Becoming a Faster Cyclist by Balancing Training and Recovery
A good training plan is fundamentally about balancing training hard, recovery, and everything else going on in your life. It’s easy to check riding “hard” off the list: long rides with friends, a fast group ride or race, and you’re good to go. The art of designing a training plan is adjusting the frequency of tough rides and making sure you can fully recover. I asked Professional ProTour Cyclist with the Cervelo TestTeam, Ted King, why he thinks recovery is important. Ted recognizes that “an extremely strenuous workout/race/training ride micro-tears muscles, creates an abundance of free radicals in the body and blood stream, and weakens one’s immune system.” As a pro cyclist performing at the highest level of the sport, Ted understands that to continue to improve, he needs to let his body repair itself and therefore takes an average of 1-3 rest days per week.
Conceptually, taking a rest day is easy. It can involve an easy spin or a day off the bike. Complications arise when life brings other obligations. Training takes time away from our families and our jobs. It’s easy to fall into the habit of making your training plan recovery days into “accomplish everything else” days. If you’ve been putting off a big project for work or school for training, your rest day can easily become just as stressful as a tough workout when you try to cram in a week’s worth of errands.
As a coach, my training plans are typically structured around 1-3 rest days per week. The way to maximize performance in key events is to adequately rest and recover before and after them. Most races are on the weekend, so Monday is a solid bet for a good rest day. If the races were especially taxing, Tuesday is a good day as well. If athletes have done a solid three weeks of training, a whole week of rest and regeneration could be the best way to make them faster and help them reap the benefits of all of that work. Identifying busy, stressful, or important personal engagements and respecting those is essential as well. Planning a “rest week” during a relaxing family vacation is a great way to recuperate. Similarly, a couple days off for a business trip can be great recovery. The following is an example of an average training week:
|OFF||1 Hour Ride||3X10 min Threshold Intervals or 3 Repeats of 10 min climb; 1hr||OFF||Easy 1hr with 4X30 secZone 6 Intervals (Openers)||RACE||Long ride (3-4hrs) with friends.|
I encourage my athletes to apply the same principles to their rest days as they do to their workouts. To emphasize quality training, if an athlete sends me a power file and I see a lot of distracted riding, I’ll let them know how they could have gotten more out of their time on the bike. In the same way, if an athlete tells me they spent their whole rest day walking around the zoo, I’ll let them know that a day on the couch may have been a better choice.
Anything you can do to take care of yourself becomes a powerful tool on recovery days. Here are some recovery technique examples:
- Sleep (At least 8, preferably 10, hours of sleep per night – naps are great too).
- Nutrition (Preparing a healthy, well-balanced meal).
- Hydration (Drink water throughout the day).
- Massage, stretching, or very light yoga.
- Very easy spin on the bike (flat terrain, high cadence, short).
- After hot rides, try soaking your legs in the ice-cold Boulder Creek.
- Good times with friends and family.
Most people understand rest is important, but it is often sacrificed for other activities. It’s a lot easier for competitive individuals to skimp on sleep when crunched for time than to drop an hour from their ride. I encourage my athletes to gauge their rest and recovery first, then we decide if their workouts are a good idea. Take it easy, relax, put your feet up, and take some deep breaths. After a couple of rest days, you should feel great on the bike.
Matt Rossman is a category 2 cyclist and USA Cycling certified coach working for FasCat Coaching. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and particularly enjoys sleeping as much as he can on his rest days.