So you think riding your bike every day is going to get you fit, strong and fast? Think again. It’s not the amount of hours a week that gets you strong – it’s the cycling recovery you take in between that makes the difference to your overall cycling fitness.
You have to make mistakes in cycling to learn – it’s part the course! I’ve made many training mistakes, but in doing so I’ve learnt a lot about my own limits.
One of my early mistakes was to think that the more training I did a week (clocked in hours), the better I’d be. But I wasn’t being honest with myself. I was pushing through tiredness to "satisfy my training diary" and then winding up exhausted and off the bike for long periods of time.
So one of the first things in cycling I had to learn was to be honest about how I was feeling towards my training and not be a slave to my diary or anyone else’s programme.
What I realised was that it’s normal and in no way a disadvantage to be tired. So don’t feel guilty with taking a day off the bike if you’re feeling tired and be honest with what you can achieve each week.
Training Every Day Forces You Off The Bike
There’s this big perception in cycling that top athletes train every single day, and so as a beginner you should ride every day (as much as you can) if you want to get fitter.
Let me tell you from experience, this is the sure path to overtraining and burnout.
And let me tell you also that any top athlete that trains every single day will be forced to rest at some point in the year, either by exhaustion, injury - or by the string of poor bike results. The latter being the main indication that the athlete has clearly overtrained earlier in the year.
I often hear cyclists say at the start of their programme, “I’m going to ride every day starting Monday…” I commend your enthusiasm, but in the long term I can guarantee, you’ll not keep that up more than two weeks without classic overtraining symptoms (discussed below).
My advice is to throttle back, relax and go out regularly but not every day. You will still get just as fit – that’s what you have to realise here – you won’t lose any fitness and can remain fresh for most workouts.
Recognise When You Are Tired
Ever felt slow and rubbish out on the bike and blame your fitness? Indeed, the classic mistake is to get out on the bike and work even harder, because fitness feels like it’s dropping away.
In actual fact what you need to do is rest up. Only by recognising you’re tired and resting will you properly recover from your workouts and let the body become stronger and fitter.
How to Recognise “Overtraining”:
Overtraining is the state in which the body ‘fails to adapt’ to ongoing exercise over a period of time. In other words, “accumulative physical tiredness which is ignored".
As stated above, to avoid overtraining it is very important to recognise when you’re tired and build rest into your fitness programme to avoid accumulative tiredness.
Symptoms of Overtraining:
Fortunately, your body will alert you to numerous warning signs to let you know it’s tired.
Remember, it’s normal to feel mildly tired after riding – after all, you want your body to have worked. With a day or two of rest, tiredness should resolve.
Ignoring rest over an extended period of time though, can put you at risk of overtraining. In other words it’s the ‘accumulative tiredness’ you have to watch for.
The following are warning signs of accumulative tiredness:
How Much Cycling Recovery Time Do I Need?
As a rule of thumb when you’re starting out, it’s best to have one rest day for every workout that you do. This way you can:
You should also remember that the harder you exercise, the more rest you’ll need. For example, if you’ve done a very hard ride or event/race, then it’s best to take up to two or even three days rest before riding again, perhaps more.
Listen to your body and go by feel. In fitness there’s a useful saying: “If in doubt, leave it out!”
In other words, if you doubt whether you’re recovered – drop the workout. After all, it’s always better to be 10% under-trained, than 10% over-trained.
If you doubt you’re recovered - drop the workout! It’s always better to be 10% under-trained than 10% over-trained
How Should I Rest?
This depends on the individual. What works for one cyclist might not work for another. Recovery is highly individual as everyone recovers at different rates and so you have to find what works for you.
For example, some cyclists like me respond slowly to workouts, whereas others respond much quicker – there is no advantage either way, but you need to find your own recovery rate and tailor your programme around it.
There’s still an ongoing debate as to whether you should rest passively (doing nothing) or actively (light exercise):
1. Passive rest:
What works for me is to rest ‘passively’ by putting my feet up! When I rest passively I feel I give my muscles the optimum chance to heal quicker. I then go back into my workouts feeling fresh and recovered. I find active rest only delays my comeback to training again, so I choose passive rest.
