Dealing with the Challenges of Adjusting to Off-season Mode

By Kasia Niewiadoma

It’s that time of year again. As professional athletes, I think it’s crucial that we speak more about the challenges of adjusting to off-season mode. Downshifting after a packed racing season can be very challenging. Going from a full-day schedule where you work out your body a lot to practically zero activity causes some significant confusion that is not unlike an addiction.

Every year, for the first couple of days of the off-season, it’s very tricky for me to accept the new situation and to be OK with not leaving the house immediately after breakfast and training. I feel unsatisfied and like I lack the goals that usually help guide my day. Regardless of other appointments I have planned, if I don’t go out riding, I’m just not there—not happy.

Finding other routes to joy

Of course, I realise I can’t dwell on these feelings and try to find ways to overcome them. I try to take up the projects I left to the side during the season. Usually, this means house maintenance, catching up with friends, plus baking and cooking a lot! I think that actually being busy in the kitchen is something that helps me stay away from training. I love how creative you can be while you experiment with making something new. I also sleep a lot! It’s crazy how little sleep you get when your body is fatigued. I feel I can recover much better during the off-season than when I’m in race mode.

As the weeks wear on, things get easier. The beginning is the most challenging, for sure. There is just this huge change that happens. You go from high intensity and lots of energy to the total opposite. You are constantly engaging with people, there’s a lot of travelling, and you get used to always having everything planned. Then suddenly, you’re left with a blank slate. It is super cool in its own way, don’t get me wrong, but also very, very confusing.

However, learning to deal with the disorientation is a critical part of being a successful athlete. As I have never had a severe injury that would stop me from riding for a long time, I don’t have much experience dealing with the mental toll it takes. I don’t like resting for longer than one week, as I feel I’m not fully living my life. As much as I understand the importance of literally doing nothing, it is still really hard on me!

Training is hard work, but it is also very addictive. I find myself wondering how other athletes feel about it. I guess I could somehow compare it to caffeine addiction— if you have coffee every day and suddenly you can’t have it for a couple of weeks, in the beginning, you feel off. However, when it comes to training, it usually is a big part of your day, and lots of other things revolve around it. Your body learns how to operate under specific effort, so suddenly, you must readjust little things you are not even conscious of.

Thinking about exercise addiction

It is also true that there is also a growing number of people who might not be professional athletes but who suffer from exercise addiction. What I go through during this time of year allows me to relate to them. Although everyone needs a unique solution for their challenges, one thing that has definitely helped me is focusing on time management.

I really value this skill, as sometimes I have so many ideas for the projects I want to accomplish that it gets overwhelming. If I didn’t write them down and make a structure for them, I would never be able to manage all of them. Looking for things that interest you outside of exercise and not being afraid to take the time to dive deeper into them is definitely something I recommend!

But again, I know it is easier said than done, and I’m still working on it. The most important thing is being kind to yourself and reminding yourself that you deserve a break and you deserve to enjoy it. It is about accepting the fact that leading a balanced life means not going out every day and constantly pushing your body to train harder.

Trying to appreciate where I am right now

So, for now, I’m trying to enjoy what these open days bring me and live in the moment. I love not having to think about tomorrow all the time. It allows me to enjoy being with my people and not having to leave them sooner because I need to sleep or rest before my next training. Also, I value not having to obsess about little details like stretching, core workout, proper nutrition, body recovery, and little injuries, etc. It’s nice to feel that I can be present for the people I love and not think too much about myself.