The key point here, is that while you will start to see physiological change happen within a few days of stopping training, it takes weeks to see significant decreases in your actual physiology, and with a very small amount of endurance work, you will generally maintain the majority of the adaptations you have worked hard to build.
Last point on detraining. Why should we assume that an ideal performance state can be attained and held at all times, and that we can constantly just adapt and adapt to training? Nothing in our lives works that way! Think about it, even in the most successful area of your life, it’s not been a linear process to reach that level of success has it? You have had big challenges, you have had lows and highs. You have had periods you stepped back – by design or not – and you have had times when you were set to drill it forward. Life – all areas of it – is not linear! Training is no different. As an athlete and as a coach, we have to be able to accept that the best way forward is to include some time going backward. Or perhaps better said, time in a neutral gear, allowing all of our systems to catch up, equilibrate, and find the same start page before pressing forward and into new challenges.
And now, we cycle back to the question that stimulated this article: “Why should we have a transition or recovery period at the end of the competitive year?” Because, without it, we will see negative changes in performance ((physical*mental readiness)+health = performance) and enjoyment! With it, we won’t see a level of detraining that hurts our long term progress. With it, we will sustain the highest level of satisfaction and motivation through-out our sporting careers – and that translates to a general sense of vigor and fullness in our lives overall. Not because we can’t be “whole” without sport, but because it’s a portion of our life that we love and enjoy! Finally, with a transition period, we are able to reduce the odds that we develop health problems, be they mechanical injuries or physiological injuries or illness or emotional dysfunction related to sport.
Those points help clarify the value of a transition or unloading period at the end of the competitive year. But as an endurance athlete, how do you figure out how long this period should be? There are several options. They range from simply going with your gut and resting until you are really antsy to train, then taking 1 more week… All the way out to using a simple equation based on peak race duration and training duration. For example, weeks trained*a factor = estimated transition period days. Divide day’s by 7 and there are the weeks you should use for your transition period. We have coached using this system and I’ve seen other coaches use similar formulas.
That said, a sense of self determination is massive to maximizing your success long term. In an athlete-coach relationship, or, point blank, in a self-coached relationship, having some control in the process – not just executing a number – is huge for long term success. Because of that, I have a fairly “gray” answer for you when it comes to determining transition period duration.
For almost any athlete, 2 weeks is as short as it should be. So, a good rule of thumb to implement is this: Take two weeks where week one is off – no training at all. If you feel mentally or physically down as week 2 arrives, repeat week one. Once you start to feel like doing some physical activity would be enjoyable, so long as you have at least 1 total off week, you can begin doing some random recreational activity based on what feels fun to you. Nothing that feels challenging, and nothing that’s specifically related to your sport. So, you’re a triathlete, no riding the TT bike, road runs or swims. Instead, ride a mountain bike for fun with buddies, do some hikes, try paddling or see if you can try water polo. Active, but not “tri training”. If you are a cyclist, go mountain biking, try some light running or mess around with a few cycling friends shooting hoops at the gym. For a runner, try hiking or go for a few bike rides. The key here, is that on week two, you can do some light activity, but it’s not “training” nor specific to your sport. It should leave you wanting more!
Here’s the trick to the whole thing. As you approach week 3+, are you getting really itchy to train? Do you WANT to get in the gym and get to work building strength for next year? Do you want to start doing workouts specific to your sport. I mean really want it? If yes, great ease into things. If you have ANY hesitation, repeat week two on week three. Repeat this process weekly until you are excited to train. To make sure you are not fooling yourself, if you are self-coached, ask a friend, or pay a coach for a one time consultation to have an independent voice. Are you ready or not? If you are, great.
Having a sense of autonomy control, it’s huge to your long term progress, and to your satisfaction in the process of training. So, although this simple approach may not “sound” as cool as a slick equation or questionnaire you can take to assess readiness… This strategy absolutely will set you up to be both physically AND mentally ready for next season.
Enjoy the year, enjoy your training. It’s an amazing gift to experience and a huge opportunity for positive influence in your life. Don’t negate that, by letting the desire to hit a goal, cloud the best map needed for you to reach that goal. It’s the end of the season, step back, take your foot off the throttle for a few weeks, it’s time for a reboot… You will be stronger, and enjoy the coming season more, for having done it!
