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Why We Need an Off-Season, with Dr. Andy Pruitt

We sit down with Dr. Andy Pruitt to discuss the physiological and psychological needs of athletes, and how an off-season is crucial to meeting those needs.

Cyclist in front of sunset
Photo: Chris Kendall on Unsplash

Taking time off can feel strange, but it’s absolutely necessary. Why do you need an off-season? We sit down with Dr. Andy Pruitt to discuss the physiological and psychological needs of athletes, and how an off-season is crucial to meeting those needs.

Episode Transcript

Caley Fretz 00:00
Welcome to Fast Talk the Velonews podcast and everything you need to know to ride like a pro.

Trevor Connor 00:11
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Dr. Andy Pruitt 00:33
So it’s well documented that Osteopenia Osteoporosis in the in the chronic cyclist is a really dangerous thing so that offseason is a time for us to hike and run and ski and do some things with impact to stimulate our skeleton. One day a weightlifting throughout the season can help us maintain skeletal strength, but I could name five aspiring young men that never reach their potential because of Osteoporosis before they were 25. So it’s a very frightening thought because it’s almost irreversible.


Caley Fretz 01:04
Welcome back, everybody to Fast Talk the Velonews performance Podcast. I am Caley Fretz. sitting right next to as always, Coach Trevor Connor. We have a good one for you today. Trevor, what are we talking about?

Trevor Connor 01:16
Today we are discussing because it’s the fall why you a cyclist need an offseason. This is a really big one for me. And we have a guest here today who is very much on the same page. So welcome Dr. Pruitt.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 01:29
Yep, thank you.

Trevor Connor 01:30
And there are so many things you do how would you introduce yourself?

Dr. Andy Pruitt 01:36
and multitasker, I would say that currently I’m the Sports Medicine Consultant to CU Sports Medicine and Performance Center as well as Specialized Bicycles. I do a lot of Oh, my guess my role emphasis these days, I’ve retired from clinical practice, but I still do a lot of biomechanical analysis, a lot of injury prevention product design work with three different pro tour teams, you know, some retired but not.

Trevor Connor 02:05
Yeah I would say not. So I was getting a bike fit this morning and all year, I’ve been dealing with some back pain that I’ve seen a bunch of doctors or nobody can help me. So Dr. Pruitt walked in, in the middle of my bike fit, just goes “Trevor get off the bike.” starts feeling around in my back goes, do you have any idea what’s going on? Yeah, you got arthritis in your heel five and just told me everything I need to do and what’s wrong and two minutes he figured out what I haven’t solved in six months.

Caley Fretz 02:31
It’s like magic.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 02:32
Yeah, Its all in the touch.

Trevor Connor 02:36
So we are very excited to have this conversation with Dr. Pruitt because he is all about keeping your body functional, which is something that’s very important. We’re also going to hear from two other cyclists. Svein Tuft will talk to us a little bit about cross training and Ted King is going to talk about why he likes to get off the bike in the offseason. So this is a good one. This is an important one. We’re excited. So let’s make it fast.

Trevor Connor 03:02
So let me start with whenever I tell athletes, or a lot of times when I tell athletes that they need to take some time off the bike in the offseason, I get that, but I’ll lose my fitness and I actually pulled this out. I found my old exercise physiology textbooks. From 15 years ago now it’s scary. and looked at what it said in terms of d training. And it had all these horrible statistics like your VO2 max drops, it drops 7% in 12 days, Stroke Volume, which is an important adaptation drops 11% in 12 days, your Mitochondrial Activity drops 50% in just a week. This is a grim picture that if you get off the bike, you are going to be getting beat by your grandma within a within a week’s time. Also interesting. Well respected physiologist Ronstadt recently published a study in 2014, saying that cyclists seem to reach the season in better shape if they did some high intensity intervals about every 7 to 10 days during their off season. So there are certainly a lot of arguments out there that you shouldn’t get off the bike, you shouldn’t stop training. We don’t agree. So Dr. Pruitt why don’t we hand it over to you quickly and get some thoughts on why not?

Dr. Andy Pruitt 04:21
Well, if I was to flip your notebook that you were just reading from I was to flip it over. The other side of that is yes, there are some physiological changes that happen rather quickly. But the other question is, how quickly do you get them back once you resume training, so there’s not a great cost and in my experience to taking the time off, and the upside is mental freshness. The offseason gives you a chance to work on necessary things. You talked about your back Trevor, you know, this offseason, that’s going to be your assignment. That’s going to be your assignment to totally solve your back issue so that when you get back on the bike, whatever your desired off time is, whether that be six weeks or eight weeks you get back on your bike, you’re your back injuries resolved. Mental freshness I think is a huge piece of the offseason. It’s just, it’s just so important. Now, does the offseason mean that you can’t be active? Not at all, you can do those high intensity intervals that you mentioned, doing a totally different sport. Whether that be running, swimming, Nordic skiing, rollerblading, you can use a whole different Musculoskeletal System that does require cardiovascular work to maintain a lot of those cardiovascular physiological changes. If you don’t want to have negative you can you can fight that battle, doing other activities and keep that freshness.

