For endurance athletes, mental and physical recovery is an essential element to achieve continued growth. A well-designed training program combined with a meaningful and well-planned racing season and accompanied with adequate rest, sufficient sleep and good nutrition are key ingredients towards continued growth in the long run.
A big part of a well-designed training program includes not only the days on, but also the days off. These include the rest day (or days) you take each week, the planned recovery weeks that may take place every three to four weeks and the transition periods scheduled after big events and at the end of the season. In this article, we define and weigh in on the importance of these transition periods.
A transition is a period in your training where your physical activity and exercise demands are greatly reduced. Transition periods may occur multiple times throughout the year and take place after key events. The length of each transition period varies based on when it is in the season and when your next race occurs. Ideally, you will have a brief transition period after each race you complete throughout the season, with a longer and more final transition period after the last event of the season.
At first, transition periods may either feel welcome or you may be chomping at the bit to get back into the routine. It's important to recognize these transition periods are necessary and crucial for your physical and mental recovery, especially after your biggest events of the season have taken place and you head into the off-season. Transition periods after your "A" races in the middle of the season are typically no longer than one to two weeks, whereas transition periods at the end of the season may be anywhere from 2-6 weeks long.
While your training load is greatly reduced during a transition period, it is also highly encouraged to do physical activity that is different from your normal training. This is a great time to go on walks, hikes, spend extra time being active with the family and even do other activities or hobbies you typically like to do but are not able to in periods of heavy training. During transition, we do not want to become totally inactive or find ourselves heading into unhealthy eating patterns, which can sometimes happen. The goal is to rest, recharge and reset while maintaining some semblance of activity.
For the longer transition at the end of the season, the first week of transition is typically a solid and true rest or “active recovery.” The goal with an active recovery is to continue to move lightly throughout the day while still obtaining adequate rest. This light movement helps reduce soreness and stiffness. A good example week may include rest days with light movement only, short recovery runs without focusing on pace, walks, stretching or light yoga.
The second through sixth weeks will typically have more activity but still be light and with little structure to training. By the end of the transition, the goal is to feel well rested, ready and eager (mentally and physically) to dive back into the regular training rhythm. When you're not feeling that way, this typically happens for two reasons: 1) the transition period may have been too short or 2) you didn't take it as a true transition but did regular training and activity anyways. Not getting in this necessary transition may set you up for less success and greater risk for burnout heading into the next season.
Rest easy and take advantage of these light periods of time. These timeframes are guidelines of what tends to work well. Depending on how you’re feeling mentally and physically, or how stressful your current season of life is outside of training, you may want to lengthen these transition periods.
Enjoy the extra time with family, take extra naps and sleep in when you can. Sometimes, taking a longer transition than you think you need will be more beneficial in the long run than a transition that’s too short. While it may feel like taking this time off will make it more difficult to return to training, the opposite effect is usually achieved. Enjoy that time off and let's head into next training season refreshed, recovered and eager to accomplish more.