Welcome to the Off-Season. Your Race Season ended a few (or maybe several) weeks ago and you’ve taken some time off from structured training and racing in favor of recovery. After this brief period of time, you’re suppose to “detrain” and lose some fitness in order to restore freshness and enthusiasm for training. Then it’s time to get your baseline testing in to see where you’re at with your fitness and reset training zones for starting your off-season base training program. See my previous two posts for more on this: Testing Protocol, Part 1 and Testing Protocol, Part 2 explain the details of our testing philosophy.
With your baseline testing done and training zones configured, you are now ready to get to work!
Building a Base or Base Training are the popular buzz phrases for this time of year. Everyone has a slight variation on what this exactly entails, but the overall theme is to put in the training time to build fitness, from general to specific, before you dig into your next racing season and/or race specific training. With the exception of cyclocross racers, Autumn and Winter is the time of the year most endurance athletes commonly associate with base training. We’re several months away from race season and it’s time to build the general fitness required to enable us to handle the more demanding loads of race specific training that comes in Spring and Summer.
At Sessions:6, General Fitness to us means the least race specific fitness. Since racing is a ways off, we can spend time on areas that either get neglected or we simply can’t afford to train when in the midst of racing season. This means we first focus on the two far ends of the energy system “chain”: peak movement strength (ie. weight lifting) and aerobic endurance. From these two “ends” of the energy system “chain” we move inward progressively as we build base fitness, towards the more race specific energy systems.
Strength & Mobility
On the high-end strength side we spend time gradually building peak movement strength by progressively lifting heavier and heavier weights; focusing specifically on the squat and the deadlift movements as the pertain to both knee and hip extension. After a period of 12 weeks and peak strength has been achieved, we progress to power production: producing high levels of force quickly, through lighter loads and faster movements. Plyometrics and olympic lifts are common in this phase for the more advanced athletes.
Simultaneously, on the other end of the spectrum, the low-intensity aerobic end of the energy system chain, we focus on aerobic conditioning progressively building over 10-20 weeks through the Aerobic Threshold & Aerobic Strength systems, Anaerobic Threshold, Vo2 Max and Anaerobic Power energy systems. It is finally here near the end of Winter or early Spring that the two ends finally meet for some Alactate training (producing max watts through sprinting) to finish off your “Base Building” phase, or Off-Season training period. From here you are ready to dive into your more specific training that will prepare you for your specific racing goals. You can read more on the energy system “chain”, or scale, concept in a previous post: I. Aerobic Conditioning
Progression & Adaptation are Essential for Building your Off-Season Base.
We divide our Off-Season training into the common 4-week block pattern of training: with 3 weeks of progressively accumulating training stress before taking a step back with a week of reduced stress to allow for absorption the work done and positive adaptation before beginning the next block. Every other recovery week includes an Aerobic & Power Test to track progress and adjust zones as you gain fitness. We’ve created our most comprehensive off-season Base Builder to build progressively over a full 24 weeks of training. We also have our truncated 12-week version that progresses at twice the speed for those that don’t have the extended base period time available, or just simply aren’t interested in building a 24-week base of fitness before their race specific training.
In the following example, I will layout our Complete 24-Week Base Build Program. This version consists of 6-blocks of training with each block building upon the previous while giving specific attention to the strength work and energy system being trained. For the 12-week Base Build version, you can imagine the blocks being compressed into 3 blocks of training over 3 months time, while still progressing through each of the 6 energy systems in the example. The blocks progressively build in this order:
- Block 1: November
- Strength: Adaptation (getting familiar with exercises & executing best form)
- Aerobic: Skill Work (high cadence & single-leg pedaling) & Aerobic Intervals
- Block 2: December
- Strength: Strength Build (increasing loads as adaptation allows)
- Aerobic: Aerobic Threshold (AeT) & Aerobic Strength (“big gear” work)
- Block 3: January
- Strength: Strength Peak (working up to/near a one-rep max effort)
- Aerobic: Anaerobic Threshold (AnT) (aka. lactate threshold or “threshold”)
- Block 4: February
- Strength: Power Adaptation (transitioning to lighter loads & faster movements)
- Aerobic: Vo2 Max
- Block 5: March
- Strength: Power Build (working towards explosive movements)
- Aerobic: Anaerobic Power
- Block 6: April
- Strength: Peak Power (maximum force & speed production)
- Aerobic: Alacate
We find that targeting the strength and aerobic energy systems twice a week, each, is effective for most athletes during the winter months. This works well as both gym and structured interval sessions are highly effective performed indoors when weather and daylight hours limit most endurance athletes this time of year. Weekends during this base build period are reserved for getting outside and getting longer endurance focused training in through additional riding, running, skiing, etc. also building progressively over longer and longer durations, from 2-6 hours, over the six month long base build season.
Following this plan November through April, come May you are super fit and highly tuned across all energy systems with a super solid base established.
This will allow you to then start your race-specific training that will focus specifically on the energy demands of your target event(s). The Race Prep Training phase and how that looks is different for each athlete depending on their upcoming target events. Race Prep is whole topic in and of itself that I will discuss in the future. That said, as early as February you will find your fitness building and race-ability there that will allow you to jump into some early season races of choice. Even though you’re still “building your base”, by the last third of the program everyone will be able to race, and race quite well, despite not being in “peak” fitness. Racing this time of year is fun, motivating, and necessary part of the training process. It is definitely good to do some races during your off-season base build.
Off-Season Training begins with Block 1.
Follow along in our monthly posts as we dive deeper into each individual block of training and explain in more detail what we are doing with our athletes and those following our programming.
Interested in giving it a try yourself?
Download our complete 24-week Base Build Program on Training Peaks HERE.
Download our more condensed 12-week Base Build Program on Training Peaks HERE.
- All the strength training details, including videos and set/rep schemes and calculated loads specific to your ability.
- Full Testing Protocol and Training Zone Calculator to identify HR and Power zones and track progress.
- Structured training sessions uploadable to your app of choice (Zwift, Wahoo, Garmin, Trainer Road, etc.)
- Bonus weekend training ride suggestions for either indoors or out.
Written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Sessions:6 Sport Performance. Looking for help with your endurance sport training? Check out S:6’s Training Plans, Team Programs, and Personal Coaching options created to fit your needs and budget.