Cyclists tend to either take too many off days or not nearly enough. Finding the perfect balance of rest and training stress is challenging for athletes and coaches alike. While it may be tempting to skip days off and try to work harder than your competition or cram in training when the weather is good or you are off work, be cautious and listen to your body to avoid skipping or compromising too many recovery days.
WHAT IS A RECOVERY DAY?
Recovery days can be very light days on the bike or spent cross-training (yoga and swimming are common). If you struggle to go hard enough on the bike, then you might want to stay off the bike completely and do yoga or walk. Athletes with limited time to train can maximize bike time by using bike days for their long or hard workouts and saving off days for when they can’t ride anyway.
If you choose to do a recovery ride, it is important to stick to your ride goal and keep it easy. If you use zones, the recovery range is usually called zone 1, and you must keep yourself from pushing into endurance and higher ranges on hills or impromptu races when someone jumps around you on the ride. The important thing is you are not sprinting, breathing hard or feeling much pressure or tension in your legs.
More days on the bike generally increases your fitness since you are practicing your sport more often. Beginners see almost immediate results from practicing more often while more experienced riders find that their ‘feel’ for the bike is generally better the more consistently they are on the bike. For this reason, one day completely off per week is a good goal to build toward gradually for beginners. Conversely, it is not rare to find an experienced athlete who completes more quality and motivated workouts in the long term by taking two complete off-days each week, so be open to doing less to get more.
A strategy you can use to get in the same number of total weekly sessions while still taking a recovery day is training twice in a day. Cyclists often add strength workouts on their off days which makes for tired strength workouts and soreness in the bike workout the next day. Consider doing your strength the day after your recovery day with a bike workout. This could be a lunchtime strength workout and then an evening ride a few hours later. Double days could also be a commute to and from work with a longer or harder workout done on the way home.
The best way to figure out what works for you is to draw from your past experience. In the last month or the last season, what trends did you notice in your feeling and performance? Data and race results can really help here. If you find you have many workouts where you did not hit your ride goals, perhaps opting instead to ride in lower, yet moderate, heart rate and power zones you are missing the quality workouts that can really boost your fitness. If you rarely get into the top power zones or do really hard intervals, it is likely you need more recovery.
For many athletes, especially athletes who have built significant endurance over many years, I find that working with a high-intensity day, then a low-intensity endurance day, followed by an off day is a great rotation of workouts that helps ensure 2–3 good workouts per week.
WHEN TO RECOVER
While most plans prescribe off days on Monday and/or Friday there is no reason you have to do that. It can be a great boost to your training to adjust your schedule to ensure your off day is not on your busiest day. Perhaps counterintuitively, many of my busy adult clients take a weekend day off to allow them to have a day with their family where they can truly recover mentally and physically. While this can reduce volume somewhat it generally helps boost motivation and quality in the long term.
THE BOTTOM LINE
However and whenever you choose to recover it is important you keep an eye on the results of your recovery on a weekly and monthly basis. If you see signs of overtraining or staleness (poor workout quality, fatigue, low motivation, excessive or prolonged soreness) it is time to revisit how, when and why you do your recovery days.