Cycling Adaptations

Trevor Connor 05:38
So you brought up an interesting point or question of how quickly do those adaptations come back? I’ve certainly seen some some research on that what has been your experience,

Dr. Andy Pruitt 05:49
I can’t go with the research. I’ve not looked at it recently. But in my feeling, I think that we don’t lose significant physiological abilities for about 20 days of non so the guy gets hurt, right, he’s laid up in the hospital for seven days, he gradually gets back on his bike the next seven days, and wham, you know, he comes back fresh, he does a few intervals does a couple layers of base. And he’s right back where he was before he got injured, I think they come back really, really fast. What happens in my experience is that we lose our pain tolerance both mentally and physiologically to hard work, right, you still have the motor, the motor didn’t change that much. But you just you don’t have that pain tolerance, that lactic acid and all the other factors. So I think at 20 days, you really haven’t lost much except for your pain tolerance. If you, during that 20 days are doing one set of an intensive exercise every seven days, you’re probably not going to lose. lose that

Caley Fretz 06:50
In that time, though. So if we’re talking about you know, what, beginning of November ish, it’s gonna, it’s going to depend on how everyone’s structured their season, whether you’re racing, cyclocross, things like that. Whenever that time is, you’re going to take your two or three weeks off. I mean, what do you lose? You said you lose a bit of sort of pain tolerance and things like that there must be some physiological change. I mean, anybody who’s ever been off the right for a while you get back on you feel a little bit crap? Why exactly is that maybe we dig into that before we talk about why those things don’t matter so much.

Trevor Connor 07:17
So let me throw a theory I’ve been for me based on a lot of the reading I’ve done, Dr. Pruitt but please feel free to call bs on the on this.

Trevor Connor 07:31
And I’m trying to think of better terms for this. But I personally believe they’re their two main categories of adaptations, and all literature, these talk about central versus peripheral adaptations. And that’s starting to get thrown out

Caley Fretz 07:45
what are those just real quick.

Trevor Connor 07:47
So central been when you’re talking about oxygen delivery, you know, how well your heart can pump blood, that sort of thing. peripheral is what’s going on in the muscles, that ability to take up the oxygen and use the oxygen to do work, its ability to use substrates for fuel, that sort of thing.

Caley Fretz 08:03
The theory being that the central things stick around longer when you start to detrain.

Trevor Connor 08:07
Well, If you go really back they used to believe base training, trained your central conditioning and high intensity trained your peripheral. And like I said, there’s been a lot that’s come out since it’s saying that isn’t so nicely divided. I personally, what I feel I’ve been seeing is much more, there are structural changes. And there are what I’m this is where I’m trying to find a better term, more biochemical changes and enzymatic changes. And that’s even when you talk about losing your ability to tolerate the pain. Your catecholamines are your natural painkiller, right? They just disappear when you stop training. So all of a sudden, it’s not that your body is suddenly hurting more, it’s just your body isn’t masking that anymore

Dr. Andy Pruitt 08:09
Correct, that’s my whole point. It’s not masking it. Yeah, but the, but the motor is still intact.

Caley Fretz 08:33
So basically, your body sort of creates its own Advil and it stops creating its own Advil when you get off the bike for a while.

Trevor Connor 09:01
Exactly. But one of the issues with those Catecholamines is they actually hamper tissue repair. So if you’re trying to get your body put back together, you’ve done a lot of damage with a lot of racing, it’s actually good to clear those Catecholamines out and let your body rebuild. It just hurts when you ride your bike. Exactly right.

Caley Fretz 09:19
What else? What else are we losing? I mean, are we losing any of these things that we used to call central conditioning is any of that stuff really going away?

Biochemical versus Structural

Dr. Andy Pruitt 09:26
So going, let’s go back to this distinction of the biochemical versus the structural. And so the example I give this is probably getting quite technical. So let me give you a visual. One of the biggest adaptations that you see in endurance athletes is stroke volume, which is basically how much blood can your heart pump per beat. Our bodies have two ways to improve stroke volume. One is to basically increase the size of the left ventricle of your heart so they can fill up with more blood and pump more blood like making a bigger fellow. The other way is to To increase your blood volume, so that it’s like putting your thumb on the end of a hose, you now have more pressure in there, and you’re going to push more blood through the heart with each beat. So that increased blood volume I think of is more that biochemical change the, the increase in the size of your heart is the structural change. Problem is a lot of these more biochemical changes are a real stressor on your body, your body doesn’t necessarily like them. It prefers the structural changes. My belief is that when you get off the bike for a bit, biochemical changes are the ones that disappear. So they’ve even shown that in the literature that your blood volume is going to return to normal and about the structural changes, they did a study with Tour de France, athletes who stopped cycling and 10 years later, they still had that increased heart. So the big changes, the ones that take years to develop, you get off the bike, they’re not changing,

Dr. Andy Pruitt 10:53
right? So I don’t think those things happen totally in separate silos, right. They happen simultaneously. But I do believe that the physical changes the ventricles, musculature is a lifelong asset that you’ve earned, the stroke, or the the fluid volume comes and goes, I mean, the way we gain and lose weight so quickly, as athletes, a lot of that is fluid volume. So you finished a stage race for a couple days, you might have you might have gauge, oh my god, I gained weight during this three day stage race. No, you didn’t you gain fluid volume, and you’re gonna pee it away over the next next 48 hours. And all of a sudden, you’re, you’re back to where you were. So the fluid volume can go up and down, as the body needs. Absolutely.

Caley Fretz 11:34
From like an evolutionary perspective, are these the sort of things that they’re just responses to short term stress, right? They’re our body’s response to something really bad happening, which actually, that’s what training is, right? It’s, your body’s terrified, trying to figure out how to make itself better at doing this than that you’re trying to make it do. And that’s why they go away so quickly, because they are they’re essentially, they’re designed to be temporary measures.

Trevor Connor 11:58
The way I think of it is if you start putting these stresses on your body, again, it goes back to we weren’t designed for sports, we were designed for hunting and running away from lions. So if you’re putting your body through a lot of strain, it’s saying, Okay, I’ve got to improve you in the long term. So you can handle this and permanently handle this. But in the meantime, I got to make sure that a lion doesn’t eat me. So I got to figure out a very quick way that I don’t like as much to bring about these adaptations. Well, I do the longer term structural change.

Caley Fretz 12:28
Which includes the natural body Advil that I can’t pronounce right. Yes, yes. Cool. So just making sure I understand all of this.

