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What does an easy week really mean?

You know you need an "easy" week, but what does that really mean? (Hint, triathletes aren't good at doing it)

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For most Canadian triathletes the season is winding down – despite the unseasonably warm temperatures that have characterized much of the fall. This leads many triathletes towards thoughts of easy days and easy weeks, with lower training loads and time for the other things that make up life, like laundry and seeing friends and family. But what does taking an easy week really mean?

Although the general purpose of an easy week is always recovery, what we are recovering from and the amount of recovery needed can vary. For this reason, it can be helpful to think of several different types of easy weeks.

Mid-season easy week

The mid-season easy week is the most common form of the easy week. If you are using a periodized training approach, you typically take one easy mid-season easy week of every 3 to 4 weeks during your training as you build up to your race season. The primary goal of these easy weeks is to give your body a break so that you can be ready for future training. Typically, a week like this would follow several weeks of progressively increased volume and/or intensity of training. During the easy week you would reduce the overall volume (amount) and intensity of your training for that week. Once the week is over, your body will be rested and ready to go for another 3 to 4 week block of building your intensity and volume. Many athletes use these blocks of 3 to 4 weeks “on” and 1 week “easy” as the cornerstone of their training.

Post-race easy week

Another type of rest week is the post-race easy week. Many athletes will compete at several events throughout the season. These might not all be triathlons, but might include 5 km or 10 km races, half- or full-marathons, trail races, gravel rides etc. Whatever the event, they fall into two basic categories – those that are significantly more draining than a hard workout, and those that are not.  Exactly where the line is on this will be highly variable for (and depend a lot on) the athlete, but typically longer races are more likely to be significantly draining than shorter races. After a significantly draining event, not only does your body need a break to recover, but often the emotional and motivational batteries need to be recharged. This is not a sign of “weakness.” If you want to accomplish something really significant in a race, you have to devote significant motivational and emotional resources to that race. Since we don’t have an unlimited reserve of these resources, it makes sense that using a lot of them up would leave you with a deficit. For this reason many athletes need a more significant break than normal during a post-race week, even if there are many races still to come in the season. This could mean a few days of almost complete rest, or a total break from triathlon-training activities and only light non-triathlon activities like yoga or walking. The most important thing here is to recognize that taking these types of easy weeks is important and can be a very helpful part of improving your overall performance. Taking a few days away from the bike is NOT going to sabotage your next race, especially if it keeps you excited about bike training when you do get back in the saddle.

Post-season easy week

The final type of easy week is the most complete type. It is the post-season easy week. Typically, when we talk about this type of a break, we are really talking about post-season weeks, plural.  These are the most complete type of rest week, and you only do them when you have no performance goals coming for a while. These weeks typically involve the greatest reduction in overall training load.

Though I would never recommend becoming totally sedentary, I think that there is totally room in the post-season easy week phase for weeks with limited to no “working out” at all – just light to moderate regular activity. This might mean long walks with a partner, garden work to prep for the winter, hikes out in nature or building that backyard deck you’ve been meaning to get to all summer but your race season.  The purpose of these types of weeks is not only to give your body a break from the rigours (and repetitive motions) of triathlon training, but to give your mind a break. You can disconnect emotionally from thoughts of post-exercise fuel consumption, electrolyte balances and proper pedal cadences and just enjoy having the fit body you worked all season to develop. Taking this step away from training can also help you remember why you love it and help you zone in on your next goal from a place of joy and desire, not just because it’s part of the grind.

So, no matter what time of year it is, make sure to take those easy weeks. They will leave you refreshed, recharged and excited to keep on going with your triathlon journey.

Darian Silk is a triathlon coach and Clinical Exercise Physiologist based in Toronto.  Read more about Darian here or email him at darian@teamatomica.com.  You can also check out his TrainingPeaks profile here.