The art of resting – A cyclist’s guide

Cyclist resting

A guide to what, resting? Are you serious? Yes, very. Knowing when and how to rest is the single most important consideration if you want to become a faster, stronger cyclist. More important than how to train properly, more important than nutrition or aerodynamics or losing weight. More important than the bike you ride. Whaaaa? I know!

Oi you, get off that bike and take a break will you? Without rest all of the above is simply wasted effort because you will be too tired to benefit. I’ve been on a quest dear readers. For two years I’ve searched the farthest recesses of Google, of my body [eugh].

Why? I’ve been trying to identify why I’m always tired. Not a little sleepy, or legs a little wobbly. Nope, proper tired, where lactic acid kicks off in the thighs when you stand up, many days after your last bike ride.

I’ve written about overtraining, of resting, and then resting some more. In this time I questioned nutrition, hydration and mental stress. I tried everything. Stretching. Feet in the air. Drinking milk. Taking iron supplements. Fish oils. I just about stopped short of seeking out a shaman.

Yet there is no miracle cure to tiredness. Is there? Actually, yes there is. Quite simply you need to identify the cause and not get distracted by the cures. This means focusing on the rides not the post-ride rituals. The secret to a strong recovery is not the actual recovery period but ensuring you don’t ride your body into oblivion in the first place.

A cyclist’s guide to resting

1 || Stop the epic rides

This has been the single most important solution to reducing my fatigue. My riding had previously reduced itself to one monster epic ride each Sunday, 70 – 100 miles, 1,500 plus metres of climbing, always seeking out short sharp hills and beasting my way up them at 100%.

I would spend 2-3 hours in Zone 3 plus with several Zone 5 efforts. In English, I was overdoing things on a vast scale. I would watch my Strava feed and marvel at how folk would ride 3 or 4 times a week when I could manage just one ride, crippled for the remainder of the week as I commuted and rode at speeds approaching stationary.

Never quite recovering each week, fatigue accumulated and I burnt out. Even taking a week off did not help. I was done for.

2 || Measure volume and intensity

Epic rides over, I’ve taken to measuring my efforts, using TSS (Total Stress Score), which combines both volume and intensity to give your ride an overall score. TSS, Strava Suffer Score, TRIMP, all these things are the essentially the same despite the different calculations. The actual score does not matter, the number is as an index you can use to gauge your efforts and total up your weekly efforts.

There’s no right or wrong number, just what works for you. You’ll soon learn when you’ve been overdoing it and can then plan rides with a TSS that ensures you remain within your limits whilst still stressing your muscles and improving.

3 || One week off every four weeks

Bike bag packed

Maybe your bike needs a break from you, eh?

This has been a game changer for me. Old school training advice. Not only does the week off keep me physically fresh but also mentally sharp. Come week four the last thing I want to do is take a week off, yet by doing so I allow my muscles to recover and repair whilst mentally I’m looking forward to my next ride more than ever. Other benefits of the 3/4 training regime include getting a weekend of your life back and discovering there is life beyond two wheels!

4 || Sleep

Cyclist in bed

Prioritise sleep. This has become a mantra of mine. It is during sleep where you body recovers the most. Forget all that stretching and massaging and raising your legs business, sleep is where you will recover. Take a post ride nap. Enjoy a lie in if you can before you go for a ride. Need to get up early for the early Sunday ride? Go to bed early. Avoid caffeine after noon, eat early, put on some Sigur Ros and drift off to recovery land.

5 || Bin the junk miles

More old school advice. Don’t tag an extra 10 miles onto the weekend spin. Stop racing during the commute. Get the bus, take the train or drive the car one or two days a week. Ignore Strava segments. Quality over quantity. If you don’t measure rides in workload as per #3 above, measure rides in time not distance and certainly not average speed.

The five resting tips above work for me better than all the other mumbo jumbo out there on the interweb (believe me, I’ve tried!). I ride more, I ride faster. Not that I’ve come up with anything revolutionary, it’s just common sense. The biggest problem with cycling is the desire to keep on improving which unfortunately can easily become the thing that stops us improving!

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Lead image, courtesy of CycleTsar

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12 thoughts on “The art of resting – A cyclist’s guide

  1. Resting is mentally hard to do. I seem to do it more when I am forced through either illness or work/holiday travel. Its fair to say that I am incredibly annoying to be around at these times. (more than usual anyway).

    The indoor 1 hour sessions seem to allow fairly continuous training but now the sun is starting to make an appearance, I will no doubt be chasing people much fitter and faster than me again. You don’t have to do many of those rides to get pretty tired…

    Nice article as always! We will have to catch up on a ride sometime – don’t worry I don’t talk that much 🙂

    Alex

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    • Ha ha, thanks Alex. I’m still up for a ride sometime soon. Things should be settled back down for me soon as I’ve been moving about a lot of late thanks to the joy of moving house (many times!). I’ll drop you a mail, be good to go for a spin.

      Resting – The turbo sessions certainly help so long as you don’t overdo the intensity, which can be a challenge at times. Still, not as tempting as the great outdoors. I’ve noticed as the weather improves I’ve pushed a little too much out on the road. “Oh, just another ten miles.” Something you rarely say on the turbo that’s for sure!

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    • Thanks PW – a good point about lowering the intensity, this is what most coaches recommend for the 3 weeks on, 1 week off. I take an age to recover, always have, even when younger but I fear age is against me too (damn you mortality!).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. All very sensible (apart from the sleep thing – I have young kids…I know…yawn!?).

    I just have one question: If I abandon the epic rides, how else am I supposed to prove my manhood and general bad-assery?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Florin. I’m hoping to join a club soon, one that has plenty of nice slow cafe rides so I don’t get tempted to go all out epic! Get the right group and you’re on to a winner.

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  3. this is so true, and i am terrible at resting. recently i’ve been getting ill more regularly than i ever have before and i’ve realised it’s because i’m constantly tired. i ride too much and never rest. even when i think i’m not riding, e.g. not audaxing or doing long weekend rides, i’m still commuting a lot of absolutely pointless junk miles. i’m learning that i need to consider my efforts more and actually take a week off more than once every 8 months! a couple of focused commutes a week is better than 8 or 10 unfocused commutes a week.

    Liked by 1 person

    • One week off every 8 months! I reckon you’re definitely due a rest! The commuting really adds up. My London commute can be competitive too, both other riders and staying ahead of the traffic, a lot of energy is lost with the stop-start of traffic lights and quick accelerations. I’ve learnt to find a twisty quiet residential route which forces me to slow down and use these as active recovery rides. Easier said then done when you just want to get home of course.

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    • yeah, i’m terrible. i usually only stop riding if i’m forced too by illness. have learnt my lesson the last few months. definitely factoring in every fourth or fifth week off from now on.

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