One of the most frequent things I do as a coach is guide athletes on how to work smarter, not harder, and to teach them that rest and recovery are just as important as the hard workouts that they’re logging.
Over the years, I’ve observed that a week off from training at some point in the year is a tremendously beneficial thing. When I refer to a “week off,” I’m referring to a week without any structured, planned training. Activities like walking and yoga that help promote recovery are certainly welcomed during this time, but all other workout-type activities should be ceased. The idea of taking an entire week off can be a very hard thing for many athletes to wrap their heads around, especially those who have more “Type A” tendencies and lean towards the “more is better” versus the “better is better” line of thinking. But for those who are willing to give it a go, the benefits can truly be tremendous.
Most commonly, I recommend that athletes take a week off after a major A-Goal race. Typically, by that point in the training cycle, the athlete is fatigued both physically and mentally from training and racing (even if they don’t want to admit it out loud). Taking a week off at this stage in training allows the athlete to get a mental break from training. There isn’t any pressure to “have” to get in workouts. By the end of the week off, most athletes are excited (and sometimes even antsy!) to return to structured training. It also enables them to catch up on things that they might have neglected in pursuit of their goal (landscaping, house projects/cleaning….I’m looking at you). Additionally, the week off becomes an opportunity for athletes to spend time with family and friends without feeling that conflict between training time and family time.
More than just these mental benefits, a week off allows some physical benefits as well. It enables athletes to recover well after goal races. Without any structured workouts on the schedule, athletes don’t have the temptation to push themselves too hard in a workout before their body is actually ready to move again. For many athletes, that temptation to jump right back into training right after a goal race is a very real thing. Taking a pause to reflect, relax, and recover can actually help jumpstart the next training cycle more than just hopping back in can, though. The work that is put in in a goal race is also a very real thing, and it’s very taxing to the body right down to the microscopic level. Soreness and fatigue following a race is a result of a lot of things, but one of those is microscopic tears in the muscle tissue. As the body repairs these tears, it rebuilds the muscle on a cellular level to be slightly stronger than it was before. This process is why training works to make us stronger over time. Allowing time for the body to repair the damage that is sustained during a goal race (when one is working harder for a longer period of time than one ever does in training) sets the athlete up well for the beginning of the next training cycle.
While it might be hard for me to get some athletes on board with this idea initially, once they do it, the week goes by quickly and they see the benefit of it. As I’ve told many athletes: learning how to practice patience is actually one of the greatest lessons that a training cycle can teach you. Taking a pause now so you can become stronger later on as you work towards your next goal is absolutely worth it. As those of us in North America wrap up our core race season, I encourage you to consider taking a week off before you begin your Maintenance/Base Phases of training for next season. It might just be the reboot you need!
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.