The transition season in the year of COVID

2020 sucked. There, I said it. This was one of the most challenging training seasons we have seen in a lifetime, and I have to admit that as both a coach and an athlete, I’m already focusing on a big 2021. I know it’s not just me; I’m seeing tremendous energy all over the world as many cyclists and triathletes are already planning out their training for 2021.

So with all the energy and excitement building up, how should we handle the transition season? Should we dive right into base training now? Maybe not.

I know we’re all itching to get started, but let’s be cautious about starting a full annual training plan yet. It may be tempting to turn October and November into base training months with the intention of greater fitness, but like in most areas of life, more is not always more. The secret to your success next season might not be starting your plan early, but rather in executing a more productive transition season in October and November.

So go ahead and develop your training plan for 2021, but then set that plan to the side for just a bit and spend about six to eight weights transitioning well before starting your season base in early December.

Hiking is a great transition activity

Here are my tips for your transition season over the next couple months.


If you’ve been training hard all year, now is a great time to rest before you start your transition to 2021. I suggest one to four weeks off the bike, depending on your age and annual training volume. For masters riders, limit your rest to two weeks, as the cost of regaining fitness lost in a longer rest is often not worth it.

Transition phase schedule

Schedule your transition phase for 4-8 weeks and focus on a blend of cross training, strength work, and unstructured riding. For most of us, this year’s overall intensity has been less, maybe even a lot less. This sets us up perfectly to add a little more transition season training load, but instead of just adding more time on the bike, do some cross training and strength work.

Strength training

A well-defined strength training program is important for us cyclists. As we know, cycling uses very specific muscles and is not a weight-bearing sport. A strength program is a key way to balance weaknesses and build muscular strength. I recommend a progression from functional strength work to strength resistance to max strength resistance. The timing of the progression can vary and overlap, but here is the general guide I recommend:

  • Functional strength training for 4-6 weeks or more

  • Strength resistance training for 2-4 weeks or more

  • Max strength resistance training for 4-6 weeks

  • Transition strength training for 2 weeks

Cross train other endurance sports

The transition season is also a key time to round out your overall body health and fitness via cross training in other endurance sports. Don’t overthink this; basically any alternative endurance sport that raises your heart rate above 50-60% of max (but not much higher) will help, as long as you engage different systems and muscles. Walking, running, hiking, rollerblading, or whatever gets you moving is good enough. Don’t get stuck defaulting back to the bike if you’re not sure what to do or how much. You’re not really building fitness during this transition phase; you are repairing and preparing your whole body to train more later.

Trail running in the fall

Here are some of the cross training activities I personally love in transition season:

  • Trail Running -- I love some fun trail running in the fall. Choose a trail system with smoother trails and easy courses. I tend to avoid running on the road in favor of softer trail surfaces.

  • Aggressive hiking -- get out on the local trails and engage in a tougher hike with some uphill work.

  • Fitness courses -- you might be surprised how effective a well-designed fitness course is, and it’s a great way to blend some running and all-body exercise.

Transition nutrition strategy

This can be a bit controversial, but the transition season (and maybe early base training) is the only time an endurance athlete with peak performance as the goal should run a negative-calorie/macronutrient-controlled nutrition plan and try to lean out a little. You may not need it, so don’t just dive in without finding out if this is for you, but if it is, I recommend considering the following during the transition season:

  • Reduce your carb intake to about 50% of overall calories while increasing proteins accordingly

  • Reduce high glycemic carbs as best you can (eliminate then totally, if possible) and replace them with more natural, low glycemic /long-chain/complex carbs. This is a great time to shut off sugars from general diet, gels, and sports drinks.

  • Reduce overall calories in a targeted way if you’re looking to lose weight. I suggest reducing 300-500 calories a day to lose 2 pounds a week, depending on your training load.

We all want 2021 to be something extra special. Fight the desire to start early, and instead use the next couple of months to transition into next season’s training plan by focusing on strength, cross training, and nutrition.

Want to train with the experts this winter and take your 2021 season to the next level? Join the worldwide cycling community of BaseCamp to get a customized base training program and expert coaching.

About the Author

Along with co-founding BaseCamp and Velocious Cycling Adventures, Tim Cusick is the TrainingPeaks WKO product leader, specializing in data analytics and performance metrics for endurance athletes. Tim is a USAC coach with years of experience working with both road and mountain bike cycling professionals around the world, including Amber Neben, Emma Grant, and Rebecca Rusch.

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