A common misconception about pro athletes is that we train night and day, 365 days a year. The most successful pros know rest and variation are key to success, and a schedule of daily intensity and monotony will only bring burnout and fatigue. For a sport like cycling, where a professional season can last as long as 10 months, the holidays are a necessary and welcome time to change the training plan. Some cyclists continue to ride through the holidays but emphasize different ways of pedaling. The riders of Team Colavita tell us why December is a great month to chill out, cross train or even ride in the snow. Here's how they go about doing it.
Joanie Caron, Quebec
Fall and winter are a good time to do unstructured training and activities like mountain biking and hiking. I enjoy coffee rides and catching up with friends I don't see as often from January through August because of my race schedule. During the holidays, I think people stress too much about not being able to work out. Be open to new opportunities -- maybe do a fitness class that is a fundraiser for something -- and be ready to leave your routine for few days. Being active helps you to go through the holiday and enjoy all the benefits of physical activity with the social/familial aspect of it.
Jasmin Glaesser, Coquitlam, British Columbia
Since I compete on the track and the road, I usually do not get much time away from the bike. Even just a week or two, though, of being relaxed about training goes a long way toward ensuring my mind is motivated and my body recovered.
I am a yoga fanatic year-round and usually start my day with a short 45-minute session to get off to a good start. It gives me energy and helps me improve imbalances and weaknesses. I also supplement riding with hiking, trail running, snowshoeing and a bit of squash -- anything to keep things interesting.
My biggest advice over the holidays or offseason is to try something new. The main goal should be stay fit and keep your mind fresh so that when you start training for the new season, you can be motivated and fresh. Since this is usually a busy time, it is good to be flexible, often a short, intense, one-hour workout is just as effective as trying to squeeze in a three-hour ride in cold weather.
I find it mentally draining to watch my diet and weight during the season, and in order to keep that resolve you have to cut yourself a break once in a while. The holidays are not the time to stress out over these things, they should be about celebrating family!
Mary Zider, Billerica, Mass.
I absolutely take time off the bike in the winter. Depending on when your season ends I think it's very important to engage in other non-cycling activities. It's important to make yourself available for family and friends and do things you don't always get to do during the busy race season. It helps refresh the mind, gives the body a break to fully recover and reap the benefits of all your hard work. It also helps fire up the engine and bring that "spark" of motivation back so you can get after it when it starts to count.
As a professional cyclist, when the season starts we are one-dimensional ... forget trying to go for a quick run, or jump in a game of soccer or basketball. It's just not going to happen without feeling completely wrecked the next day or setting yourself up for injury! It's amazing how many muscles you don't use while cycling and are reintroduced to after engaging in other activities during this offseason period.
In the winter, I love to hit the gym or go to a yoga class a few times week that last anywhere from 60-90 minutes. I think it's so important to focus on core strength and stability and also work on flexibility. I also love to run and go for hikes. I gradually build myself up to running little by little. A little tip is to start SLOWLY (five minutes, 10 minutes, 15, 20 and gradually build yourself up!) Typically when I first start "running" I run for two minutes, then walk for three minutes (five-minutes sets). I do four or five sets the first week, and then gradually (depending on how I feel) increase to three minutes of running and two minutes of walking. When I'm ready, I run for the whole time. I never go more than 30 minutes. I work on speed, rather than overall time. Running and hiking is very important because it helps with bone density and joint strength. I run a couple times a week and aim for a few hikes during the cross-training period on the weekends.
Also, don't stress about getting in that workout over the holidays. Enjoy the holidays and your family first and foremost. I find using the outdoors is a great way to enjoy nature and be active at the same time. If you live in a climate that is snowy go for a run/walk in the deep snow. That is a workout! Throw on the snowshoes or go cross-country skiing. These are all great ways to elevate the heart rate. If you don't live in a climate with snow, get outside and go for a trail run, walk in the woods, hike or take the family dog out for walk. Don't stress about food. Life is too short, so be sure to enjoy a treat in moderation and don't deprive yourself of Aunt Hilda's awesome pecan pie.
Moriah MacGregor, Vancouver, British Columbia
The body needs to recover after a long season. I've taken anywhere from two to five weeks off the bike, entirely, in the fall or winter. I spend several weeks in the fall doing patterning and basic core exercises, then progress up to pushing bigger weights in the gym. Before I became a cyclist I enjoyed spending a fair bit of time in the weight room and I find it's not only an enjoyable cross-training activity but it really helps set me up for success on the road the next season. I spend a bit of time mountain biking, hiking, skate skiing and snowshoeing as well ... but generally limit those activities to October through December.
