Updated: Jun 5, 2022
by Laura Henry
Coach Tip Tuesday is upon us again!!
I’ve written about this phenomenon on past Coach Tip Tuesdays, but it’s gone and happened again: A few times a year, without fail, a common theme weaves its way through many of the athletes who I work with. It’s always somewhat of a surprise when this happens, because all athletes truly are unique individuals. And yet, there are times when their similarities are more prevalent than their differences, and this has been one of those weeks.
Thinking about it, I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised. The end of the Northern Hemisphere racing season is (for the most part) winding down, and most athletes are transitioning into some sort of “off-season” or Maintenance/Transition Phase right now. I’ve written in the past about how valuable this time period is, but it definitely bears repeating, as this phase is honestly very often undervalued. Over the last week, I’ve talked with more than HALF of the athletes who I coach about how important this time period is and how to best approach the training weeks between now and the start of their next “bigger” cycles of training. Since it was something that was ultimately valuable for all of them to discuss, I figure some of you out there might benefit from this little chat as well. :)
Maintenance Phase is a time to allow the body and mind to recover the work that has been done over the past season/year. The work that is done AND not done now is just as valuable as the work that is done during the more popular/valued Build and Peak Phases of training. Those other phases often get a lot more attention and notoriety since they are in close proximity to goal race dates and because athletes can typically see very clearly how the work that they’re doing in those phases directly impacts the goals that they’ve set for themselves on race day.
Where Maintenance Phase gets a dismissive hand is this: athletes have a MUCH harder time seeing how what they are doing (or not doing) now can impact a goal that they have set for themselves many months down the road. Without that race day or goal breathing down their necks, it’s very easy to think that what’s being done today won’t positively or negatively impact what comes in eight months.
This, my friends, is untrue. Maintenance Phase is the foundation on which strong and successful seasons and goals are built; it’s what makes Maintenance Phase SO valuable, and it’s why I encourage athletes to work with coaches during this time period. Many athletes choose to work on their own during this time since it’s “easier” than the bigger blocks of training, and while that very well may be a good choice for some athletes, choosing to work with a coach during this timeframe can really set the stage for smashing goals the following season.
Endurance athletes are generally very driven people, and as such, they usually want to be working quite “hard” toward their goals. During Maintenance Phase, working “hard” often looks like this: working on/addressing limiters or weak areas, letting racing weights come back to up to healthy sustainable weights, spending more time getting good rest, dialing in daily nutrition habits, trying out other modalities to encourage staying injury-free, trying some “fun” fitness activities that one doesn’t have time for during the regular season, increasing strength and mobility, and planning out a strategic approach to one’s goals for the coming year.
Maintenance Phase is also a time when training is scaled back, and this has many purposes. First and foremost, it allows the body and mind to shed off some of the fatigue that was built up over the course of an entire training season. It also enables the coach and the athlete to identify those all-important areas where athletes could benefit from specific work in order to improve and become stronger overall. Many times, athletes are resistant to doing “less” and always want to be doing ALL that they are capable of because they fear that doing “less” will mean that they regress, not progress, on that path to their goals. I say this often: you sometimes (oftentimes) need to regress to progress. Sometimes you need to knock down buildings in order to build something stronger and more stable. And almost always, less is more and less can be quite elegant in the long-term.
Dr. Ian Malcolm nailed it in “Jurassic Park:” “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.”
During this Maintenance Phase, DO stop and think about what you SHOULD be doing. Because just because you CAN do something does not mean that you SHOULD do something. Take a hard look at your goals, and be honest about where you are at. Look at where you want to go, and figure out what needs to be true in order for you to get to that place. Then, once you’ve had that honest chat (either with yourself, your coach, or even better - both!!), continue that thread of honesty and determine what it is that you SHOULD be doing right now. Maybe you should be scaling back volume (yes) to focus on form and other techniques. Maybe you should be doing the thing you dread the most (since we tend to dread the things that are hard for us, it’s very likely that focusing on improving the thing you dread is just the ticket to unlocking your potential). Maybe you should be figuring out how you can get more restful sleep to help you recover from the training that you are doing. Maybe you should be spending time with family and playing in the snow with your kids.
That’s the beauty of Maintenance Phase - the opportunities and possibilities are endless!! And they really can be quite exciting. So this week, my friends, determine and focus on the things you SHOULD be doing so you can be successful and healthy moving forward. :)