I don't think there really should be such a thing for amateur athletes. To me, the off-season is about keeping your fitness, not losing it. After I finished my career as a pro cyclist, I still trained pretty hard in the spring and summer and thought I needed to take time off in the winter like I did when I raced professionally. I started to realize that the more time I took off, the harder and longer I had to work in the winter/spring to get myself back to where I was at the end of the season before. As I got older and trained less, I learned that I did not need a break from working out, but I did need something. That something ended up being quite simple. What I needed was a change!
Most of us do not do enough overall training volume to warrant taking time off. Now I know some of you are thinking, "I work out over ten hours a week all summer and I need a break". Yes and no. You may need a break from running, cycling or swimming, but you do not need a break from working out. While it's true that at 10 or even 15 hours a week you are working out a bunch, that is nothing compared to the professionals who work out over 25 to 30 hours, week in and week out. After that much overall stress, their bodies really do need a break from exercise. Their bodies are on the razor's edge of overtraining all the time and they need a period of detraining to allow the body chemistry to regenerate and relax. A professional's time off is about allowing a bit of rest to the systems that have been overworked for so long, thereby allowing some deep healing.
For us weekend warriors, two weeks to a month off will cause a serious loss in fitness and one that will take time and energy to reclaim. What we need more than time off is time away from our usual sports and routine. We working stiffs get burnt out on the grind, not necessarily "the work" itself. When every second of every day is accounted for with working at day jobs, taking care of family and/or working out, the tiredness experienced is as mental as it is physical.
Things need to be different--and this time away from scheduled events is the perfect chance to mix it up. Let's change this term from "off season" to "season of change" and view it as such!
Still work out, but reduce the overall volume for a while and the sport-specific stress as well. I am a huge believer in cutting your overall training volume down by 30%-40% for a month or so, and in changing up the activities themselves while you're at it. I know I say this every year, but getting on the mountain or cross bike in the fall and breaking out your cross country skis, snow shoes and ice skates in the winter is always a great way to keep your mind fresh and your aerobic system growing. Also do some eye-hand practice and, of course, strength work is always important.
At VQ we understand how hard it is for many of us to balance our lives. The stress of getting in the work necessary to achieve our goals takes discipline. This season affords us the opportunity to refocus our time on work and family while providing the mental break from all that goal-oriented discipline. So the workout durations are shortened, the activities are fun and not mentally demanding, specific strength training and injury prevention work is added--not only is this effective for our overall goals, the approach allows us to rejuvenate the most important muscle we have: our brains!
Just remember: the change in duration, intensity, activity allows our bodies to heal while developing other muscles and skills necessary not only in sport, but also in our everyday lives. The reduced overall volume allows us to rebalance training with work and spend more time with family...which may be the most important reason of all!
Happy Season of Change!