Forget wonderful. It’s the most bananas time of the year. This season has come to a close; next year’s races are already open and filling up; folks are ‘gramming their epic rides (in the snow, even!), throwing down Zwift sessions, and freaking out about the holidays cutting into their base-building time.
Let’s all take a deep breath. Even if you stopped riding right now and chilled through the holiday season, your fitness wouldn’t deflate like a balloon jabbed with the pointy end of a candy cane. Instead, it would go ever so soft, like tires that haven’t seen any action for a while. And that’s okay.
Why? Well, for one, true rest does a body good. If you’ve been hitting it hard, racing ‘cross, riding gravel, or otherwise pushing yourself lots, a few days off the bike will actually improve your fitness because you’re finally giving your damaged muscle fibers and taxed central nervous system a chance to fully repair and recover.
Yes, your V02 max will drop a bit, about 7 percent after two to three weeks of inactivity, according to research. But that’s because your blood plasma (the watery part of your blood) volume drops off pretty quickly when you stop exercising, so your heart pushes out less blood with every beat. But all those miles in your legs have forged other aerobic adaptations such as dense capillary beds in your muscles and muscle fiber changes that persist well past that time.
So you can hit the brakes, coast a bit, and still get back up to speed without much time and effort. Also keep in mind that “detraining” research is done by making athletes become completely sedentary, going from the saddle time to couch time, full stop. They’re not cross-training or riding here and there. If you’re doing a little something, you’ll lose even less of your fitness.
So with all that in mind, here’s a stay-sane, don’t-detrain, happy holiday fitness plan.
Ride When You Want To
This is important: Willpower is a limited resource. If you use it too much without restocking it, it gets depleted. You’ve likely just finished a full year of pushing yourself past the point where your head wanted you to quit; riding in pouring rain to finish an event, and getting up before dawn to get to a start line. Give yourself a rest from forcing anything bike-related. If the sun’s out, and it’s a beautiful day, and you have a few hours to ride around the lake with friends, go for it. Otherwise, making yourself go out when it’s cold and dark or dragging yourself on to the trainer when everyone else is heading out for a holiday party will only dig your willpower into a barren hole rather than filling up your well.
Blow Off Some Steam
This time of year can be stressful. Work is nuts as everyone is trying to cram a month’s worth of deadlines into two or three weeks; family is in town; finances are stretched, and you’re out of your usual exercise routine.
Hop on the trainer and work out some stress with Tabata intervals or other HIIT work. As a bonus, research shows that even if you cut your training volume to a fraction of your usual riding time, you can maintain your VO2 max and other aerobic training adaptations with short, high-intensity efforts. And you’ll feel so much better.
Just warm up. Sprint as hard as possible for 20 seconds. Coast for 10 seconds. Repeat 6 to 8 times.
Lift Some Weights
Now is prime muscle-making time. You’re not racing or doing events, so you’re not worried about tired legs. You can do it anytime of day, regardless of the weather. And lifting is super time efficient. Hit your lower body with squats and kettlebell swings and your upper body with push-ups and rows, and you’ll be rewarded with stronger bones, a revved up metabolism, and more power to put in those pedals.
[Want to fly up hills? Climb! gives you the workouts and mental strategies to conquer your nearest peak.]
Stretching is the flossing of fitness. You can feel immediate improvements when you do it, but it’s the first thing you blow off. Now’s the time to get back to it. After months of riding, your hip flexors get tight, your back gets stretched, and you develop imbalances. The off-season is the ideal time to correct these issues. Yoga is a great way to restore hip mobility, core strength, and general flexibility. You’ll feel better and have less pain once you’re back spending hours in the saddle.
Do Other Stuff
Hike with your family. Go skiing. Try a rock climbing wall. Screw it all and catch up on some sleep. Take a couple of weeks and give yourself permission to not worry about weight, watts, suffer scores, or saddle time. You’ll be all the more fresh and motivated to dive into that stuff after the holiday season is done and the new year is upon us.