Trevor Connor 12:35
You know, I looked at a couple studies this morning. And when you look at the structural changes, I may have found one review from 2012 in the European Journal of physiology that said straight out, no detraining effect instructional adaptations, that’s actually a quote from step right. And they go on another one goes on to say, no real drop in Muscle Depolarization, the, heres one for you the AVO2 difference remains for about three weeks. and the muscle fiber distribution, no real change all these structural things. You don’t have to worry too much about what these are. But all these structural changes, you can get off the bike. They’re not they have some resistance, you really don’t see this.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 13:16
They have significant longevity, for sure. The the athlete’s heart, this enlarged ventricle. You know, we didn’t understand not that many decades ago that we didn’t really understand it. I remember Davis Finney came to see me back in the back in the early 80s. And he’d broken a rib and I throw up his X ray up on the view box. And you know, the vultures gathered quickly look at Davis’s broken rib and one of my colleagues at my God, look at his heart, call the cardiologist. This is dangerous. not dangerous at all. It was Davis Finney is a gigantic heart. And he still got it today. Right. So we didn’t understand that enlarged heart was a good thing. It was a good adaptation, we now understand that is a good adaptation. I guarantee you that we X ray Davis today at age 50, late 50s. I guarantee you his heart looks the same as it did back 30 years ago.

Other Reasons Athletes Take Time Off

So this brings us to the purpose of an offseason, which we’ve kind of touched on a little bit already. It sounds like to me, one of the big reasons you do this is to kind of allow your body to get rid of some of these temporary improvements we can call them I guess from a from an athletic perspective, what are the other reasons why athletes really do need to take time off?

Dr. Andy Pruitt 14:31
A good athlete has an addictive personality, they’re addicted to the routine, they’re addicted to their exercise. And so we got to you know, we’ve got to be careful just to take them off their bike, right and they’re gonna they’re gonna revolt. So they can ride their bike, they can still do low level based training throughout this process. And then that’ll help actually flush out some of these bad biomechanical things. We kind of want to rid ourselves so continuing to do a low level base training that that’s acceptable two or three days a week. Go ride your bike, so they don’t have to feel like they’re, we’ve taken their cocaine away from them. I think that’s an important time to heal, right to address things that you have not been able to address during a busy training and racing season, it’s crucial. So you get some mental freshness, you get some chance to take care of your injuries. Biggest part for me is to maybe exploit a weakness and really drill into it. So your sprint was falling off at the end of the season. Hey, go to the gym. This build those glutes is built to build those explosive muscles, which you don’t want to do during the season because the tracks that soreness you would get from the gym was going to detract from your training program. So using the offseason for mental freshness to zero in and fix injuries and zero in to fix weaknesses that are going to make you a better cyclist in the long run. To me that’s all the argument that I would need. Leave science behind. I mean, that’s that, to me, that’s science supports that argument. For me, that’s that’s those are the important things.

Caley Fretz 15:58
Because we are humans that all, we are not robots, not athletic robots.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 16:02
You know, you know, we don’t talk about physiological changes and and biochemical changes. We didn’t talk about the skeleton. Cycling is well documented in causing some osteoporotic changes in bone density changes. So it’s a non weight bearing activity without a heel strike without impact. So it’s well documented that Osteopenia, Osteoporosis in the in the chronic cyclists is a really dangerous thing. So that offseason is a time for us to hike and run, and ski and do some things with impact stimulate, stimulate our skeleton, one day, a weightlifting throughout the season, can help us maintain skeletal strength. I can’t because of confidentiality, but I could name five aspiring young men that never reach their potential because of Osteoporosis before they were 25. So it’s a very frightening thought, because it’s almost irreversible, without without medicines. So let’s keep our skeleton strong out there. For you cyclists Absolutely.

Trevor Connor 17:05
Again, being older. I still am a great about it lately, as Dr. Brooke and say, I used to be very good about two three times a week I get off my bike, or we need to get out of my cycle because I just throw my running shoes. And I do five minutes of lunch jumps. I do five minutes of jumping jacks all these things just to get that back.

Trevor Connor 17:23
This is actually a good time for us to hear from Ted King, who is a pro tour rider with TMZ. With netscaler.

Caley Fretz 17:28
He’s retired.

Trevor Connor 17:30
He’s a pro tour rider with nobody he was a pro tour rider,

Dr. Andy Pruitt 17:33
I would say just retired

Trevor Connor 17:35
keeping me up to date.

Trevor Connor 17:37
But I talked to Ted a couple years ago about an offseason. And here’s a top level cyclist who talked about why it was important for him to get out the bike. So let’s hear from him quickly.

Trevor Connor 17:48
I mean, for sure, I’ll take a few weeks off. I mean, a lot of it’s gonna depend on the race calendar for one. So typically, I’m done racing in late September. And then I’m typically back on the bike training for the following season by earlier or mid November, which obviously then sees the month of October, as a big chunk of time off, which, at the pro tour level is off, an entire month is maybe par for the course or a little bit long.

Trevor Connor 18:26
Do you find without a month off? When you get back on the bike? Do you notice any change in your fitness? Or do you find that that month really doesn’t affect you?

Pro Cyclist Point of View

Svein Tuft 18:36
Yeah, you most obviously, notice a difference If you look at your fitness on a scale, where you know, sort of as waves or peaks, you know, your fitness is going to peak at a certain point like call it or you’re peaking for July or or you know, spring races to California, whatever it is, you feel like you’re flying on a bike and you obviously are you’re producing better numbers than you ever have your light your fit. And then in the offseason, you lose a great deal of that. I mean, without sounding like an ass, you know, inevitably your form if and this is going to be a world of difference between the first time you’re riding for that next season and the peak of the season.

Trevor Connor 19:21
So are there any signs that you notice when you get on that first ride that just says, Wow, something’s happened, you know, changes in heart rate changes and power reset the obvious drop in your power any different feel in your legs, that sort of thing?

