Podcast, Training

Season break – best practices of top coaches | EP#314

 November 29, 2021

By  Bernardo Gonçalves


Season Break - That Triathlon Show

In this episode, coaches Helle Frederiksen, Philipp Seipp and Emma Carney each give their perspective and recommendations on whether you should take a season break, and how to go about it.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Why (or why not) you should take a season break
  • How long should a season break be?
  • Does a season break mean complete rest, or can you do some exercise or physical activity?
  • Differences between pros and age-groupers when it comes to the season break

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Helle Frederiksen

Does Helle recommend a season break?

03:22 -

  • Yes, absolutely. A season break (even a midseason break) is a time for the body and mind to recover from the season or training. It is a period for all the systems to reboot.
  • Training every single day and more than once per day is not beneficial for the body in the long run.
  • We need that break also for the mind to switch off from triathlon.
  • I like to give my athletes two weeks of complete rest. (preferably without a swim, bike or run session) It is good to do other things like walking, yoga or spending time with your loved ones. It is a period for all the things you usually do not have time to commit.
  • Athletes should try to disconnect from the sport and do not think of their goals. Those weeks are perfect for resetting.
  • The season finished, and you can evaluate how it went in terms of training and progression. But after that, you need to let it go.
  • After two weeks of rest, I like to have a week where you start to get active again with unstructured work. (If you feel like going for a 30 minute instead of a good 50-minute session)
  • However, I do not want people to go long or ride long. It is an art for age groupers to allow themselves to relax, and not have to think you have to train every single day.

Length of the transition period between the season break and structured training

06:02 -

  • I only give athletes one week of unstructured training.
  • In the fourth week, workouts start again with low volume and low intensity. It is only to get back into the routine and to the consistency of training again. Often, you will find people get a bit tired when returning to training. Therefore, we need to allow the body to absorb everything again.

Exceptions to the general season break

06:45 -

  • We might have a shorter season break if we had many stops during the season due to injuries and illness. We might also have a problem of lack of consistency or motivation throughout the season.
  • Therefore, the season break is shorter because they do not need as much rest in their mind as others.
  • We might do longer season breaks if the athletes need to re-calibrate and stay away from the sport for a while.
  • We see that when people take time off when they need it, they bounce back so much stronger because they are ready to return to the game again.

Helle's season break when she was a professional

07:49 -

  • I would take two weeks as well, but I was running slightly during that period. If I did not run for a period, I would be prone to injury myself. Therefore, I needed to stay a bit active to tolerate the running load.
  • I have never been a high volume runner. Nevertheless, I took away everything else. (swimming and cycling)

Activities to do in the season break

08:40 -

  • I guess you need to do whatever you think is fun. You should have fun and be with your friends and family.
  • If you are in a warmer place, you could stuff like hiking. In colder locations, you can practice skiing.
  • You can do the things you do not do during the season. There are several activities you do not allow yourself in season. The reason for that might be you are focused on your training and are afraid of getting injured.
  • We do not want to get injured on the season break. However, you can allow yourself a bit more and let go.
  • I recommend those athletes that are anxious to return to go for a long walk with their families. And I also tell them to do stuff they do not have time for when training. (and they would like to do regularly)
  • Athletes should create their "needs scores" and do the ones of most importance.
  • When the season break is only two weeks long, it is easy to get back the swimming form. (even if you do not have a swimming background)
  • Many age groupers do not love swimming that much, so letting go swimming for two weeks can be good. They do not force themselves to go to the pool. Therefore, not going to the swimming pool for two weeks is not a problem and they will pick it up fast.
  • Nevertheless, they need to accept the first weeks will feel awful. But that is how it is, and it will come back again.

Season break differences between age groupers and professional athletes

11:23 -

  • There is no difference between them. A season break is as crucial for age groupers as for pro triathletes.
  • Professional athletes are very disciplined throughout the season, and it takes a lot from them mentally and physically.
  • Therefore, pros might need that break more than age groupers. And maybe they are also better at doing it because they crave to let go of the sport for a while.
  • However, the fundamentals of season breaks for age groupers and pros do not change.
  • Prescribing a season break to a professional athlete is not a problem. However, doing it for an age grouper is trickier because we have to explain why we do that season break.
  • Age groupers offer much more resistance to resting.

Midseason break

12:55 -

  • I use a midseason break for every athlete. If we have many early-season races with a good block race-specific training in February/March, June would be a good time to do a season break.
  • We could take a week of no training, but you need to maintain some activity. (e.g., walking, gardening)
  • The crucial is to maintain the blood flowing, but let go of the swim, bike and run. Therefore, it is not as much rest as after the season.
  • However, it is a good reset. After that, we return to basics, and you put a solid strength work again. We build some race-specific work on top before the race block.
  • It helps to reset the system.
  • For athletes with a short racing season, I would only do a week of low volume and intensity in there. (designated rest weeks where you maintain activity and do some light swim, bike and run training)

Additional topics on season breaks

15:12 -

  • If you follow a strict approach to food, it is good to lay down a bit of that strictness. (if that does not come naturally to you)
  • In the season break, do not think about what you eat, and you do not need to follow the strict nutrition plan you have for yourself.
  • On the other hand, do not go crazy and put on eight kilos in two weeks.
  • For leaner athletes, it can be positive to gain a bit more weight. You will have more mass on the pre-season preparation for the strength work and gaining some muscle mass.
  • There are many pros where we find it beneficial to gain some weight in this period to carry through the winter. They become more resilient and robust.
  • When you return to your off-season training, that is the period where you should return to have a focus on your performance. (focus on aerodynamics, for example)
  • On the season break, professionals should not use that to work 24/7 on their sponsorship duties. Stay away from triathlon for two weeks, and you then start again.
  • We have to do our work with the sponsors. (with exposure and promotion) We do it throughout the season as well, and it is a stressful thing. But that is the life of a professional triathlete.
  • In the two weeks, do yourself a favor and let the sponsors know that you will be unavailable for those two weeks. It is healthy for everyone.

Philipp Seipp

Does Philipp recommend a season break?

18:59 -

  • Yes, I recommend a season break and holidays. Even if you love sports, you need to stop for a period to have a deep recovery from it.
  • It is like a newspaper: if you love and read it every day, you have to put it away for some time to learn again why you love it.
  • On another point, you need to give rest to your body if you have a demanding training schedule.

Season break outlook

19:52 -

  • The season break depends on many factors and what you did before.
  • If you had a super intense block (e.g. preparation for world championships), you built physiological and psychological pressure.
  • Therefore, you need to release that pressure.
  • The question then is on how fast you get to the point where you are ready and recovered.
  • When I start holidays, I need two or three days to get into holidays and get rid of all stress and stuff you collect from your everyday life.
  • There are also physiological and psychological processes you need to recover, and these need time to work.
  • Professional triathletes need a break of two weeks per year. (like a proper holiday)
  • For age groupers, it will depend on the ability to have time off and proper holidays. If they have that ability, two weeks is enough to recover. They have stressful lives and have to train around their working hours.
  • Therefore, holidays could help release that stress.
  • If you start the season rest with a minor injury, I recommend extending the break to get rid of it.
  • Season breaks will also depend on the goal of that break. However, the goal is always the same. (to get rid of the stress and routines for a while)
  • I believe two weeks is the optimal duration. More could be beneficial, but athletes need the sport. Therefore, you could introduce training with less structure and without strict interval routines.
  • You could also do different sports to show your body different movement patterns. It allows for a positive break in the winter.

Introducing other sports in the season break and off-season

23:17 -

  • I coach my wife, and we are doing cross-country skiing for her in training camp. We decided to change things around because skiing has a different movement pattern from sitting on the bike.
  • Therefore we looked to implement that in her training. When we train daily on the time trial bike, we will get weaker because of the limited range of motion.

Activities to do on the season break

24:41 -

  • We talk about the concept of "move, but do not train".
  • On my side, I would be careful to give myself a ball or play tennis.
  • Being a person linked to athletics and racing, I would be too competitive during the off-season.
  • I recommend going walking or light swimming (without the pressure of training).
  • We can have an active lifestyle, but we should not focus on training.
  • I treat all modalities the same way. What I address more is each athlete's needs.
  • For some, I have to give a "wake up call" to get back to training. (from resting or watching TV). For others, I tell them to have real rest.

Season break differences between age groupers and professional triathletes

26:28 -

  • There are no substantial differences between them. They have different training volumes.
  • It will depend on if you have two weeks of holiday or two weeks of working hours. It is a distinctive break.
  • There are details where we differ, but the sport is the same.
  • After the break, I would have more easy sessions more focused on skills. I believe this is a solid transition to get back into well-structured training.
  • After a successful season, you want to have a break and new goals to achieve. It can be to be faster, lose weight or gain muscle mass.
  • Whatever the goal is, you set the basement at the beginning. For example, the last eight weeks before a race, I do not work on movement patterns or hip strength.
  • It is the perfect time of the year to readjust and set new goals.
  • As a coach, I like this period because it is like downtime. I have the chance to speak to every athlete in a long term context. Therefore, it is perfect for establishing new methods and evaluating the past season.
  • The definition of "madness" is doing the same thing many times and expecting a different outcome.

Season break as a mental break from the sport

29:20 -

  • I believe athletes should switch off from the sport in that break.
  • When that break ends is the time to start planning the new season.
  • We do not talk about goals on the season break.

Additional points of the season break

30:06 -

  • Concerning nutrition, if you have a good habit daily, there is nothing to change. We are looking to eat well all year long.
  • I think there might be something wrong if you get to the off-season and you switch your nutrition.

Emma Carney

Does Emma recommend a season break?

