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There Is No "Off" Season
By: Matt Russ

The fall and winter is a common time for athletes to wrap up their race season. It is also good to take some time off and let your body recuperate from the rigors of high intensity training and racing. Some athletes take as much as four weeks off, but this does result in loss of fitness and requires making up lost ground later. Endurance especially is one of the more difficult aspects of fitness to rebuild. A better approach is to enter a "transition" period in which training and intensity are reduced; perhaps greatly, but a level of fitness is maintained. It takes a relatively small amount of training volume to maintain fitness, when compared with building fitness. I recommend at least 1 full week off at the end of the race season. After taking a week (or more if needed) off I recommend performing some sort of general cardiovascular exercise every other day and take at least 2 consecutive days off every other week. If you feel like you need another day off- take it. This transition period can last 2-6 weeks. Your work outs do not need to be specific to your sport during this time. Shying away from the impact of running with cross training is a good idea. This may mean using the stair stepper, elliptical trainer, rower, or another sport such as mountain biking (I leave the heart rate monitor home). If you plan on strength training introduce resistance work to acclimate yourself for the heavier routine to come. The transition period should be tailored to your personal needs such as individual recovery time, age, and the stress of your individual sport.

After the transition period enter into the base or foundation period. During this time increase volume of training, but keep intensity low and aerobic. Perform little if any work above the aerobic level and let my anaerobic system atrophy. Building this aerobic base is critical for efficiency later in the season. Each week increase duration slightly to build aerobic endurance. Since there are no sprints, speed work, climbing, hill repeats or other intense training your body gets a good rest and can repair itself fully. The first four weeks of base training simply perform low level aerobic work, but in the next 4 week block begin to work on technique, skill, and efficiency. This is a good time to perfect your spin, stride, and stroke so that you do not reinforce bad habits. Efficiency is a huge component of becoming a faster athlete. You may want to work with a coach to assess your weaknesses. He or she can recommend a wide variety of drills to increase cadence, efficiency, leg speed, and coordination.

The base period is also a good time to enter into a specific strength training routine. Strength training can be highly stressful on the body therefore excluding certain types of training such as speed work, I perform the majority of my weight work in the base period. I have found my body needs too much time to recover from weight work and it does not react well with higher intensity training performed later in the season. This does not mean strength work stops after the base period, but rather evolves into more specific "on the bike," and "on the run" strength work. Examples are cycling tension intervals and hill running. I do however perform core strength exercises regularly throughout the year. A proper strength training system goes through specific phases such as maximum strength, strength endurance, and power, and is specific to your needs and sport. I highly recommend any endurance athlete interested in strength training to get with a trainer or coach with experience in this area. Each athlete is unique and should have a specific routine.

The base period is followed by a general preparation period and then a more specific race preparation period, so there is no "off" season. If you are an athlete who trains only in the race season you have probably noticed your performance has not improved much or may have decreased each year. Instead of building on your past season you are instead trying to get back to your previous level of performance each year. To me each season is a step up toward better performance. A good example of this is older athletes who are still performing well into their 40's, 50's, and 60's. If you look at their training over the years you will find one consistency; rarely did they give up any ground.

About the Author

Matt Russ has coached and trained athletes around the country and internationally. He currently holds licenses by USAT, USATF, and is an Expert level USAC coach. Matt has coached athletes for CTS (Carmichael Training Systems), is an Ultrafit Associate. Visit for more information.

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The Power of Stretching    - Dave Snape


Your muscles ache from a good stretch. This is quite
normal and is part of the process. Stretching has
seemingly been with us and particularly with athletes
since the beginning of time.

A very key point to good stretching is to hold the
stretch for at least seventeen seconds. This is a
pearl of wisdom gleaned from a ballet teacher a few
years back. She said that any stretch under 17
seconds was just not effective.

The 17 second rule is exceeded in the high intensity
Bikram's yoga where stretches are held for about 30
seconds. Don't forget the high level of heat that is
used in Bikram's to extract that last little bit of
stretch out of your muscles. An interesting twist that
is not necessary to gain benefits from stretching. But,
it can't hurt, right?

So what kind of benefits can you expect from
stretching? That's an easy one. Have you ever seen the
movie, Blood Sport? Did you know that Frank Dux could
truly stretch his body to the extreme. The actor that
played him was quite elastic as well.

Great elasticity is also something you might see in
well trained Spetsnaz (Russian) agents. They often work
out with Russian kettlebells too. They are for superior
strength gains and the ability to withstand ballistic

Why are stretching and flexibility considered important
to these people? Stretching gives one the ability to
have explosive power available at one's fingertips
without the need to warm up. Of course most of us are
not martial artists or agents. But, you'll be happy to
know there are plenty of other benefits.

Let me give you an example. After learning to sit in
the full lotus position for long periods of time, my
ankles became very flexible. One day I was walking
along and my left foot fell into a pothole. This mishap
pushed my ankle sideways to about 90 degrees from it's
normal position.

Amazingly, this didn't even hurt, not one bit. If my
ankle hadn't been so flexible, I may have suffered a
sprained ankle. At the very least, it would have hurt
for days.

Key point: stretching helps you to avoid injuries.
Not only that but if you do have a muscle, tendon or
ligament injury it should heal faster, theoretically

Stretching actually grows the ligaments, tendons and
muscles being stretched. They really grow longer over

Check with your physician before undertaking any type
of exercise, including stretching.

Here is some good instructional material on stretching:

Dave Snape

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