Svein Tuft 19:36
You’re pretty darn refreshed. So your heart rates gonna be more newly spiked. I mean, and that’s like, that’s sort of a personal physiological thing. Now for some people, it’s really noticeable. For other people, their heart rate won’t be as lethargic in the season, but often them And remember, when you’re getting back into it, you’re not really you’re not putting your body through the super high rigors of midseason training. So, you know, you’re not going to do threshold intervals in the first week of November and therefore, you’re not really testing those power outlets. You just you incrementally build back up.

Trevor Connor 20:18
One of the key questions here is if you do see that drop in fitness, what are your reasons for getting off the bike even for a month before easing back in?

Svein Tuft 20:31
To to stay refreshed, I guess is the best overall answer. You know, it’s refreshing for your body, mind soul. It keeps you from burning out, I guess I mean, towards the end of the season towards August, September, you’re really looking forward to that time off the bike. I mean, physiologically, I’m no race doctor, but they also say that it shows considerable returns, to have an offseason to stay refreshed. You know, you’re not going to peak unless you also take the rest time, otherwise just sort of cruising around at 75% of your capability all the time.

Trevor Connor 21:13
So when you’re taking that month off, what do you typically do during then, and what would you recommend to the readers to do? Both for the mental and the physical side?

Svein Tuft 21:24
I would recommend eating that slice of cake, I would recommend taking your mind completely off the bike and there people are gonna obsess about it. They’re like, Oh, my God, this is the off season I didn’t ride today, I mean people, you know, you see that with injury too. If you have a midseason injury, people are gonna start to freak out that they’re losing fitness by the hour. But if you’ve built up a proper base, then you’re not really going to be at risk nearly as badly as a crazed cyclists mind thinks. So yeah, I mean, don’t think about you should actively think about not thinking about the bike, if that makes any sense. What else? Yeah, I mean, at the same time, I mean, to a degree stay active. I mean, a lot of people go hiking, go skiing, go. I mean, I’m from New England place in hockey. And it’s sort of person by person at this level. I mean, some guys will take the time off entirely and just be a slug. And other people. If he’s buoyant, people are still obsessed about the fitness and so maybe they’re not riding their bike every day but their hiking for three hours a day, which is a little bit nutty.

Trevor Connor 22:53
Is there anything in particular that you focus on? You just kind of have fun, do what you want to do? Or do you try to get in the weight and try to do anything like that?

Svein Tuft 23:02
I don’t, I mean, coming from my background, I’ve spent the first handful years of my career actually trying to lose weight because I was looking, I was trying to lose muscle mass. And that I mean, a lot of that is just going to come down to your coach’s perspective, whether you should be in the gym or not. I’m not a coach, I don’t want to tell people to do it if they want to or not. I think it’s a perfectly good idea. And they want to do it, go for it. I guess the biggest thing I was stressing the offseason is have fun. I mean, not to say that the end season is not fun, but it’s like it’s that one, you know, wide open sort of tabula rasa time to do whatever you want. I mean, within, a modicum of room. I mean, don’t go eating an entire cake every day. But you know, have fun. Go for the hike, go for that. I don’t know. Yeah and its like chill out. You know, I mean, there are so many people obsessed about the sport. And it’s like, it’s so goofy. And I mean, they’re plenty of people keep it within reason, but they’re all to many who do really obsess about it, and it’s like, don’t use a scale, just have a good time. Again, at the end of the day, you’re riding a bike, so can’t take yourself too seriously.

Trevor Connor 24:28
So when you hit the end of that offseason, and you’re getting back into the training, again, what would you imagine you do once you get back on the bike? Yeah,

Svein Tuft 24:39
I mean, I hate giving training advice, to be honest, because I think anybody who takes cycling seriously should use and I think that that’s, you know, it’s basically at that point between the rider and the coach. So just on, I mean, on generic scale and do plyometrics or something if you’ve been completely lazy and you haven’t done anything to get your body ready for the rigors of riding a bike again, you know, you don’t want to jump back into it full bore and be an idiot and give yourself tendonitis the you know, the offseason is also an awesome time to work out any kinks that you have had in the season, maybe you haven’t had a knee injury, but you’ve had sort of a nagging sensation or feeling weird, that just doesn’t feel right and your knee and your hip wherever. So, it’s an awesome time to go see the cycling gurus that Andy Pruitt’s of the world and and sort that out, it’s a really good time to get new cycling orthotics if you need that, or work on a position thing, because you know, you’re gonna, when you start ramping up, again, just the volume and everything you want to do it correctly off the bat rather than being two weeks in and making a considerable change. Good point. I like to think so.

Caley Fretz 25:51
Yeah, so it sounds it sounds like Ted and Dr. Pruitt are basically in total agreement. And we did not know that. We did not know that beforehand. Yeah, all those things make make perfect sense to me. But, Trevor, I wanted to turn back to you. And let’s get some scientific basis. For some of this. I mean, this, this makes sense from just a logic level, and having, you know, spent a lot of time around athletes and having been one myself, all these things make perfect sense. But there must be some science behind it as well, otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to sort of prove that it was so effective.

