To get the most out of your time on the bike, it’s best to plan some time off it. Resting between training rides and events gives our muscles and organs time to heal, adapt and grow, meaning that a well-balanced ride schedule will lead to better performance, endurance and strength.
The best method for resting is different for every person. We all have different ride programs, physical ability and expectations of our performance, so when to rest and how long for will be different. What is important, if you want to see improvements in your ride performance, is that rest days happen regularly.
When we train we literally break down or tear the muscles that we use most. As those muscle fibres heal, they become stronger, bigger and more powerful. That means we are sculpting the body we need to perfect the tasks we perform most often. Doing this depletes our energy stores and, obviously, puts strain on our bodies. If you fail to rest you will find your performance or your fitness hits a plateau, the way to shake this up is to train hard and rest well.
Most competitive cycling events ask a lot of your body, you might have two, or even three days of hard cycling that includes sprints, climbs and individual time trial conditions. After a gruelling event like this or a week of heavy training you need to expect that your body will require a break for 36-48 hours.
If you are used to a heavy cycling load, like a professional athlete would be, then your body is more adapt at going hard for longer periods, so rest days are not as important unless ride intensity is especially high or there is a lot of long distance travel in the schedule, in which case, one rest day a week is enough.
For those still looking to improve their ride ability and performance and outride those plateaus in fitness then two rest days a week is best. A rotation of five days on and two days off is a perfect rule of thumb, and not just for your fitness but also for a healthy life balance. Doing activities other than cycling is especially important for people who work full time and get a lot of cycling time in, you need that break from the bike to rest your body and spend time with family, friends and be out socialising.
The best way to rest and recover is to rest completely, eat well and keep your fluids up. While you see the professionals using a rest day to go for a light pedal or jump on the trainer, for cycling as a hobby you really need to rest completely, that means that you also take a break from other physical activities like jogging, swimming or hitting the gym.
As your fitness levels increase, or your training increases when race season starts, you simply ramp up the intensity of your ride days, rather than increasing the number of days you ride, that way, not matter how big your ride is that week, you always have a planned and working rest structure in place.
If you feel like you are missing out on your exercise hit, ramp up your ride days to include more action. Go for a ride in the morning and one in the afternoon, or mix up your exercise with ride and a swim or a gym workout. That way you will really feel you have earned your rest when it comes and you can relax and enjoy doing nothing.
Sometimes your body needs a break before your rest day arrives, that can be if you have been under some stress, are fighting a cold or illness or been over extending yourself physically or mentally. When this happens your body will let you know you need to slow down. It’s important that you listen. Pushing through leaves you open to injury and can prolong recovery from illness, it also doesn’t help your performance in any way. For those who monitor heart rate on a ride you’ll quickly notice a fatigue day when your heart rate is lower than usual and doesn’t increase as easily when you start out. This is your body trying to rest even in the midst of exercise. You need to take an impromptu rest day and give yourself the down time required to reach peak performance. For those who don’t monitor heart rate on a regular basis then you’ll need to pay attention to your body to know when extra rest days are required. If you are feeling sluggish and you are not able to complete your usual distance then you need to rest, so swap the next day’s ride for something relaxing, like a sleep in or go for a massage.
You’ll notice the energy, enhanced performance and increased ride ability when you take the time to rest properly. Your friends and loved ones will notice the extra time too.
Improving your cycling by resting? That’s freedom!