Off-season is the time of the the year where everything slows down. Of course it’s different in Spain or France, compared to the rest of Europe. If you live in Poland, Austria or Norway, the weather doesn’t really allow one to train outside, but you can see the they are preparing for the next race in Spain, or riders training in t-shirts in France. But, in general, this period should be similar in any place in the world.
The season is always very intense, it doesn’t matter if you’re a competitor or not. Because of good weather and competitions around the corner, you have more motivation to push your riding. Keeping the same amount of intensity for too long might be counterproductive. Because “recovery” is not only sleeping, it’s also the mental processes, and to balance many months in a high gear, one or two weeks off are not enough. An overstimulated nerve system needs to recover. The most problematic thing about that, if you don’t get the recovery after the season, is that this type of over-training is hard to detect. You might feel quite normal, but your level might stagnate or even have a small regress. It’s very hard to get out of this hole, so to avoid that, you should act in advance and tackle the off-season smart and with a plan.
What to do in the off-season?
First of all, take big step back, and take a look at your riding from a bigger perspective, and evaluate yourself. This process takes time, your mind needs at least one or two weeks to do all the analysing. After this, you’ll get a kind of recipe for what to do in off-season.
The off-season is also a good time to change some habits, because in the season not many people are willing to invest training time into changes. In the season you want to ride as much as possible, and probably not think too much about your (bad) habits. But, there are bad habits everywhere, from eating, warm-up and recovery, to technical parts of trials, like wrong takeoff position for jumps, bad preload position, or wrong body position in jumps to front, etc. All this can be fixed, but it takes time and should be done without any rush and with consistency. The winter is the perfect time for that, and the sooner you start, the faster you’ll improve.
One of the most important parts of the off-season is to prepare the body for the next season. Physical training has become really popular in trials, but it’s still missing some quality. But, more strength coaches are involved and it’s getting better. If you’ve never done any physical preparation before, the off-season is a great time to start. Going to the gym with the same attitude as when you’re going for a walk (Just go there for fun), will not really give that much in return, and it can also bring problems. Just look at strength training like any other sport (Actually a bunch of sports: Bodybuilding, power lifting, weightlifting, functional training). Would you want to do anything in the gym without even a basic knowledge? You have to invest some of your time to learn it first.
I would say that normally there is only about 5% of the people in a gym that know what they are doing. If you belong to the other 95%, it’s a waste of time. If you go there to be healthier and stronger, you should put a lot of attention to it. Incorrect technique might cause joint or muscle problems, which disables you to come back to the gym the next day. There is a huge amount of knowledge needed to safely execute physical training in the gym, so invest in the education, because that’s something you’ll keep for the rest of your life.
Let’s say you want to dedicate the off-season to physical training. In my opinion, physical preparations for the next season should be based on your weak points. I think heavy squats are not going to solve all your problems. The body works like a chain, if one part is weak, all the other parts are going to suffer. As I’ve mentioned in my e-book, trials is not a very natural sport for the body, and it can cause problems with the pelvis position, the foot arch, overloaded forearms, etc. The more time you don’t work on it, the faster problems can come, and it’s really not only about the presence, it’s more about the future next five, ten or fifteen years. Injury prevention is for me as a coach the most important part of strength training. Increasing your leg power to jump higher is also very important, but it’s not the main goal.
You also need to know that imitating trials riding in the gym, so-called sport specific training, is not the best idea, especially not during off-season. Torturing the nerve system with the same movement patterns all year around, will not let it recover properly. That’s why the off-season gym plan should be very versatile, to build a solid foundation.
I would choose the same way of thinking for conditioning training. For competition riders, you can easily see how extreme the level of endurance trials demand these days. The sections look more like speed trials, a short or even tiny stop, or a small mistake, automatically kick you out for time. For amateurs, conditioning training will simply give you more fun when riding. You will be able to ride longer lines, and combining different moves, and also recover faster and thus be ready for next bike session sooner. To work on your conditioning, high intensity interval training is a good method, but not for the whole year. There are endless amounts of options for improving aerobic capacity out there, so make a conditioning plan with lots of variety.
On the bike
On the bike, there is finally time to take a closer look at the basic technical aspects, from standing still to rear wheel control. Learn new techniqes like the frenchie, up to front or static hook, etc. Maybe some changes on the bike or stem/handlebar setup. Something that is very interesting, is to try to use completely unusual methods, not really related to trials as a discipline itself, like for example: Be on the bike for four minutes without touching the ground; go through medium obstacles, but with technical focus, complete 3-4 sets during training. It can be challenging and fun at the same time.
If you want to construct a plan, remember to split the entire off-season into smaller parts, for example months, and set some special focus or goals to every part. This kind of long term planning will give you a better chance at reaching your goals.