How Our Bodies Operate

Trevor Connor 26:23
That which is a really good question. For me, the science and this is more a theory that I would love to test. But it goes back to that structural versus the peripheral change, or the structural versus the biochemical changes, which is, our bodies also have a bit of a laziness factor. They like to do whatever is easiest and simplest. And the biochemical changes are easiest and simplest. And when we are doing a lot of high intensity work, and we have those catecholamines flowing, what’s in our bodies aren’t going to be able to repair tissue as well, they are going to be more inclined to say let’s keep pushing those biochemical adaptations. And sorry, taking a quick step back the issue with those biochemical adaptations is they are what push burnout. Structural adaptations are never going to burn you out. But your body is actually out of balance. When you have that really large blood volume when you have the catecholamines flowing. When you have this huge enzymatic activity, you are on a timeline you’re going to burn out. So you need to clear all that out. So your body’s no longer pushing burn out, you need to clear out the catecholamines so when you go for a ride somebody sprints you for a town line side, you go, oh, that hurts, because then your body’s going to be more prone to say, let’s do this the structural changes. There is I have seen science behind that. But that’s as much my theory. It’s my theory based on the science I have been reading and it’s what I tell my athletes in the offseason, or during the offseason, they need to clear it out. And then during the base season really what I want them to do is go out and ride and I say, you know if you did a hard effort right now, would it really hurt and they go Yeah, good your where you need to be

Dr. Andy Pruitt 28:17
right, you’ve rested that does mean they rested. Going back to Ted’s point 75%. So you’re you’re rolling along through your season, trying to maintain your fitness, maintaining fitness, that’s a very difficult thing to do peak fitness, that’s even harder. It’s all about timing, you’re trying to get all these structural changes in the enzymatic changes to occur and to peak at this very right time. For this one event, right that that is total peaking, Tour de France, the Giro the Vuelta any week long stage, or even a three day stage race, you don’t peak for those events, right? I mean, you have to bring yourself up to 75 or 80 and try to hold it through those periods of time. So this whole balance of training and rest is we do it throughout the season. So why not do it in a bigger form in the offseason.

Caley Fretz 29:04
So you can really try to think about hitting those peaks. You basically talking about taking the the the concepts that we’re all familiar with on a micro level in terms of what’s inside a three week block and applying that on a macro level to an entire season. So you were saying this before we turn the microphone on. But yeah, if you if you’re taking three to four days off at the end of a hard block, then that’s that that extrapolated out to the length of a year is three weeks. Exactly. That’s the that’s the whole concept.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 29:27
And I’m not sure three weeks. If I go back to when I first started, you know the 70s and 80s. There was an actual offseason in the pro peloton and the amateur peloton, we tend to try to mirror those guys in some way. Right? The majority of our listeners are gonna be 35 to 55 years old and not gonna ride the tour next year. So I want them to be able to take what we’re talking about using the examples of the pro tour and apply it to themselves. Right. So the old days we had this offseason and it was three months from the World Championships in October. They didn’t They’d come to camp in January fat and happy. And it took them three the classics unless you were a classic specialist we’re used to get the guys in shape it. There’s no more though, right? I mean, the sponsors expect more.

Caley Fretz 30:13
But now guys are flying for toe down under I mean, which is the second week of January,

Dr. Andy Pruitt 30:17
but they’re not the same guy flying

Caley Fretz 30:19
in July.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 30:20
Well, they might, they might fly in July, but they won’t be flying in the spring,

Trevor Connor 30:23
right, which we tried to address in the past podcast, which is people trying to emulate the pros and they will the pros are going really strong in February and look at the length of their season you go point out a single Pro is going strong that whole time.

Caley Fretz 30:35
But teams pay close attention to this and they know which guy is gonna be strong in January and February and they’re not gonna be the same guys that are strong in March and April.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 30:42
Many of these guys are actually taking a month away from competition with a significant rest in the middle of what we think of as our of our season. But they did the Tour de under maybe a couple other February races, they take the month of March away from the sport. So yeah.

How an Off Season Can Make You a Better Athlete Then You Were Before

Caley Fretz 30:58
Which actually brings it brings to mind something that’s happened a couple times recently, which is pros who have had some sort of injury or illness in the middle of the season and came back better than they were before. I mean, look at Matthew Heyman spent like six weeks on a trainer and then won Paris Roubaix. Fabio Aru has this knee injury skips the Giro shows up the Tour de France is flying. Yep. It these things that they’re essentially they’re proof positive that a time off the bike some time off the bike is not season ending. It’s not certainly not career ending. You know,

Dr. Andy Pruitt 31:30
I used to tell patients that got injured somehow in the spring or I said, Well, this is just perfect. You’re gonna be flying come World Championship time, right? I mean, that’s, you just take your clock, take your fitness clock and you’re going to turn it right in, you’re going to change the area of the of the year where you want to be flying. Yeah.

Svein Tuft 31:46
season’s long enough, only people it sucks for is crossriders if you get injured at the wrongtime your seasons to short.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 31:54
So for our listeners that 35 to 55 year old guy or gal that wants to race the full road season, and they want to do cross for offseason training. Wow, your cross is hard. But it’s really, really, really intense. So if you if you use the cross season for your road season, man, the only day that you should go hard is Saturday. And the rest of the week should be in that offseason mode.

Caley Fretz 32:20
So maybe some hard and fast recommendations here. I mean, how long should your average 35 to 55 amateur athlete be taking every year regardless of where that point is? Whether it’s in November, or whether you’re across town, you’re taking, you know, March or whatever? Where should that how long should that period be where you’re not off the bike, but you are most certainly not training?

Dr. Andy Pruitt 32:44
Well. Geography plays a role here. So I spend my time spread between Boulder, Colorado, Morgan Hill, California, and somewhere in Europe. And so the weather and the geography play a big role in those athletes, the guys in California, and Arizona, they ride year round, right, and they have the word that riding around in Colorado, we have the luxury of having Nordic skiing as an outlet or fat biking as a whole new mind clearing refreshing activity, but it’s still very active active recovery. So I think the guys in California have to be far more careful about being burnout in January, then than those of us here.

The Cycling Addiction

Caley Fretz 33:27
So there are I mean, we are talking about athletes here we’re talking about sort of Type A personalities quite frequently, the addiction, the addiction, you see smoke. Exactly. And so you know, there is the concern of sort of anytime you come off of an addiction is some sort of withdrawal.

