Thoughts on Shoulder Seasons

Have I mentioned recently that you are AWESOME! Well you are. Just in case I don’t say it enough. I really appreciate our community of killer peeps.

Ski season is running full blast here. Winter sports are in championship mode. But soon enough, we’ll have a transitional time before spring truly arrives. Of course this depends on where you are, but some like to call these transitions “shoulder seasons.” That’s particularly true around my neck of the woods when most of the snow melts and there is a mix of ice, slush, and mud. Skiing, ice fishing, and other winter sports have faded and it’s not yet time to hammer the mountain biking, hiking, and trail running. Just a few examples among many. 

What the mind needs in the shoulder season is a little change…a bit of refreshment. It’s nice to experience some variety in our movement mixology. That might look like some changeups in the workout, a new sport, or perhaps a trip to a different climate with opportunities for new experiences. An alteration of perspective. An injection of excitement.

What the body wants is usually a little different. The biologic tissues prefer that change be presented gently and gradually. In fact, our bodies generally tolerate “a bit more of the same” somewhat more easily than “a dose of something totally different.” This doesn’t mean that we do not benefit from altering training patterns and exercise selection. It just means that we should do so progressively and intelligently. Coaxing the body more than shocking it seems to be the way to go. 

Circadian biology enters into the picture as we experience lengthening of the daylight hours, at least in much of the Northern Hemisphere. As those light patterns change, we have a subtle adjustment in our hormonal balance and internal clocks. The timing of cortisol and melatonin release usually occur a little earlier and later, respectively, in relation to our sleep and wake cycles. This also affects the way our energy patterns function.

Training times may fluctuate, if you choose to do so, in the shoulder season. You probably noticed how, in the dark of winter, your motivation/drive to work out may have seemed a little lower. When possible, especially on the weekends, you may have preferred to be most active or athletic in the middle of the day, getting going a little later and shutting down earlier. Now that the light is changing, you might find yourself looking forward to an early morning training session, or extending your start time for a session later in the evening. This is totally natural.

Chronotypes are considered to be subtypes of the natural circadian rhythm. There is debate among the thought leaders whether they really exist. One camp would suggest that, in an evolutionary sense, all humans have (or should have) the same diurnal (tied to the sun) pattern around sleep/wake/activity. The other camp posits that we have a mix of early, regular, and late rhythms across our species. Some of this may be tied to the ability to control our environment with artificial light. My opinion is that chronotypes exist in modern humans, although the differentiation is sometimes more subtle than pronounced.

AnimalFIT, my book about body type assessment and training, features a section on chronotypes. In that chapter I discuss this phenomenon and then help the reader understand how to determine his/her chronotype. With this information, we also explore ideal training times for each individual as well as how to adapt those windows seasonally. And right now, with a seasonal change on the horizon, I’m seeing some of these fluctuations in my clients. They are reporting “I did my session at a different time of day…not sure why…just felt like it…that was really good” and things like that. I’m feeling it too. I can embrace moving a bit earlier in the day, and I don’t want to shut down in the evening so soon. All good. All natural.

So, to sum up this brief treatise, shoulder seasons are a part of our year. In an annual training plan, or long term athletic development (LTAD) model, there is room for some transitional phases between all our blocks and cycles (however you wish to quantify them). Embrace change and freshen up the mind. Do so with kindness toward your body. Explore some training time shifts where you can. Learn yourself. Know yourself. Love yourself. Help others to do the same. 

As always, thank you for joining me today.

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