2. Active rest:
Alternatively, you can rest actively too, by doing light exercise like light cycling for 20 minutes, or a light swim, or light walk. Many cyclists find active rest works for them.
However, don’t turn an active recovery workout into a training workout by going far too long. It’s one of the biggest mistakes I see in cycling training today at every level of cycling.
Your Cycling Recovery Ride Is NOT an Endurance Ride!
Keep active recovery sessions very short, maximum duration should be 20-30mins and be feather light on the pedals, or swimming or whatever the activity.
You may also find a massage works well for you – just try things and see how it works.
Cycling Recovery Nutrition!
This is a big subject so I’m only going to touch on the basics here. Suffice to say you should be eating and hydrating well before, during and after your bike rides.
A note on what to eat after cycling
After workouts, get into the habit of hydrating well, eating well AND getting enough hours sleep.
Briefly, you should eat a snack based on carbohydrate with some protein within 15-30 minutes of coming in from a bike ride to take advantage of what’s called your “recovery window”.
This critical period of time directly after your bike ride is the optimum time to help replace a good proportion of your muscle and liver glycogen (carbs) used up when cycling and help you recover quicker.
For example, when you come in from a long bike ride eat a bowl of cereal with milk topped with banana, or a bagel with peanut butter. You then need to plan a good meal (carbohydrate based with quality protein) about 2 hours later and remember to keep rehydrating throughout the remainder of your day and especially overnight.
Find What Works For You - then Stick With It!
The bottom line is to listen to your body at all times on and off the bike!
You will know when you’re ready to ride again when you feel motivated, fresh legged and have slept well. You’ll feel a sense of positivity regarding yourself and your riding.
Only then should you get out for the next ride.
If you’d like to learn more about how recovery strategies can work for you read: Recovery Basics: How Tired Are You From Training?
I’d love to hear how you recover from workouts, so please leave a comment below to help others (below the archived comments).
[Archived Comments on this post from former blog]
Doing an event every weekend is quite intense on the body, specially if you are just starting the sportive or race season…you mention racing(?).
Recovery is therefore critical here midweek as you obviously wan to be on form at the weekends. Reaslise the events/races themselves are your ‘training’..the rest of the week you need to aim to simply ‘maintain’ your form and rest up. Don’t be surprised after your first event to take 3 days or more to recover – this is normal. You won’t lose any fitness.
Rest up after your Sat and Sun hard cycling, taking Mon and Tues off. Go by feel as to whether you ‘might’ even need a third day to recover.
IF you are recovered on Wed, aim to do a shorter more intense ride. Keep it short to about 1-2 hours and up the pace. Work either over a hilly course to develop more power, or work on a flatter course and work on your speed. (Work on a different weakness each week).
Recover on Thursday. On Friday see how you feel. If you’ve recovered then it’s common practice to do a ‘warm in ride’ the day before your event. This ideally should be a short 45 min ride whereby you add a few accelerations to keep your legs snappy – BUT if you don’t want to do anything like that, just ride easy for 45 mins and reflect on the pending event. If NOT recovered from Wed, back off and keep recovering and go straight into Saturday’s race, preferably with a good warm up.
Sat = RACE – yay!
Sunday recover fully and even take Monday off. Remember if your legs are tired you will need more rest to get them strong again. You won’t be losing fitness! Your goal is to always be recovered for that weekend racing Jules – do too much midweek and you won’t perform well at the weekends.
Now, a critical point here is not to go beyond more than three weekends worth of races like this. Unless you have a superb ‘base of ride miles’ behind you and are experienced racer, I’d programme in a couple weekends easy riding free of events after this batch of races. Your goal here is to ride for time again and enjoyment without pressure of a pending event. This way you can adjust your training if need be. You could then return to race season and ride a batch of 3 weekends again …
I don’t know your cycling experience so all of this assumes that you’ve been riding a few years if you are racing?…otherwise if you are very new to cycle racing, I’d next time plan at best to ride just one race a month….and see how you go…
All the best!