Caley Fretz 33:40
But maybe like do people need to sort of make a rule for themselves and say, I’m just not going to touch a bike with a power meter for the next what three weeks and what kind of things can we be telling people to do here to make sure that they really get that it with an addiction that they actually get withdrawn from from that addiction for a little while,

Trevor Connor 34:00
what I do with the athletes, I coach and so a lot of the the amateur athletes I work with, they tend to race that late March to July or August season. I like to see them in October, take a week or two completely off the bike and just hang it up. Let’s do some other sports. And let’s make sure we talk a bit about cross training here. I get them back on the bike at the end of October. But what I tell all them and this is a big expression for me. There is nothing you can do in November and December that’s going to make you a superstar in May there is a lot you can do on November and December that’s going to make sure you’ve burned out by then, so I don’t mind my athletes getting back on the bike and starting their training. But let’s not be killing ourselves in November, I’d still like to see them do a fair amount of cross training, still enjoy the ride, still do a lot of off the bike type stuff. And really it’s in January 2 now the serious work really begins

Trevor Connor 35:03
Time for one more quick break. We know you our listeners like to ride. So support the show and check out health IQ life insurance rates specifically for cyclists. You can get a quote at health


Trevor Connor 35:18
let’s get back to the show.

Cross Training

Caley Fretz 35:25
Should we talk about cross training?

Dr. Andy Pruitt 35:26
Well, I think cross training is one of my favorite things that you choose cross training based on what it’s going to do for you. So if Cycling is your primary sport, your cross training activity needs to be something fun, refreshing that contributes to your primary sport, contributes to cycling. Whether that be weightlifting, Whether that be alpine skiing, tele skiing, Nordic skiing, fat biking? Oh, my gosh, what a different sport that is completely huge strength is huge strength, different stances actually different musculature in many ways. So yeah, I’m a big believer in cross training.

Caley Fretz 36:00
Should riders be looking for something that for example, like almost anything that works or core is probably a good idea? Is that the kind of thing that people should be looking for?

Dr. Andy Pruitt 36:06
Okay, what a great segue. The bicycle we are supported mechanically and structurally on the bicycle. And so our core does not get worked on the bike. But our core is crucial to applying power to the pedals. So if you think about a leg press machine with a back on it, you’re really strong as your pressing it, but your core is not firing. Try to do that same amount of work on leg press machine without your back supported.

Caley Fretz 36:35

Dr. Andy Pruitt 36:35
Exactly, exactly. So it’s the core that is your back support for the bicycle. So the bicycle is nothing but a series of leg presses, right, three or four hours of leg presses, but your core so that Why does my back hurt at three hours because your core is not strong enough to maintain that posture and give your leg something to push back against core is crucial. What is core, I suggest you get some either there are really good books out there about core. Think an offseason coach, good physical therapist is a good thing to have. But it’s not beach crunches. It’s not about your six pack or lean it’s more about think about my two crucial core exercises are planks and side planks. Cyclists have to be able to planks and side planks, and they can actually be done in a hotel room year round. If you’re traveling to race. I’m also

Trevor Connor 37:25
going to say a really important one is variety. My nephew got really into cycling and he heard about planks. He got to where he could do a 20 minute 28 minute plank watching a TV show and plank the entire show. And he ended up getting injured because all he did was planks.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 37:44
Okay, can you say addictive personality.

Trevor Connor 37:48
So variety, because there are so many muscles involved in the core. And I agree plank is my favorite for cyclists. core exercise but still get variety.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 37:59
Absolutely. It has to be something more dynamic. That’s a very static exercise some some dynamic core work.

Caley Fretz 38:04
And that’s why if you live up north something like cross country skiing is fantastic. I mean, I know that you know, I was a ski racer in high school and I have I haven’t had a core that strong since. There’s no I think I could spend all day in the gym and I wouldn’t have a strong core is when I was a cross country skier. That kind of thing is great. If you live in the south where you’re not gonna have a lot of snow then maybe you got to spend a little more time in the gym or what else can people do? What other activities are there out there that can that can help the core without without gym time basically for so this

Trevor Connor 38:29
is a great question for Dr. Grove. But before we answer it, take a quick step back. A really important thing to remember about Cycling is this is a horribly imbalanced sport. Even when you look at your legs, we do a huge amount of work with our quads, we almost hardly use our hamstrings. And it’s a very unique sport in that we do virtually no E centric activity and E centric work is essential for injury prevention for strengthen the muscles and so a lot of people ask

Caley Fretz 38:55
what is 500

Concentric versus Eccentric

Trevor Connor 38:57
so if you think of doing a bicep curl, when you are lifting the weight that is the concentric motion that is shortening the muscle concentric. eccentric is when you are lowering that weight when the muscle is forcefully Lengthening or lengthening with tension. We are stronger ecentrically. But you do a lot more damage to the muscle with ecentric work. In the short run that’s what causes Dom’s as it causes muscle soreness. But in the long run, it makes the muscles tougher, they’re more it helps injury prevention. You don’t get any of that on the bike.

Caley Fretz 39:32
How would you How would you get it? Where would you find ecentric work.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 39:35
One of my favorites is down again back to my leg press machine which I happen to love is an explosive concentric movement with a very slow controlled eccentric movement. So you explode the legs into extension and then return slowly. And if you’ve never experienced muscle soreness and you do that a couple times you will experience muscle soreness and the muscle soreness. It’s a downside But it is really an upside because it does build strength and durability to muscles.

Caley Fretz 40:05
It’s a good hurt.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 40:06
It’s a good hurt. Yep. But the problem with the late onset muscle soreness is what you you referred to as Dom’s is that people go, oh my god, I’m so sore, I’m not gonna do that again. Well, you need to do it repetitively and over time. So do it, get over it, do it again, it’ll take you less time to get over it. Do it again, pretty soon you’re able to repeat those activities and not get that muscle soreness.

Caley Fretz 40:29
right. not to go too far down a rabbit hole. But isn’t some of that neuro muscular as well into like your body, your body learns how to not fight itself, and you’re doing this thing. So yeah, it does it as a result, it actually goes away very quickly, because it’s just teaching those pathways. It’s not even necessarily making this stronger.