I've tried both training through Christmas holidays and taking an easy week. Personally, I prefer training as it keeps an element of normalcy for me. We often spend Christmas in the Yukon Territory where there are loads of skidoo trails right outside my parents' backdoor which are super fun to explore on my mom's cruiser. Because the cycling cadence is very low riding in the snow, I like to do a couple hours outside, then come in and hop on the rollers for the last hour or so for the neuromuscular affect and to flush the legs.
When I was first starting out and searching for that magic cross-training activity, a well-known local coach told me "if you want to be a bike racer, ride a bike." I guess this has always stuck with me.
Jamie Bookwalter, Asheville, N.C.
Organizing a family and friend mountain bike ride pre-holiday meal is a great way to feel like you earned your stuffing. I do as much food prep as I can before the ride, and then I am able to enjoy myself as we ride under the last colorful leaves of the season.
Cycling is such a demanding, sacrifice-laden sport that I treasure my offseason. Just being able to go fishing with my parents, hiking with my friends or take a sight-seeing trip without a bike is a joy I don't get to enjoy for 10 months of the year.
Leah Guloien, Port Moody, British Columbia
I always take some time off of the road bike and time away from a structured training plan. This allows me to have some fun and exercise when I choose and it gives my body time to recover from the continuous stress I have put on it. I love long hikes and exploring new mountains and peaks, so as soon as I can in the offseason, I convince some friends to go on some adventures with me. I find hiking to be so calming and yet it is always such a great workout and you can't beat the views.
Another thing I enjoy in the offseason is some cyclocross racing. The races are short and always fun and it is in a more relaxed environment. In the offseason, I am also in the gym twice per week trying to sort out any muscle imbalances I may have developed throughout the season. I also do yoga at least once a week to work on my flexibility. Technically, I should be doing yoga three times a week because I can't even touch my toes and flexibility is good on the bike in order to avoid any injuries, and it allows you to get in a more aerodynamic position.
My best advice for anyone lacking holiday workout motivation is to find friends to train with. I have such a great network of people and it makes training so much more enjoyable. If you are like me and live in a rainy, wet and cold environment, get a friend to do some trainer sessions with you.
As for the holiday food topic, some treats here and there aren't going to hurt you, it is when you are consistently eating treats. I am the type of person who weighs myself every day or every other day, so I like to keep my ideal weight within a five-pound range. I think it is OK to relax and gain a couple of pounds over the holidays, I just wouldn't want to gain 15 pounds and then have to focus my training just on losing weight.
My Tucson routine
Unlike my Canadian and Northeastern teammates, I live in a climate conducive to cycling year round -- and this isn't always a good thing! It is very typical of athletes in warm climates to get burnt out because they train year round. (When December feels like April, it's hard to hang up the bike.) I have learned this lesson the hard way, where I start training too early, then I'm completely exhausted by May, which is when the race season really gets going. I have since found the solution lies in taking time off in November and December.
For the whole month of November, I ride very easy only once a week. Then, I give my Type-A athlete personality a fresh choice of Bikram yoga, hiking, lifting weights, swimming or light running. I do some form of exercise nearly every day but in small doses. And if I don't feel like it, I rest. At 37, I need a little more recovery time than my younger teammates, but the upside is I'm stronger now than in my 20s.
Since cycling is not known for its lovely effects on posture, by the end of each year my body is craving any sort of physical activity that emphasizes uprightness or well-aligned body positioning. My winter weightlifting routine also helps give strength to the areas cycling often neglects -- like, hamstrings, chest, glutes and all the arm muscles.
In December, I add more days of riding, but I don't start with the hard training until January. The holidays are also a great time for my husband and me to mix family visits with fun activities, like cross-country skiing in Flagstaff or hitting the funky Retro Fitness gym in Brooklyn. The key to a happy holiday season is going with the flow and really listening to what's important, physically and mentally. If you're a competitive athlete, don't let those weird voices creep into your head and try to make you feel like you're lazy or not doing enough or falling behind. They have no idea what they're talking about. Rest and well-being are the best ways to cap off a long season, and ensure a prosperous, positive and podium-filled 2013.