taking a break. Each one of us has a way of lessening the training and competition workload. You have the wisdom…tap into it.
Your schedule typically has and needs times when you take your foot off the accelerator before going into the next training or competition block. Your downtime could very well be the most important part of your training program. Physically your body needs it, as well as mentally and emotionally. Embrace and enjoy it!
About Dr Andrew Lewis
Andrew Lewis is a Health Professions Council of South Africa (SA) and Health and Care Professions Council (UK) registered Educational Psychologist currently working in the UK and conducting online sessions with his South African athletes.