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Returning to training: Check your expectations at the door

So you took your coach’s advice to heart and you embraced the offseason. You relaxed, you recovered, you reconnected with friends, you had some fun. But now that New Year’s Day is firmly in the rearview mirror, you realize that spring races are coming up quickly. Time to get back to training!

This is where some athletes make a critical mistake. If you jump right back into your previous training volume and/or intensity, or you expect to hit the same pace or power numbers you were before the offseason, you are setting yourself up for a bruised ego at best – and at worst, possible injury.

Instead, take a step back and meet yourself where you are. Get a little perspective on where you stand right now, not where you were at the height of last season. When you take a break from training, or lighten your load significantly, several changes happen in your body. There is a decrease in your blood volume (think fewer red blood cells to carry oxygen to working muscles), and your lactate threshold and VO2 max have likely fallen. Also, you lose conditioning in your connective tissues like ligaments and tendons.

Does this mean you’ve lost all your hard-won fitness? Not at all! Periods of recovery allow your body to be better prepared to bounce back, and even exceed your previous peak fitness. The higher your fitness level was before your break and the longer you have been training, the quicker your fitness will return. BUT, it is still important to start slow and ramp up at an appropriate rate.

Other factors to consider when you are assessing your current fitness: Perhaps you made strength training a priority over the winter (Yes! Great choice!) and now your body needs to adjust to your new strength gains. Perhaps you gained a few pounds (Read Coach John’s blog HERE about why that is not necessarily a bad thing), and your body needs to adjust to that. Perhaps you were focusing on one sport to improve technique or speed at the expense of another – for example, you were committed to a swim progression to work on your stroke, and you swapped time on the bike for more time in the pool. All of these things can affect your return to training in some way.

As you get back into it, first give yourself some grace. Try not to beat yourself up about “lost fitness,” and just accept that you are starting at a slightly different place, for better or for worse (or maybe both). This is a good time to do some baseline testing (CSS test, ftp test, InBody, lactate threshold test, run threshold pace test, etc.) so that you can measure your progress from where you are starting and not where you were last year.

No matter how experienced you are, it’s important to ramp up slowly. Give those ligaments, tendons, and muscles time to get back up to speed (literally and figuratively) before you start adding distance and intensity. And you might need more recovery at first – don’t be afraid to take it. With a little prudence and patience, you’ll be back to crushing your sessions before you know it.

Follow Coach Alison on FB and IG @CoachAlisonMiller


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