Ho ho ho! 'Tis the season to start panicking about family engagements, Christmas shopping, lack of mileage and that extra piece of cake someone smuggled on to your plate. I think a lot of people use Christmas as the final deadline for bad athletic behaviour before turning over a new leaf at 12:01am January 1st with newfound zest for training. Unfortunately, only very highly tuned engines can go from zero to a hundred in a matter of seconds and this is also true of the human body. Laying off heavily for a month or two to then go back to a heavy workout regime to try to shed pounds and gain fitness in a matter of days is a recipe for injury and illness. So, how do we get back to the lean, mean, powerful machines we were in late summer without multiple trips to the garage for repairs? I will go over some of the details that are so often overlooked that should be implemented before heavy training is on the menu.
I love taking a break from swimming. My skin is less flaky, my hair is less green AND I get to hang out drinking coffee for hours in the morning. However, swimming is awesome for core strength and taking a break means I also have not been doing my routine of core exercises either. A double whammy of lack of training for the midsection. I would advocate FIRST implementing a solid routine that need only take 10-15 minutes per day to help bring back some stability to your core. The power you can generate is limited by how strong your core is. An instability not only means less power but is also linked to hip and back injury development. You can save yourself a lot of trips to the physiotherapist by implementing the exercises immediately.
Sitting at a computer is murder on your body. Your shoulders slump, your back is crooked and blood just pools in your legs. When I start working at my desk in November (post season contracts, web stuff, coaching stuff, speaking stuff… I have an office job in the winter) I immediately start developing hip and shoulder injuries. To combat all the bad positions you put your body in during the day you must start a stretching routine. I advocate yoga. This doesn't mean you have to start bathing in patchouli and chanting to the spirit within. You can find classes for athletes almost anywhere and if you can't find a class you can buy a DVD on Borders.com for probably $15. Yoga is a more interesting way to move through a longer series of stretches. Period. This is absolute blasphemy to yoga instructors who will encourage you to find a more meaningful connection to your practice… but if this makes you uncomfortable then just look at yoga as stretching with a little nap at the end. It is really, really crucial to make flexibility a key component to your program.
Christmas is not the time to start really worrying about WHAT you are eating. However, it is the perfect time to start being aware of HOW MUCH. Little treats here and there are going to add up quickly. If you have all the treats you see during the day and then stuff yourself like a hibernating bear at dinnertime it is likely you are going to stretch your stomach to epic proportions. This will have lasting consequences as you create a humongous, and unnecessary, appetite for yourself to deal with in January. Be careful with portion sizes over the holidays. Try to make all your meals at home as healthy as possible with lots of vegetables to combat the party buffets of meat wrapped in bacon. Drink lots and lots of water. You aren't going to lose weight over the holidays but what you can do is avoid weight gain – or at least minimize it. You will end up transitioning to your January training schedule much easier if you manage the food insanity in December.
I don't think everyone needs a coach for training. If you are a beginner, sport is about participation and fun so having people to share your training experiences is much more important than what you are actually doing. That is, as long as you are being sensible and staying within your physical ability! If you are a more intermediate athlete and have goals which are performance based, you will likely be at a level where you are training a lot more and may incorporate more intensity. For those athletes, planning your year is more important. So it is a good idea to have a year plan to avoid the injuries which may develop from overtraining post-holidays.
I can train a lot more volume in January to March than I can between August and October, just because my body is fresh from a break. However, August and September training is crucial to my success in October. You need to reign in your enthusiasm a little in the winter to avoid being completely spent before your big races in the summer. The biggest thing to remember when you are planning your year is VOLUME and INTENSITY need to be measured and controlled. If you plan to train lots of volume make sure you control the intensity. Especially coming from a big break from training. Better to give your muscles and ligaments some time to strengthen with some gentle volume rather than go overboard in your first few rides. In January, when you start back to training, throw some of your enthusiasm into planning your year and setting your goals. You want to harness your January energy to fulfill your greatest potential in 2007.