This is a super common fear among endurance athletes. And it’s understandable! We spend months (sometimes the better part of a year) training for hours on end, week in and week out, sacrificing time with people and projects, in pursuit of a goal. And at the end of that, we are perhaps at our peak fitness, and feeling great. So do we want to hang on to that? Heck yes!
But before you go stalking your Training Peaks charts and graphs, take a longer view of your fitness. It is unreasonable to believe that your fitness can just go up and up and up forever. Progressive overload is not infinite. Just like in your training cycles, when you build for 2 or 3 weeks and then recover for one week, the same concept applies on a larger scale. After building to a peak over a period of months, taking a break will reduce your fitness some, so that you are better prepared to start building again after the break.
So the short answer is “yes” – you will lose some of your fitness. But unless you become completely sedentary for an extended period of time, you won’t lose all of it. Think of it like a staircase. You spent the last season improving your fitness, like going up three steps. Your off-season recovery takes you down one step. But you are still higher than you were when you started. And you’ll be better prepared mentally and physically to begin your next season from that second step.
Keep in mind that an off-season break is by design and has a purpose. Rather than worrying about wasting time or losing fitness, remind yourself of the purpose: giving your body time to heal and giving your mind a break from the grind of training. And talk to your coach about how to use the time off to your advantage – whether that’s working on a specific skill or technique, focusing on flexibility or mobility, or strength training to prepare for the season ahead!