We’re about mid-way through the holiday season and high school and collegiate athletes everywhere are making choices that will have a profound impact on their competitive season. Many of these athletes have trained all Fall to develop the physical qualities necessary to compete. And then the holiday break comes. For some, the holiday break is as short as 2 weeks. For high school athletes in year round schools or collegiate athletes on a trimester system the holiday break could be as long as 6 weeks. In many cases, the athletes will be away for some of all of that time from their teammates and coaches. In most cases, their coaches have sent them with training to do on their own. Personally, I hated the holiday break when I was coaching collegiately. I found it incredibly disruptive to the training plan. We worked so hard for the previous 4 months and then WHAM….you have a forced disruption right when we’re about to compete. You’ll never find that in a Periodization textbook.
In the worst of scenarios it’s like a high-speed train jumping the tracks. As a former collegiate and high school coach I know that expecting full compliance of everyone on the team is wishful thinking and very unrealistic.
Some athletes are lazy outside of the accountability of team settings. Others make excuses about needing a day or two off (which inevitably leads to even more time off). Others fret over not having the equipment or facilities to do the workouts exactly as prescribed and assume they might as well not do anything if they can’t do the workout exactly as prescribed. In some cases the bad weather that’s so common during the winter months limits the athletes ability to get outside. No matter the case, the choices the athlete makes during these 2-6 weeks can make or break or their season. In the sport of track and field where winners and losers are separated by fractions of a second you can’t leave anything to chance and still expect to perform your best. I talked about that in this TEDx presentation. While the typical 3 week holiday break might not seem like a very long time and athletes might retain much of their hard earned physical capacity, the reality is that detraining of some physical qualities occurs almost immediately.
Despite this, my advice to athletes is to relax. No, not kick back and relax. But relax and do whatever they can.
If it’s too cold outside to do acceleration sprints, you can short jumps (standing long jumps, standing triple jumps, etc), power cleans, wall sprints and maybe even resisted walks or runs. I once had an athlete do over 50 between the legs forward throws as a substitute for acceleration development. If you can’t do tempo runs on grass because the temperature is below zero and the ground is frozen hit up a treadmill. Or a bike (for non-impact running substitutions I usually recommend equating distances to time for each rep, increasing the volume by 150%, and reducing the rest by as much as 25%). Or do a general strength circuit. If you can’t do your top end speed session because you don’t have a running straight longer than 40m consider doing something that comes as close to the physical and mechanical stimulus as possible. Activities like stiffness jumps, technical runs, or stadium stair runs with an upright posture and vertical pushing emphasis are great “Plan B” substitutes.
The point is that instead of doing nothing because you can’t do what your coach has planned, relax your need for things to be perfect because they never are. Instead, make sure you do something. And ideally make that something as close in stimulus to what you’re actually prescribed to do. It takes shockingly little to maintain what you’ve developed so don’t waste your hard earned Fall efforts by making excuses.