It is safe to say road racing season has come to an end and the majority of the athletes I work with have over 6 months before their next event (for those of you gearing up for cyclocross, you can stop reading here, bookmark this post, and come back to it in December 🙂 ).  I would argue the transition phase is the most important phase of periodized training for an athlete’s mental health and motivation.  By the time September rolls around, road-specialist cyclists have been training hard for ~5 months, have put in thousands of miles and hundreds of hours on two wheels, have probably been sun-burnt, dealt with saddle sores, crashed, changed flats, ridden in oppressive heat, humidity, and rain, and have had to balance all this training with work, family, and other commitments.  Guess what?  It is 100% normal and expected to feel unmotivated, generally fatigued, and not have the “itch” to get on the bike and pummel the pedals into submission.  Just like you need rest periods in between intervals to be able to accomplish the workout, you need rest periods in between training seasons to be able to grow and progress as an athlete.  So, how do I define the transition phase of periodized training?

The transition phase allows for full and extensive muscular regeneration and mental recuperation.  It can last from 2-4 weeks, but sometimes needs to be longer if the athlete is experiencing overtraining symptoms.

How to Transition

As stated above, the transition phase is really not about structure or crushing it day in and day out.  It is actually the exact opposite!  So, if you feel like skipping a workout and staying in your pajamas all day, do it!  Literally do anything that makes you happy and do not care about how it will affect your fitness or cycling, you will be getting into your base phases soon after anyways.

For the athletes I work with, I like to include 2 weeks of “Athlete Choice” workouts where it is completely their call if they want to ride or not.  I also include a few days of bodyweight only strengthening exercises to prepare their bodies for the off-bike strength and power training to come.  After these 2 weeks, the athlete is usually feeling mentally refreshed, but this does not mean they are ready to start crushing it again!  Normally, I schedule an additional 2 weeks of minimally structured training and encourage cross-training activities to achieve more time away from the bike, as well as prevent cardiovascular fitness losses.

A WORD OF CAUTION: Even though you are in the transition phase, taking a full month off the bike and not doing jack will lead to a great amount of detraining.  Try and still do something to get the heart rate up a few times week that isn’t cycling!  This can be hiking, running, rowing, elliptical, stair-master, etc.

Typical Transition Week

After the 2 weeks of “Athlete Choice” workouts…

  • M – Bodyweight only strength training (stability and function focused)
  • T – 60-90 minutes of unstructured cycling or cross-training
  • W – Bodyweight only strength training (stability and function focused)
  • R – 60-90 minutes of unstructured cycling or cross-training
  • F – Bodyweight only strength training (stability and function focused)
  • Sa – Group ride that is “fun” focused and not too taxing
  • Su – Group ride (or off)

I also like to include some mental training if the athlete is completely burnt out from a long season.  The mental training I recommend is meditative primarily and focused more on relaxation versus getting fired up.  Check out Headspace online and in the app store if you are interested in this further.

When to Progress to the Base Phase

As stated above, the transition phase is typically 2-4 weeks in duration, but can be longer if needed.  Typically, I like to see my athletes re-engage with structured training after 4 weeks to prevent any additional detraining.  Besides the time stipulation being satisfied, I also like to see the athlete having the “itch” to train again and being excited to swing their leg over the top tube.  Normally I can see this via data analysis (more structured work versus just riding, Strava KOM attempts, etc) as well as communication with the athlete (workout and interval focused post-activity comments versus commenting on the weather, how many turkeys they saw on the ride, who they rode with, etc).  Once you have these few boxes ticked, it is time to get back on it!

So, my fellow roadies, use the next few weeks to chill out and truly embrace your transition phase.  Don’t worry about structure, what your FTP is, your placing on that Strava KOM, and better still, put your Garmin in your back pocket and just look and listen to the world pass you by.  One of my favorite expressions this time of year is “No Garmin No Rules”, do yourself a favor and abide by it for a little bit.

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