As bike racers, we love getting the most amount of miles in, or the most number of hours in the saddle per week, or doing hard efforts. And because of that, what may be the most crucial element of getting stronger sometimes gets pushed to the side: rest.
Periods of rest and recovery are when you get faster.
If you've properly stressed your body with either tons of miles, or very hard intervals, committing to a long enough period of rest to recover from the effort is the only way you can go even faster next time.
HOW MUCH REST IS OPTIMAL?
It depends on:
1. YOUR BASE FITNESS If you're an experienced racer, with lots of consecutive years of miles in your legs, you can get away with active recovery on the bike. If you are a beginner (1-3 years) it's better to take a few days completely off the bike.
2. YOUR LIFESTYLE/DIET If when you're not riding you eat unhealthy, overindulge in alcohol, engage in other activities that hinder recovery, you'll need longer recovery time. If you eat healthy, sleep well and have a low stress environment you will recovery quickly.
3. LEVEL OF FATIGUE This is both accumulated and immediate fatigue. After a season of racing, either road or cross, you'll likely need some extra time off to recover from the accumulated fatigue. The same is true for big endurance blocks. For recovery from shorter, hard intervals, do it like weights - when you don't feel sore, you're okay.
THE BEST WAY TO REST
All rest is not created equal - our lifestyles and obligations generally dictate the quality of rest we get. Also, our lives also often enforce days of the bike. So here are some tricks to rest up as well as possible:
1. ADJUST DIET Especially coming off hard racing or an endurance block of training, it can be difficult to adjust to eating less. If you continue eating like you were, you will recover but you will also gain a little weight. So plan ahead and rid your home and office of temptations, whatever they may be for you.
2. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE TIME OFF Make sure to spend some extra time with your family who has been putting up with you being gone for 12+ hours per week. Also take advantage of the time to catch up on errands you've been meaning to do, and to bring the bike to the shop for upgrades or maintenance. These sorts of things make sure you're refreshed mentally as well as physically.
3. STAY ACTIVE Take your dog on a walk, or walk to your favorite bar or restaurant. Do some light yard work. Doing these light types of activities can help elevate your mood and speed recovery by moving your blood around a bit.
THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR
1. NOT NEEDING RECOVERY If you're training less than 8 hours per week you likely don't need to build in many rest periods, unless you're very new to cycling. Building in rest at that level of training will actually make you slower.
2. FEELING BUMMED OUT When you're accustomed to a high level of physical exertion, it can take an adjustment to adapt to the lack of endorphins during rest periods. You may even worry that you're either losing fitness, or any other number of worries. Just remember that you're actually GETTING FASTER, and that feeling bummed out from time to time is normal anyway.
3. RECOVERING FOR TOO LONG If you overshoot your recovery, you will begin to lose some fitness. That said, losing a little fitness is preferable to being fatigued and not properly recovering. If you're not properly recovered you run the risk of being over trained (which should be avoided like the plague), and will certainly not achieve your peak level.
So, rest up!