March 13, 2017
This time of year often see’s a number of athletes taking ski holidays or (perhaps surprisingly) heading out on walking/climbing trips. This year has been no exception and as usual I have had guys taking a week or two out of Triathlon training plans to take their trip. This is great for the athlete as it provides mental break form the rigours of training and ultimately most of these people are amateurs and need to keep a balance to their lives. So where is the problem?
Well it begins when they return. Having missed sessions for a week or two, they look at the training diary see all the spaces blank (or worse; red in the case of Training Peaks) and before they’ve got through airport security they are donning the training kit and heading out on epic sessions. Because, obviously if you’ve been away relaxing on holiday it’s imperative that you get straight back to it when you return! Right? I may agree to a limited extent if my athletes had indeed been on ‘relaxing holidays’ but almost all of them have been on holidays involving active sport. Now, admittedly it’s not swimming, biking or running but it will still induce fatigue.
Take skiing as an example. Most people hit the slopes at 10am and with the exception of a little lunch, keep going until 3-4pm. That’s six hours of aerobic exercise, every day for a week. For most people the extraordinary way that skiing requires your muscles to work will mean there is a larger amount of muscle damage after a day on the slopes than after your normal swim, bike, run sets. Not to mention the increased use of stabilising muscles and the fact you are at altitude most of the time.
Similarly, hill-walking or mountaineering trips can have a significant affect on the bodies resources (hill-walking can churn through many more calories/hour than cycling or swimming) the eccentric muscle action required to go up and down hills, causing large amounts of micro tearing that will need time to repair. Indeed, any physically active trip where you are completing an unusual activity (honeymoons?) will create muscle soreness and require a degree of recovery time.
My advice to athletes when talking about active breaks is simple. When your there, forget swim, bike, run and focus on what your there for! Even if the exercise is limited in it’s aerobic demands (such as down hill skiing) it will still tax the cardiovascular system to some degree and the benefits you gain from using different muscles in different capacities will strengthen them for your triathlon endeavours. When you return home, if there is any muscle soreness, take a day or two to recover. Start back to training with short easy sessions. Ideally, prioritise swimming for a couple of days, this is not only kind to aching muscles but allows the nuero-muscular system to re-acquaint itself with the patterns required for front crawl technique. For goodness sake, don’t convince yourself you’ve ‘lost fitness’, if anything an active break will make you stronger, both physically and mentally.
Enjoy your break!