The following is an excerpt from the How to Plan Your Off-Season article taken from the November—December 2015 issue of Freeplay magazine.

The off-season typically resurrects the love–hate relationship athletes have with downtime. While we dream of the ability to do whatever we choose, we often feel lost without our regimented training schedule. The off-season is the time during which the tug-of-war that’s been playing out between our mind and body all season long—the mind urging us to train harder and work toward achieving our goals while our body pulls for rest and recovery—seems less balanced, the flag moving precariously away from all that we’ve worked for the entire season. Rest assured, there is a delicate balance to this tug-of-war game, a balance that is necessary to both our success in sport and our health.

With fall upon us and winter lurking just around the corner, it is safe to assume that you have reached the final race of the year, the race at which your mind gives a final huge tug on the body, forcing it to give all it has left. As an athlete you’ve been pushing your body to its limit all season long and letting it recover between each hard event. At times the tug-of-war flag has been unfairly pulled too far in one direction causing an imbalance, which is often detrimental to the opposing side. You need each side to tug harder at certain times to continue moving forward as an athlete, and the off-season is the time to let your body “win,” especially after you tugged so hard in the other direction with your last race.

While the off-season is supposed to be unstructured, there still needs to be some planning that goes into creating the best off-season for each athlete. And just as every athlete doesn’t follow the same training plan, neither should they all follow the same off-season plan. Off-season plans are individual and unique, dependent upon the goals for the next season. Here are some questions and answers that can help guide you to creating the best off-season plan for you.

Why should I take a break from training and transition into an off-season?
Taking a breather from your sport is crucial for your longevity, happiness and future success. Training takes a huge mental and physical toll on your body, not to mention a vast amount of dedication and motivation as well as many sacrifices. Our year is built upon periodization in which we complete our training in phases: base phase, building phase, intensity phase and peaking phase. We cannot peak as athletes unless we have gone through all the phases of training, so why would we want to continue to train after we have peaked when we can only hold onto that fitness for so long? The body needs rest and recovery in order to be able to make gains from going through all of the phases of periodization. There are pro athletes who even take complete breaks from training for one to two weeks midway through the season to increase future gains. Furthermore, mentally taking time away from training can really rev up your motivation for next year. Taking time off from physical activity is a smart move for both the body and the brain.

For more tips from Mackenzie Madison on structuring your off-season, what your off-season should include and tips from top professional women (Brianna Walle, Bree Wee, Lauren Wallace and Sarah Piampiano) subscribe to Freeplay magazine here.