Trevor Connor 40:45
It has gains for the bike. So I’m actually I’m submitting today an article on the difference between efficiency and economy. And so I was reading a bunch of studies on efficiency. And they have shown that you can actually riding a bike, just riding a bike will not improve your efficiency, adding weight training to your cycling will.

Caley Fretz 41:05
So cross training, vital. Go cross country skiing, hit the gym, a couple of things that people can do, I mean, go for a hike pretty much anything, right?

Dr. Andy Pruitt 41:14
Absolutely, actually, if you hike uphill, aggressively, come downhill slowly. It’s got that’s the leg press with a slow return. It’s also better for your knees to do that. But you’ll build up that muscle durability plyometrics. I think plyometrics are, especially for this sprint aspect of what we do. plyometrics are crucial. It’s explosive activities, but they are very dangerous to do. So you need help any coaching. You need a partner, when actually the partner brings you back to that guy in the south that doesn’t have the snow to go, you know, if he got if he gets an offseason training partner, they can work the medicine balls, there’s so many things you can do with a partner. And you get that social aspect that you’re missing out on that

Caley Fretz 41:54
group bike ride. Right, but easier to get through a core workout when you get somebody else to push us we used to do we used to Trevor’s terrible Tuesday’s back when back when I was a CSU student, and Trevor was our coach, I remember those days, those are good days, I was very sore from those

Trevor Connor 42:07
an hour and a half session. We call it plyometrics. But the fact of the matter was, there was only actually about five minutes. It was core work. It was all around conditioning. And yeah, if you remember, when I introduced it to CSU cycling, it was like why we want to do this. We just want to ride our bikes. I stood up and so we have about 50 people in the room. Yep, I set up in front of them is said, Here’s why you do it. Put up your hand if you have had a knee injury or an overuse injury from riding your bike. And I would say over 50 people in the room probably 30 put up their hand I went, you’re all 20 years old or have you put up your hand. I’m 40 I’ve never had an overuse injury. This is why you do it. There you go, unfortunately, as of this morning, but

Trevor Connor 42:54
back when I was 39

Caley Fretz 42:58
Those are great sessions. They definitely there’s some value to you know, we used to we used to play handball, like we, you know, all sorts of different things. There was a lot of fun in those as well. And that’s definitely sort of, that’s the kind of thing that you can put together with, you know, everyone out there with a cycling team, get your friends together, go do some plyometrics together, get a partner do some core work. You know have some fun

Trevor Connor 43:18
Careful with the plyometrics unless you have somebody who is certified who can show you how to do I agree, but general conditioning is one of my favorites because it very safe is lunge locks.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 43:30
They’re hard

Trevor Connor 43:31
You feel it the next day They’re good. Yep.

Caley Fretz 43:34
So cross country skiing lunge walks plyometrics go for a hike, walk down slowly.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 43:41
The guy down south. I know rollerblading is not cool right now. But it works the gluteus medius, just like Nordic skiing does. And the gluteus medius is little sidewall of your butt, if you will, is so crucial to avoiding knee injury. It helps stabilize the knee in a vertical manner while we’re pedaling. So that that side movement soccer is another great strength center for gluteus medius.

Caley Fretz 44:07
I need some of that.

Trevor Connor 44:09
Actually, a great segue to our conversation was Svein Tuft who like me is a little bit older a cyclist but unlike me, he can still go the Tour de France and sit on the front of the field and make everybody hurt and he loves roller skating. So let’s hear from Svein.

Svein Tuft 44:31
Yeah, well, I’m a huge fan of doing other things for advice. Yeah, it’s something that really, I really tried. If I thought they knew the young guys, it’s definitely something that I try and push. But I just think Cycling is is one where we’re kind of in order like at this level of compete kind of become obsessive about it. And it takes up like all of your time. So I think there’s that mental aspect that that becomes quite unhealthy the connection to, to our sport that way. And then there’s the physical aspect that I think we lose so much kind of range of motion, and general strength through just doing such a symmetrical like, you know, it’s just like you’re on a track and you don’t have any, like other functions and just the thing that you’ve perfected the most which is your pedal stroke. And I think like that’s necessary to be, you know, one of the, whatever you’re trying to achieve in cycling, but at the same time, do that over a long, long career, and essentially become useless, faster, and you know, your bone density drops. And there’s a whole list of things, you know, when you’re young you don’t think about or care about, you know, when you’re 20 years old, and you think that’ll never happen. So for those of you age, exactly realize how much the change affect you. But it’s also it’s just preventing injury. If you’re strong and robust, you have a nice long season. Right? That that’s the big difference.

Trevor Connor 46:16
So do you think all sports then are kind of equal, or there’s some that you find are better for this than others? Are there certain movements that they should be looking for?

Svein Tuft 46:27
I think, in many ways, like there’s not one that’s better than the other, I think they all have their their pluses and minuses. But I personally, I love like backcountry ski for cross country skiing and stuff like this. I think because the same kind of work. A lot of different models that could weaken your legs in cycling, most of they work your glutes and your hamstrings, and kind of like the opposite of what we do in cycling. And I think that’s really important to, again, going back to the injury prevention, you just kind of allow your body to balance the Fall or the Winter or just give you a good kind of basic foundation for the coming season. And yeah, but you know, maybe find me July, August, here, you’ll be whittled down again, and kind of run on reserves. But I think these suits have a huge favor.

