Off-Season Training: Why and How You Should Detrain on Purpose

Topics Covered In This Episode:

  • What detraining is and why you need it
  • What happens when you lighten your training load
  • How to detrain correctly
  • Absolute vs. Relative Chronic Training Load (CTL)
  • Physical and psychological consequences of lowering CTL
  • Coach AP’s Recipe for Detraining
  • How much CTL should be lost during detraining phase?


Adam Pulford has been a CTS Coach for more than 13 years and holds a B.S. in Exercise Physiology. He’s participated in and coached hundreds of athletes for endurance events all around the world.

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Episode Transcription:

Please note that this is an automated transcription and may contain errors. Please refer to the episode audio for clarification.

Adam Pulford (00:00):

The off season. It means many things to many people, and there’s a ton of ways to go about it. No matter what

Adam Pulford (00:06):

Your sport or your primary goal, there’s a seasonality to training. High season, low season, the times between the low season is just as important as the high season. Yet we don’t focus on as much. We don’t write articles, we don’t do podcasts so much about it. So over the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing a series of podcasts discussing what a successful off season can look like, why you should be intentional with it, and how to organize your training year round for it in the spirit of the off season and getting away from the bike a bit more. I’m calling this series The Off the Bike episodes. So settle back and enjoy. Welcome back or welcome to the Train right podcast. I’m your host coach, Adam Pulford.


As I alluded to in my opening, the next few episodes will be focused on things you can do off the bike in the off season to help bring better results for the upcoming season. Philosophically, I, I don’t really like the term of off season because it insinuates a complete offness when we all know that every season builds on itself. Everything is connected. So what we do in the off season does actually matter, and it, in my opinion, it matters just as much as the in season. We’ll get into more of why that is. Keep in mind, we’re also still doing training, some kind of training during this off season time period. That said, it’s a term that a lot of people use across multiple sports. So I’ll be using the term off season in this podcast to refer to this time period in training.


The common theme for any off season is a period of de training or less training than a period previously to it. So to begin this off the bike series of episodes here on the train right podcast, I wanna start with general education about what de training is, why it’s needed, and give you some real world tips on how best to implement it into your off season. So what is de training? Well, a good definition that I’ve always kind of applied is it’s a loss of performance adaptations, which occur by a reduction or cessation of training. And that’s coming from both gay and MoCA’s research on the topic of de training. If you Google, well, I, I’ll include that in on the show notes as well, but there are some preeminent authors on discussing what happens with an athlete who is de training. But simply put, it’s a decrease in volume, intensity

Adam Pulford (02:58):

And or frequency or a combination of everything. <Laugh>. To put it even more simply, you could just stop training and you start de training. So don’t overthink it. It’s taking a break. However, when we class, when we call it de training, and, and you start to look at


the physiological phenomenon that happened, it’s, it’s pretty interesting. So you, it should also be noted that de training can be intentional or unintentional, meaning in intentional, you plan it into the season. You plan a time period where you don’t do training to help recover and do a bunch of other things that we’ll discuss. Or sometimes, you know, it happens unintentionally. You get an injury, there’s a like a, a family issue that may come up a big life change, that sort of thing where you just take a chunk of time away from normal training.


And so in a well-planned training program, a period of de training should, in my opinion, exist. It has a duration component to it. It’s, it’s longer than a recovery week, but it’s not so long that adaptation loss has become more permanent. And we’ll get into what that means a little bit more. So in Bosque, in MoCA’s work, you know, straight straighten to the point where somewhere between three and four weeks is what the research really concludes on this where de training is enough to unload from the previous accumulation of training stress built up, but it’s not causing long term loss or damage to performance. So why is this useful? It’s, it’s really prevent injury, burnout, staleness and overuse injuries. Even if you’re still, you know, doing training loads you know, heavy training loads into kind of the, the fall, or let’s just say like into the 11th and 12th month of the year, you know, the body can plateau or not adapt to training.


