The Ironman World Championship takes place every October in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. This ultimate endurance race acts as an end-of-season challenge for a select few qualifiers and an all-day event for spectators near and far. But it also marks the end of the triathlon season for many triathletes. So, what happens now?
There’s no shortcut to improving one’s physical abilities and performance: You must train intensely, intelligently and continuously. The word “continuously” here is a reminder that continuity is one of the key factors in successful training.
But this principle often gets confused by another well-known truism: It’s not always by training that you improve your physical condition, but by resting. During this pause, your body doesn’t sit idle: It repairs itself and processes the excess burden it’s been subjected to outside of its comfort zone, so as to start over stronger than before.
And so throughout the season we alternate strenuous workouts with less difficult ones, and we take care to add a day or two of active or passive recuperation to our weekly regimens.
But you should also consider adding an annual break to your calendar; for triathletes, that’s typically in November or December.
The benefits of an annual rest period are first and foremost preventive in nature: We hope to avoid injuries related to wear and tear, overtraining and loss of motivation. Simply put, we want to recharge our batteries and conserve what’s left. But be warned: to avoid a significant loss of hard-earned conditioning — in other words, falling into “detraining” — don’t hibernate too long!
According to Guy Thibault, a researcher, doctor in exercise physiology and author of the book Entraînement cardio: sports d’endurance et performance [Cardio Training: Endurance and Performance Sports], unless you’re feeling weak and tired, a so-called active rest — that is to say, light cross-training for your body or doing other activities you enjoy — is preferable. You end up moving your body by simply having fun. An annual two-week rest period can therefore prove sufficient.
However, if you’re experiencing a significant drop in motivation, or little aches and pains are bothering you, you may choose instead to take an annual break lasting four weeks, either active or passive, depending on your energy level.
Finally, if you feel that your batteries are completely drained, you should opt for five weeks of complete rest — more, if you waited too long before hitting the brakes.
The impact of annual rest
Worried about falling out of shape? Don’t sweat it. In his book, Thibault says that, according to a study conducted by Maastricht University, the “aerobic fitness of high-level, well-trained endurance athletes diminishes very little when the training load is reduced, even in a substantial manner, during a period of less than a month” [translation].
Along with this additional free time comes opportunities to iron out those little imperfections we carry around with us that affect our posture or our effectiveness in one of the three sports. Lastly, the positive impact on motivation is a real benefit, and a huge one at that. And we all know that motivation is essential if we’re going to drag ourselves out of bed before dawn or push through the fatigue during a long workout session on the home trainer.
Have a good rest!