Purposely losing fitness, and learning to be OK with it: The importance of rest in an annual training plan
It's the off-season, an important part of an annual training plan (ATP) that is often overlooked. I am in my third week of my 4-week planned rest period, and yes, I am losing fitness. It doesn't mean that I do nothing: I have been doing a couple easy runs a week, I go for a long walk with my dog and play catch, and I teach a spin class. What I am not doing is planned training, and ideally no training at all. As Greg McMillan writes:
Great athletes build annual breaks into their training year. Not a reduced week or two of training every now and then, but weeks of complete rest. They don’t only rest, but they gain weight, too. Some add 5 to 15 pounds to their normally light frames while they enjoy time with their families, take vacations and generally do things they normally can’t because of their training.
So why would you do this? The answer is simple - to rediscover your desire, motivation, determination, and passion to be the runner or triathlete you want to be - but actually taking time off is surprisingly difficult. I miss the routine of training, I miss wearing my favorite jeans, I miss the confidence I feel after a hard workout or a long ride, and I miss analyzing metrics, but these are not the things that motivate me to train. But let's not fool ourselves with trying to maintain a high level of fitness all year long. Complete time off is the only healer.
The downside to having the ability to track and analyze your training and performance is having data that confirms your loss of fitness. Above is a snapshot of my fitness decline. I have to admit, it is difficult to see and does not make me feel confident. As a coach, my primary objective in building a training plan is to develop an athlete's confidence in their ability to achieve a specific race goal. Many athletes, myself included, struggle with taking time off because it lessens our confidence that we will be able to achieve our goals. Taking time off does decrease your fitness, but only temporarily, and what you gain from complete rest gives you much greater opportunity to achieve your goal.
A triathlete's way of life is perfectly expressed through our physical training, but we also need to balance training throughout the year with rest. Here are some tips to remember while you are 'losing fitness':