Exercise can be addictive, whether it’s training for a race or an outlet to clear your head. Once you get into a training schedule and it becomes a part of your everyday routine, it can be hard to take a day off. However, rest days are just as important as training days, and need to be part of recovery for cyclists.
You can come to crave the rush of feel-good endorphins that the brain releases during exercise. That combined with feeling the physical benefits of exercise can make you feel like a day off would be a step backwards, but that’s not the case. Giving your body time to recover will make you stronger in the long run, and overtraining does nothing but harm.
Why you need recovery days
When you’re training on a consistent basis, you actually put stress on your body and breakdown your muscles. Over time, and through combination of training and rest (periodization), your muscles are repaired to be stronger than before. This is when you begin to feel more fit and you can produce more power for longer on your bike.
Without adequate rest, you can experience burnout, a lack of energy, and decreased motivation. Scheduling rest days, and ensuring you take them, is equally as important as time on your bike.
How much is enough
How much rest needed will be different for everyone, so you have to learn what your body needs. A general rule is to ensure that at least one day a week is a rest day. However, this doesn’t mean you have to spend the day on the couch. All it means is you need to give your body time to recover and rebuild for the next week.
What you can do to aid your recovery
No, this doesn’t mean carb loading. Of course you want to ensure you have enough carbohydrates to replace glycogen stores from training, but there’s more to it than that. Make sure you have protein to repair damaged muscles as well as fruits and vegetables to get a dose of vitamins and minerals. This isn’t just true of rest days, but recovery should start right after your rides with plenty of water and a recovery drink.
Stretch & Roll
Although it’s not typically a recovery technique, stretching and rolling your muscles on rest days is one of the most effective ways to prevent injury. Be sure to focus on the muscles that are shortened by the posture on a bike, like the hamstrings. For more information, check out the “10 Best Stretches for Cyclists.”
Sleep is important for even the most basic functions of the body. It’s also the prime time to undergo protein synthesis, which is the process that makes your muscles stronger. Eight hours is widely recognized as the magic number, but if get a little more it won’t be a bad thing. If you simply can’t get eight hours at once, then a nap is a great way to make up for lost time.
As mentioned previously rest days don’t have to be days spent on the couch. In fact, active recovery can be a great way to get the mental release you need, while not taking a toll on your body. A walk, swim, or other easy activity will get your body moving and your muscles loosened up, but won’t be too strenuous on your tired muscles.
There can be recovery rides as well, but you have to be disciplined not to push yourself too hard or go for too long. You should remain in zone 1 or 2 for the duration of the ride, and focus on just spinning your legs.
When you’re on a training schedule, it can be discouraging to miss a few days when life gets crazy, or you get sick. Let’s just say right now, it’s going to happen. Life gets chaotic, and when it does, just make the most of the recovery time, both physically and mentally.