Words by Taylor Thomas Images by Marco Merati
The holiday season can be a tough time of year for many athletes. Between holiday parties, family obligations, and temptations to overeat, it’s not necessarily the most conducive time for impactful training. All of these things are in addition to the existing struggle that some have with managing post-season expectations and what that means for motivation and training. The holidays are a great time of year, but often add an extra layer of stress to an athlete’s life. What’s most important is thinking critically about what balance looks like for each individual, and taking an objective approach to integrating all of the necessary components of both life and training.
After a focused race season, or particularly hard block of training, it’s only natural to find your motivation waning. It’s hard, or arguably impossible, to maintain the same level of focus and commitment year round. Like life, training ebbs and flows throughout the seasons. It’s important to understand this, and know how that should impact your athletic goals. There are several components of training that can be adjusted to help keep motivation high if and when you find yourself here.
The first step is often to back off some. A decrease in volume not only allows for a reduction in overall training stress but also frees up both mental space and time to focus on other things. This time is one of the most valuable aspects of any transitional period, as it helps prepare the mind and body for things to come.
Do Something Else
Use this time to focus on another discipline. Shifting as little as one workout a week to something completely different than your primary sport can have a variety of positive effects. Not only will it help to make you a more well-rounded athlete by developing musculature that may have been neglected during race preparation, but it will also provide a valuable shift mental focus. Engaging in another sport, no matter what it is, can help push the reset button.
The component of training that most often wears athletes down is the structure required to achieve lofty goals. While many athletes enjoy this structure and respond well to it, it’s hard to maintain it day after day, month after month. When working through any transitional training plan it’s vital to leave room for flexibility. Factor in “free days” or workouts that can be moved around depending on mood, motivation, and schedule.
Enjoy the Ride
So often athlete’s link their success to specific races or finite goals. This is great, but it’s also important to find joy in the process. The time between racing, or moments when balance is hard to find, are when you should look for motivation outside of race results. “Showing up” is just as valuable as any podium. Success isn’t found solely in a single event. There’s a lot to focus on outside of racing.
That which is measured changes. It’s important to track your progress no matter the season. However, the primary metrics change depending on where an athlete is both mentally and physically. Race specificity is not a yearlong endeavor. The periods between race preparation bring with them their own unique goals.
During the build-up and execution of race season training the races themselves drive the metrics we’re focused on. The workouts should match the demands of the goal races, and thus the metrics that matter should as well. Outside of racing the primary metrics change. Things like Chronic Training Load (CTL), Training Stress Balance (TSB), and Acute Training Load (ATL) should be approached differently. It’s also a good time to revisit foundational work with a focus on speed, power, form and aerobic capacity. If you find yourself feeling lost or needing a reboot always come back to the basics.
Return to Strength
Look for progress in the gym. Foundational movements like squats and deadlifts can yield dividends for many athletes. Tracking how you feel, or your comfort with different weights can be a great way to keep you motivated, as well as allow for a shift in disciplined specific workouts. You also know that every time you complete a strength workout you’re making progress towards your long-term goals.
Quality Over Quantity
If your training goes sideways due to schedule conflicts, lack of motivation, or life, in general, it’s always better to choose quality sessions over volume. The workouts that are on the calendar should be ones that are highly focused and individualized. That way you know that every time you go for a run or ride you’re moving the bar and laying the groundwork for things to come. It’s better to show up for your workouts than schedule unrealistic sessions. Work within your personal parameters.
Have a Plan
Even if there’s less volume, more flexibility, and more free time, that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a plan in place. These periods should be carefully crafted such that it begins and ends in the right proximity to race season goals. While it’s okay to shift focus and your training approach, you don’t want to lose sight of what you’ve worked so hard to accomplish. Knowing what this period looks like will help you track progress, as well as stay motivated knowing that you’re on track and doing exactly what needs to be done.
Training requires full commitment both mentally and physically. This level of commitment is what separates athletes from non-athletes, but it’s also the component of training that must have special attention paid to it. Understanding how to balance motivation and progress will lead to a healthy and well-rounded approach to training. Balancing the desire for progress, with the understanding that the body and mind require a break is critical for the health and longevity of athletes of all abilities and disciplines. Training doesn’t happen in a vacuum and adapting to what life throws your way is the key to season after season of successful training.