31:23 -

  • As with all coaching questions, the answer is not black or white. I agree with the season break, but it also depends on your season.
  • For example, if you did not have a consistent season with some break, the season break can be a bit shorter. Hopefully, you will have more races in 2022.
  • In the southern hemisphere, the season break is tricky. The season break is when the international season ends, and we start our domestic season. Nevertheless, I recommend a season break.

Managing the international and domestic seasons

32:48 -

  • We would race the international season, which went from April to mid-November. Then I had some free training time up to Christmas. After that, I would get back into training and do the first races a bit under-trained.
  •  Your body and mind need that break. You also have to catch up on sponsors and stuff like that. By not having a structure and the early starts were beneficial to me.

Outlook of the season break

33:45 -

  • The season break will depend on the athlete as well. I enjoy training, and I do not find it a chore. However, I also know that I am recovering from my fifth operation on my Achilles right now.
  • I am fifty years old, and I am still getting injured. Therefore, a season break allows for preventing injuries. The season break also gives your mind some rest.
  • When I was racing, I raced with Simon Lessing, and he was always talking about season breaks of six weeks. In that period, he would go hiking, and he would not do swimming, cycling or running.
  • I have never taken a break that large. I would take a maximum of two weeks off, and then I would have two weeks of unstructured training.
  • In that period, I would force myself to swim regularly because that was not my natural discipline. Also, I always enjoyed running.
  • For me, it would be a two-week break, but for other athletes, they would have the full six weeks.

Season break for age groupers

35:09 -

  • Age groupers also have to consider their families and their lives. I think a season break is fundamental. When they are not doing dedicated training, their lives and families becomes a priority.
  • That balance is something age groupers have to work on carefully.
  • For them, I think it is the same. (a two-week break or whatever age groupers negotiate with their partner or family)
  • I think active rest is good. You might not do your 20 km run on Sunday, but you could do a 20-minute jog twice a week. The reason is to maintain the condition of calves.
  • The older you get, the more crucial consistency gets. If you do not have it, you will start to break down.

Activities to do in the season break

37:18 -

  • If you enjoy walking and stuff like that, you should do it. If you hike because you feel you have to train, you should not do it.
  • Therefore, the season break of two weeks would be for sponsorship duties. With that, they knew that was the period where I could do many of my commitments. (e.g., turn up to some events)
  • But I have to admit I enjoyed taking the dog for a walk and being active. As long it is not a chore, it is ok to do it.
  • If you have injuries and you have to heal, you need to give it time.
  • I do not remember one season where I ended without my body needing some repair. (e.g., some time to get rid of a niggle)
  • When you finish your break, you start to implement swimming and spend much time on drills and techniques. Much of that work involves filming and accessing your form.
  • To improve your technique, you might have to spend a lot of time swimming with fins so that training is not a heavy load on the body.
  • This period is about reacquiring the movement patterns.
  • Cycling always came quickly. I could take four weeks off the bike, and I would not lose too much.
  • I would bring back running after the break because I believe consistency is crucial to running well.
  • I did a lot of running on trails. Therefore the load was not that high.
  • In this period, you do not need much volume. But it is good to have that conditioning of a 30-minute session.

Factors that affect season break length

40:44 -

  • For the professionals, we can have periods where we cannot afford to have long breaks. The reason is you might enter an Olympic year, and the qualification and selection processes occur early in the season. Therefore, you have to maintain a good level of fitness to start the season in proper shape.
  • The season break, in this case, would be after the selection competitions, before the start of the preparation for the optimal goal.
  • If you got injured during the season, the break might not be that long. As you had that period of forced rest because of injury, you do not want to take a break.
  • You take some downtime and return to training.
  • Even with the lockdowns and the calendar variations, you might race in December. Therefore, you have to be flexible and adjust your training and season breaks to the changes.
  • If you had a regular season, the season break depends on the individual. Simon Lessing would take six weeks, and I would struggle to take two.
  • For age groupers, the length depends on their lives and lifestyle. Often, when I ask age groupers to take time off, that period might be one where they do not have many work hours.
  • Therefore, they could train well in that period. Training has to fit life as well. But I do think there should be a break at some stage.
  • It should fit in to maximise that break. (maximise family time, work time or any other commitments) With this, when they return to training, they feel refreshed.
  • I think that after an Ironman, they should have some break. With that, they can then start planning the next one. However, they should not prepare for one race like Ironman with only six weeks or so.

Additional thoughts on the season break

44:40 -

  • After the season break, you can return to training by doing strength and conditioning. Instead of returning to your run training, you can do some rope jumping.
  • You can do only a 10-minute workout of rope skipping. That will tune the legs and help you get back to running.
  • You can take a two-week break and another two weeks of other exercises to prepare to get back into training.
  • On strength and conditioning, bodyweight exercises like push-ups are handy as well. It gives you a more extended break from swimming, cycling and running. But it helps you return to proper training.


Bernardo Gonçalves

Bernardo is a Portuguese elite cyclist and co-founder of SpeedEdge Performance, a company focused on optimising cycling and triathlon performance. He writes the shownotes for That Triathlon Show, and also produces social media content for each new episode.

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