So taking a break can help prevent some of that bowel adaptation from occurring. Also, stress accumulating over time is not just in the body, it’s in the mind. So mental stress is unloaded during this time period as well, which can lead to just a, you know, breath of fresh air or better motivation for the next round of training that, that occurs. It also helps the athlete, it gives them the platform to go to another level of performance in the following season. So, again, as I said in my intro is everything builds on itself, where we’re not talking about a de training period where you go down to zero, and I’ll get into a little bit more of that, but we’re talking about just a layering approach so that you build into something bigger and better than the year prior.


So how do you de train effectively? Well, first, as I’ve already said, there’s a duration or time span associated with doing it right and doing it well for a, a given athlete one week, generally not long enough, it’s, it’s, you’ve got too much, you know, if you’ve been training quite a bit, okay, let’s just call it, you know, 12 to 20 hour weeks on a regular basis for, you know, 10, 11, 12 months. This is the type of training program where you’ll need de training. And where one week easy is not enough to do the de training that we’re talking about. Three to four weeks is more appropriate. And after four weeks of doing essentially zero training, you, you do start to go backward. So, you know, even if it’s a total cessation or stopping of training, you know, which could be your, your de training phase by the way, like that’s a very appropriate, well, I mean, it’s, it’s an aggressive resting approach, but it’s very appropriate.


You’re not gonna die if you don’t train for four weeks, okay? Just be a normal human being. It’s fine. We’ll talk about a couple different ways to do it, but after four weeks, the literature does show that you could be moving backwards in the way of aerobic capacity reduction in VO two max, as well as some anaerobic markers. So you don’t want to let it go longer than a month. So during this de training phase, you need to decrease everything, volume, intensity and frequency. I’m gonna give you some like, big ranges of numbers here, but the common theme is just reduce everything, okay? These, these wide range of numbers come from both research and kind of my, my practice and coaching, but volume, you can decrease it from 60 to a hundred percent, meaning over half to zero training, okay? Like we talked about, cessation of training, intensity can decrease by 32, a hundred percent, meaning you’re not doing, you know, any training impulses into the system.


And I’ll get into time periods of, of how this can exist, but really the intensity we’re talking about is you know, zone one training on a, on a pre zone system, call it, if you were using like at cts for using more of a six zone seven zone system, we’re talking about zone two endurance aerobic training. So the predominant intensities coming from that zone two endurance, and then frequency, that should decrease, okay? And just be less than what you were doing before. I think that if you got a couple rest days, if you’ve been riding, you know, six days a week, bringing it down to four days a week, <laugh> over time, that’s good. I’ll get into a few more examples, but just think less than what you were doing before. So, you know, data, I, I talk about data, I talk about the richness of data, the importance of data. So coach ap, where’s the data in, in this, right? Well, everybody

Adam Pulford (08:54):

Loves ctl and it’s a metric that people like to call fitness. And I, and I’ve described why that’s not accurate, it’s adjacent to fitness, but it’s a very useful metric in tracking overall stress and accumulated stress, trends of stress over time. And that gives you rich insights into more about the status of the athlete freshness and <laugh> and lack of freshness, right? So I’m gonna encourage you to, as opposed to a number or an absolute in ctl, I want you to start thinking more about the relative ctl. I think as endurance coaches, physiologists and athletes, we’ve done a very good job of, of putting out absolute CTL numbers as benchmarks in certain sports or categories of what to shoot for, for certain events, okay? And that’s good. I I, I think it’s appropriate to shoot for some of those as high points during the season or holding a certain CTL in order to accumulate some aerobic goals.


But it’s, it’s not the end all be all, as I’ve gone over in, in, in other episodes on the, on the podcast, but we are actually very terrible about disassociating from these numbers. Meaning we, we put emotion to holding a high ctl, for example, or we put emotion into running a low ctl because we don’t want that bec again, when it’s called fitness. People want a lot of fitness, right? And they identify with a high number and they pride themselves on. So in my opinion, it’s better to think about CTL always in terms of relative or relativity. We need to think about CTL as high low in trends. So high periods, low periods, and what the trend is telling us, or ramp rates. Some people call, look, look at that as, as a ramp rate ramping up in CTL or ramping down. So once you can wrap your head around more of a relative trend in ctl, meaning the number means nothing.