Be well - Will
Beachle, T. R., & Earle. R. W. (2000). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Human Kinetics, Champaign, Ill.
Boksem, M. A. S., Meijman, T. F., Lorist, M. M. (2006). Mental fatigue, motivation and action monitoring. Biological Psychology, 72(2), 123-132.
Broadbent, S. (2011). Seasonal changes in haematology, lymphocyte transferrin receptors and intracellular iron in Ironman triathletes and untrained men. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 111, 93–100. DOI 10.1007/s00421-010-1635-z
Coutts, A. J.; Wallace, L. K.; Slattery, K. M. (2007). Monitoring changes in performance, physiology, biochemistry and psychology during overreaching and recovery in triathletes. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 28(2), 125-134.
Gagne, M., & Deci, E., L. (2005). Self-determination theory and work motivation. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 26, 331–362. DOI: 10.1002/job.322
García-Pallarés, J., Carrasco L., Díaz A. and Sánchez-Medina, L. (2009). Post-season detraining effects on physiological and performance parameters in top-level kayakers: comparison of two recovery strategies. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 8, 622-628.
Gould D., (1996). Personal motivation gone Awry: burnout in competitive athletes. QUEST,48, 275-289.
Gustofson, H., Holmberg, H. C., & Hassme, P. (2008). An elite endurance athlete’s recovery from underperformance aided by a multidisciplinary sport science support team. European Journal of Sport Science. 8(5), 267-276.
Halson, S. L. (2014). Monitoring training load to understand fatigue in athletes. Sports Medicine. 44 (Suppl 2):S139–S147. DOI 10.1007/s40279-014-0253-z
Isaev, A. P., Ehrlich, V. V. (2015). Features of seasonal biorhythms of functional state and exercise performance of middle distance runners. Theory and Practice of Physical Culture, 6, 98-100.
Losnegard, T., Myklebust, H., Spencer, M., and Halle´ n, J. (2013). Seasonal variations in V̇O2max, O2-cost, O2-deficit, and performance in elite cross-country skiers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 27(7), 1780–1790.
Holmberg, P., M. & Sheridan, D., A. (2013). Self-determined motivation as a predictor of burnout among college athletes. The Sport Psychotogist, 27, 177-187.
Issurin, V. B. (2010) New horizons for the methodology and physiology of training periodization. Sports Medicine. 40(3) 189-206. DOI: 0l1Z-1M2/10/0OO3-0ia9/M').9&/0
Issurin, V. B. (2015). Building the Modern Athlete: Scientific Advancements & Training Innovations. Ultimate Athlete Concepts, MI USA.
MacKinnon, L. T., (2000). Overtraining effects on immunity and performance in athletes. Immunology and Cell Biology. 78, 502–509.
Marcora, M. S., Staiano, W., Manning, V. (2009). Mental fatigue impairs physical performance in humans, Journal of Appllied Physiology, 106, 857–864. DOI:10.1152/japplphysiol.91324.2008.
Mujika, I. (2012). Endurance Training – Science and Practice. Inigo Mujika S.L.U., Vitoria-Gasteiz, SPA.
Mujika, I. (2014). Conference proceedings: Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group: Summer Session. “Detraining” session. May 15. Boston MA.
Reinke, S., Karhausen, T., Doehner, W., Taylor, W., Hottenrott, K. (2009). The influence of recovery and training phases on body composition, peripheral vascular function and immune system of professional soccer players. PLoS ONE 4(3): e4910. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004910
Schulkin, J. (2004). Allostasis, Homeostasis, and the Costs of Physiological Adaptation. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK.
Selye, H. (1976). The Stress of Life. McGraw Hill Co. NY, NY.
Siff, M. (2000). Supertraining. Supertraining Institute. Denver, CO.
Smith, L. L. (2000). Cytokine hypothesis of overtraining: a physiological adaptation to excessive stress? Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. (32)2, 317–331.
Vlachopoulos, S. P., Karageorghis, C. I., & Terry, P. C. (2000). Motivation profiles in sport: A self-determination theory perspective. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 71, 387-397.