Trevor Connor 47:27
do you continue to cross train when you’re even getting into the season and

Svein Tuft 47:32
getting into the base season? Yeah, like, I mean, this year is a little different, because I have a lot of time off, and I’m really going to limit my time on the bike. You know, mountain bike for fun, and I really won’t get serious until January, which is very different from over the past years. But that’s my big emphasis will be on doing many other things. I do a lot of roller skiing when the snows off area, and hiking and climbing. Yeah, just that a lot of other things on the scedule scene, going to the gym, and just really mixing it up saying that, oh, keep busy. So it’s not like I’m just hanging out. You know where I live, you can just hike right from the back door. So every day is awesome, some good niches. So cardiovascularly, you say quite strong. And then when you make that transition to the bike, it’s going to hurt for the next couple of weeks. But I find when you when you say on top of all of these other things, stick it out.

Trevor Connor 48:35
Do you continue any of it through the season? Or at that point? Are you racing and training so hard on the bike? It’s just not a possibility?

Svein Tuft 48:43
Yeah, you know, I try, like, especially the first part of the season where I feel fresh, I try and keep it next and, and stay at it. If you’re injured a lot, that was kind of the key for me to be able to give back for the photographs, because normally would have never been able to but I just hike like a madman and stay up in the high country the whole time. And I think that really allowed me to go on stay focused on on what I had to do to be ready, but also, it just kept me physically in good shape, so that when I was able to get back on the bike, it just came came back right away. So I think again, like I had that foundation, so it wasn’t hard on my body to make. So I crashed and broke my wrist and my sternum. Yeah, so I was like, you know, a lot of times you can’t do much for a while, but I was able to move and hike so I just did that. Because I’ve done so much and more and more spring in the winter in the fall. had that base so I wasn’t like struggling to walk all day or whatever the big pack and yeah, I think it’s crucial to just keep touching on it throughout the season, just so the muscles stay somewhat in tone for for that kind of exercise as well because then you’re I think it’s also crucial throughout the season to do load bearing stuff. If you can stay walking and doing these other things, it’s really, really important. I think it’s really good to keep up weightlifting and walking and all these things during the season, just so you don’t have such a big gap in, in kind of keeping your posture aligned and your bone density up to especially as you get older, you know, because all those things start to degrade much quicker and cycling’s probably, like, just Cycling is probably one of the worst things you can do.

Trevor Connor 50:47
Any other things you’d want to tell the readers for this piece?

Svein Tuft 50:51
Yeah, I think really, I mean, the biggest thing though, are like overall that stuff like bon density and injury prevention, it’s the biggest thing is just like, do something that you love and enjoy like and and that’s totally different from what you do on the bike because that’s the most important to come back. When you get on the bike. You’re excited again, instead of like, oh geez, I gotta do these intervals or whatever. Like really just switch off from all that crap and enjoy your time when you when you can, because the seasons long and, and you drive yourself crazy. Just always stuck in that same mentality of trying to achieve numbers and all this other bullshit.

Caley Fretz 51:38
Svein also likes bear hunting and cave dwelling and barefoot. I remember he told, he told Andrew hood one time about his morning Giro de Italia ritual, which was to leave the hotel room in the morning before the bike race, no shoes and just like walk out into the woods and just walk around for like an hour and then come back. This is the middle of the Grand Tour. He’s going for hikes barefoot in the woods.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 52:03
Svein and I trained at the same center, and he was on Saturn. And they would have a training camp in California in March. So his preparation was he would get one of those kit things that you put in the back of your bike, but that has his own wheels that kind of falls me I put his dog and his clothing in there. And then he would bike from British Columbia down to California with this 80 pound thing on the back of his bike and that was his winter training.


Caley Fretz 52:29
There’s some base miles and strength. Trevor what are the takeaways for us.

Trevor Connor 52:35
And then I’m going to focus in on what happened to me this morning because I used to be the guy who didn’t get injured and had issues because I focus so much time on off the bike. And I know in the last four or five years that I’ve as I’ve gotten busier with work, I have fallen into that bear trap of I’ve only got this much time I’m going to spend on the bike and I will let the other stuff slide. And this morning was a wake up call of you’re not going to be walking in 10 years if you keep this up. So it’s you need that offseason, as Dr. Brown said, and that’s what I’m going to do focus on get that body healthy. And I do think you need to do a lot of work that isn’t cycling specific to get the body back in balance, work those muscles, you don’t work on the bike, work, all those things that have weakened or been injured. And when you get back on the bike and continue it through November and December, even when you’re back to training. So by the time you’re getting to the season, you have a healthy body. Everybody’s focused on what do I need to do to get stronger? Well, I can tell you, if your body’s falling apart, you’re getting weaker. So you need to keep the body together.

Dr. Andy Pruitt 53:40
The take home for me is mental freshness and physical freshness that comes with time off. Those two things are incredibly important. But the real key for me is like for Trevor, to have the time to focus on his rehabilitation for his low back. And to concentrate on what didn’t really go well this last season. I was off my sprint a little bit and we spend my offseason working on things that are going to help my sprint fix my injuries helped my weaknesses, mental freshness, physical freshness.

Caley Fretz 54:10
Well, there you have it. Why do you need an offseason? For all of the reasons we just talked about for 43 minutes or more? I think the major point here is don’t be scared to be off the bike. That’s that’s where we started today. And I think that’s where we’re where we’ll finish is too many athletes, too many cyclists are scared to be off the bike because they’re worried about how slow they’ll be. When they get back on it. The reality is you’re not gonna be that much slower, might hurt a little bit. You’re not gonna be that much slower. And you can use that time to really improve yourself as an athlete yourself as a cyclist for the entire rest of the season. that was another episode of fast talk. As always, we love your feedback. You can email us at you can subscribe to fast talk on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play. Be sure to leave us a rating and a comment. While your there check out our sister podcast the velonews podcast which covers news about the week and cycling. You can also hear me share my brilliant thoughts on that one as well. Become a fan of fast talk on facebook at and on twitter at Fast Talk is a joint production between velonews and Connor coaching the thoughts and opinions expressed on fast talk are those of the individual for Trevor Connor and Dr. Pruitt. Hi, I’m Caley fretts. Thanks for listening.