It’s all about where my CTL is going, where it was, and what I want it to do. I think that is a more appropriate relationship with ctl. Okay? So then you realize that the number itself is neither good nor bad. It’s the goal of what you want out of your fitness. And now as we talk about, cuz we all know that when we’re say building fitness, we’re in a, you know, a base to build period in general. Yeah, CTLs going up, right? So in a de training phase though, what’s the goal? We want CTL to come down, okay? That’s the trend that we want. That’s the goal that we want. And say, you know, if we’re working with these numbers again, like how much should it come down? Again, it’s all relative, right? So it doesn’t matter as much as it does come down.


And I’ll, and I’ll shape some numbers up here and, and not contradict myself, but I’ll, I’ll give for those number lovers, I will give you some numbers here in, in a minute. And then how long should it take for it to come down? Well, it’ll come start coming down in week one, Okay? The duration component that we’re talking about here, again, three to four weeks. And so it’ll stair step down over time, over that duration. So what about the feelings or the qualitative data that we implement is, is you know, athletes and, and we, we want to read about as coaches. Well, you know, those, those are feelings really. How does, how, how did the workout feel? How did you feel this week, this recovery week? We’re still humans. We’re not robots. So tune into your body to know th itself, so to speak.


And be honest with yourself by decreasing your CTL through training, you’ll start to feel more fresh. You’ll, you’ll start to feel better. Now, in the short term, you’ll, your brain and your body will feel a little funky because it’s, it’s used to carrying such a high load, okay? Or a high stress level. But be patient, get through that kind of addiction to train, really, and you’ll start to see that the muscles in the heart and your vitality start to come up. That’s great. That’s what we want. And keep going too, because you’ll need to kind of fight some of these cravings to do your training. And you’ll look at those numbers and you wanna pull it back up, but just keep going because you will feel better. And that’s the goal. Tune into yourself. And what we want out of this de training period is for you to really hit a good reset button, okay? Total reset mind and body so that you can start the next phase of training the next base or build whatever’s coming next. You can start that a hundred percent fresh with no hindrances from the past year of training. That’s the end goal with de training.


Okay? So what about the data coach? Well again I’ve been happy this discussion with several athletes and coaches over the past several weeks, which is a bit of, you know, what’s shaped up some of this this, this podcast or this episode I should say, but it’s also something that I’ve been practicing just in my own coaching for, for some time, right? So as I reviewed how I kind of work it with my athletes, I, I started to find a few trends. So what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna give you what I think works, in my opinion, in my coaching practice, and you can use it, you can sh but shape it, change it for your own needs. But just know that the,

Adam Pulford (14:50):

What I’m using is my opinion and I’m pulling it from some of the latest research I’m pulling it from using it in the success rate with my athletes and on myself over the years. So what is Coach aps recipe for de training? Well, goes back to that duration component, right? Three weeks dedicated to de training in the first week, Stay off the bike, complete no train, no nothing <laugh>, okay? And that can, that can be a complete cessation right from the bike or, and I would encourage everyone to stay off the bike if you were a a cyclist because it’s a great exercise both mentally and physically for getting you to wean yourself off. You can do, I mean, you can walk, you can hike, you can get back into yoga if that’s in your practice, you can still like do some movement, you know, I’m not saying sit on the couch all week every week, but like, just get away from it.


Be a normal human being, okay? Just think differently, be differently. It’s okay. Okay. So then week two and three, this is where we come back to the bike, but not, not as much, right? We want a decreased frequency. We want zone two, zone one rides. And this is also where I’ll encourage you to do other things off the bike as well. Walking, hiking, yoga, maybe some strength training if you’ve been doing it all, all year round and you can come back and do some like light coordination, activation movements, the that type of thing. However, remember we’ve reduced volume, we’ve reduced intensity, and we’re still in a reduction of frequency. So if you were say, riding, you know, six days a week before, we’re now riding three to four times a week, and maybe you add some other stuff in, and so maybe you’re moving and sweating five or six days a week, but it’s very short.


