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Canadian Sport Institute Calgary – Riding 750km in five days around Puerto Vallarta, Mexico might not sound like a break to most people, but for Canadian long track speed skater Jordan Belchos it was just the thing to help him kick-start his Olympic season.  Throw in a couple of days eating tacos on the beach though, and then maybe you’ve got a recipe for a nice off-season, too. 

Belchos’ main competitive season ended in February after the World Single Distance Championships but he didn’t want to lose any fitness, so he first opted to travel to the Netherlands to train with a pro-team and race a few marathons.  “I wanted to train super hard and not waste any time,” he says.

His post-season trip to Mexico with a few teammates and girlfriend Valerie Maltais, a short track skater, led him back home to Calgary, where Belchos continued with some easy riding to avoid losing any of that built-up fitness. “My thinking on it is to come back to training not having lost any aerobic capacity.  I enjoy riding and it keeps me in shape.”

Canadian skeleton athlete Jane Channell took a different approach to her off-season.  After three months straight of being on the road competing on the World Cup circuit she was mentally and physically exhausted and headed home to Vancouver for some serious rest and relaxation, prescribed by her coach. 

“I didn’t get out of my pj’s for a week!” she laughs.  “I slept a lot and didn’t do very much but I felt like I

should be doing something. It’s sort of like melting into yourself and you become a bag of goo but by the second week you get the itch to start moving again.”

In many sports, the off-season strikes a fine balance between taking the mental and physical break the mind and body need without losing strength and fitness due to inactivity.  It’s ultimately the individual’s choice and likely influenced to some degree by the nature of the training required for their sport.

Nick Simpson, the CSI Calgary strength and power coach working with the long track team, says he values the break, in fact he himself took his own mental break in April, but appreciates that it’s different for each athlete.  “For many of the speed skaters I work with they just love sport and physical activity.  Most of them don’t enjoy sitting around.  What’s key is that the break is unstructured, no matter what the athlete chooses to do.”

Simpson says that this year, more so than previous years, some athletes kept up with their training during the break.  “In the past they would take a full month off but this year felt that they didn’t want to waste that time,” he says.

Many athletes worked on corrective exercises prescribed by the medical team after physio assessments.  Simpson says this can help prevent injuries over the course of the season. “With the athletes taking care of themselves in the off-season they are coming into the season more solid to begin with.”

Channell says starting up again can be a bit of a shock to the system.  “At first my joints feel rusty and muscles feel loose instead of tight,” she says.  “But it feels good, I feel like I’m ready to go.  It’s nice to have a schedule again.”

For Belchos the choice to keep training was motivated by an intense desire to improve.  “I want to be competing for medals and start the season at a good level, not playing catch-up with the guys already winning medals,” he explains.  “I wanted to come back fit, in shape.”

Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary

Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover