Around this time of year, the bulk of my track and field athletes are in the middle of a 3-6 week transition phase. Following the conclusion of the training year I have my athletes take off completely from training for 2 weeks. That’s right…no training for 2 weeks. Not even active rest. Then I recommend they do about 3-5 hours of non-structured training per week for 2-3 more weeks. This training should be general in nature and the athlete has free license to do whatever they want as long as they’re active. The only things off limits are speed work or serious running workouts (Fartleks and continuous tempo runs are ok) and lifting above 70% of a 1RM level. I encourage low intensity activities (golf, walking, swimming, etc); fun and recreational sports, especially those with a lateral or non-impact component (basketball, tennis, kayaking, etc); and unstructured, adlib bodyweight strength circuits. Following this 4-5 week block, you can resume training as usual. But if you’re starting your training year early (mid-to-late July or early August) you may even want to tack on 2-3 weeks where you transition the athlete back in to normal training with weeks consisting of 2-3 days of structured training and 2-3 days of adlib training on their own. I typically manage this on a case-by-case basis.
The main goals of this time period is to recharge the athlete’s psychological and physiological batteries. Because of this, the duration of the transition period cannot be short changed. Although many overlook this period of the year and confuse it as a waste of time, I feel that the planned rest of a transition period is one of the most important keys to the subsequent year’s success. This is because prolonged rest is the best way to address niggling injuries and is something the athlete won’t have the luxury of doing during the competitive season. It’s also important for addressing mental fatigue and burnout which play a big role in both motivation as well as physiological overtraining states (due to either CNS connection and / or psychosomatic effect).
One less well known benefit of the transition phase is by changing the athlete’s physiology. This is something that can only be done through complete cessation of training loads or extremely high reductions in training volume. In fact, by forcing the initial two week layoff of complete rest what I’m actually TRYING to do is force detraining that will elicit a morphological shift in muscle fiber type. There is both anecdotal and research evidence to suggest that when extreme detraining occurs that there is a permanent fiber type shift from type IIA to IIB. This shift is greatest when the detraining follows a protocol of intense weight training (as is seen in my yearly plans). So by actually facilitating detraining during the transition phase you’re not only recharging batteries but you’re making them bigger too.