It’s to the point, it’s not intense. If you are riding four to five days per week in your normal kind of training habits, try reducing down to two or three times a week. Go for walks, just keep it light, get fresh air, get some sunshine. We really, we, we want still good habits of, of being healthy, but we just wanna pull down that, that training stress, pull down the training load and you can do that over those, those next couple weeks. Now, in the fourth week, I will say this one, you know, it can go either way. One, you can continue on as you were with just aerobic rides and, and just keep on with that reset. But the fourth week, I, I typically find that for most people who are doing, you know, that again, 12 to 20 hours a week of training kind of on average you know, three weeks of, of de training as I just described it, that’s a pretty good reset. And by the fourth week we’re gonna start to ramp back up in a base building mode, meaning still zone two, but that’s where I’d start to add in more frequency,

Adam Pulford (17:48):

Maybe back to six days a week or back to whatever you were doing before adding in strength training and start to build for the next season. However, at fourth week, you know, if you need more time, take it totally fine. I’ve had athletes, you know, carry this out into six weeks, okay? But they are still aerobic, doing aerobic stuff, so they’re, you know, maintaining and they are not. My point is, is don’t take four weeks completely off where you are just on the couch. You will start to go backwards after that fourth week, okay? But if you are doing, you know, training sessions four or five days a week on the bike, you’re, you’re maintaining the, all that stuff’s not gonna go away. So don’t be scared with this. You can run this out for several weeks, but in my call it recipe, it’s typically three weeks of pretty good reduction by the fourth week start to turn it back up and then we get back into good habits.


What happens with your ctl? It goes down, remember, and it kind of a broad range of how far it goes down. It’s between 15 and 30%, okay? What that means is if, if you are kind of hovering around a hundred, maybe 110 CTL for the season, that means you’ll come down to 70 or 80 ish CTL in about three or four weeks. You can go lower if you want. It’s completely fine, especially if you’re, you know, master’s level rider, if you are a weekend warrior, if you’re racing Cris that race a mountain bikes, that kind of stuff. Here’s the goofy part. If you are, you know, racing a full national calendar or if you’re recent some huge travel races and your ctl you had 120 plus, right? And really carrying a high load, you can still 30 perc, you can still go down 30%.


In fact, the more CTL you had, the more hand the barn you got. So you can drop that even lower. That’s the good news for those who are a little bit more time crunched. If you didn’t have such a high ctl, you don’t need to drop so low. And in fact, I encourage you not to drop as low. Okay? So maybe, maybe two weeks of like cessation one and then that third week you bring it back up and then you fall back into good habits. The reason I say that with a time crunched athlete is because you don’t have as much he in the barn to burn, burn up, okay? You don’t wanna let your fitness drop cuz it’ll be harder to get it back up. But for those who are running higher CTLs, you can afford that and you need it, right? Those who were only training six to eight hours a week on average, you know, you’re not as physically stressed as those who are doing 20 hour week. That’s how it works. Don’t forget to tune into your mind and body for these signs of increased motivation and desire to start training again in that third and fourth week. Okay? Sure. Look at the numbers. You can use some of

Adam Pulford (20:46):

These numbers that I, that I gave you to help shape up what you’re doing and maybe add a little bit more confidence. But man, tune in, tune in your body because your body knows it’s smart and when you listen to it, things go a lot better. So, in summary, the point here is to take time away from harder training and be intentional about it. De training is a very appropriate thing to do in endurance training. And it’s part, in my opinion, it’s part of a proper, properly built training program. It’s there to help you be successful for where you go next. And it’s for your mind and body both. We can use data and metrics to do this, but you don’t really need to do it. Don’t overthink it. Lean into less in three to four weeks of lessness, beginning with, you know, just complete stopping of what you’re doing and then get into some light aerobic work after that.


That is the recipe for success here. Let your CTL decrease, let your ATL drop, let your TSB go wild. It’s totally fine. You’ll be more thankful and you’ll be more successful in the long run when you come back to training after you’ve done a proper de training, You do all that, right? You’ve got the, you’ve got the motivation, you’ve got the energy and the capacity to handle even more than you did in the previous year and to handle it when it actually matters. So final words here is lean into some de training time here this fall, especially if you’ve had a huge season. You’re due for some, some off season <laugh>. This is the first of a few episodes I have centered around this off the bike. What can you do to improve yourself and improve your performance for the upcoming season? So tune in here in, in the next couple of weeks for that next episode. And that’s all for now.


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