My New Perspective on Extended Recovery

When was the last time that you took an extended break from riding your bike and training?

How long has it been since you’ve taken over a week completely off the bike and away from any structured physical activity and allowed your body to significantly heal and recover from the abuse that you have been heaping upon it for months on end?

I recently took two full weeks off the bike.

As in, two weeks where I didn’t ride my bike at all, didn’t even see my bike, didn’t run or go to the gym either. To be honest, this was part of a planned two-week vacation and I decided that since I hadn’t taken a full break from all training for over a week before, that I would try it.
I was pretty scared about how quickly I’d become unfit. To compound matters, I had scheduled my Fall Epic ride(6+ hours of tough riding) for just two weeks after my return from this break and I was nervous about how the extended break from training would affect my ability to complete this difficult ride.

After returning from vacation, I found that my legs had a fresh feeling that was quite foreign to me. It took a few days of training to knock the rust off, but pretty quickly my legs came around. I felt that I recovered between rides more quickly than I was used to. I was able to put together a couple of solid weeks of training toward my Fall Epic ride. When that day came, my legs felt pretty good. I’m not going to say that I had race fitness and was spectacularly fast, but I didn’t fall apart at mile 80 of my ride like I thought might happen. I was able to finish the ride strong and recovered really well coming out of that ride as well.

Looking back on things, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by this result. Sure, I wasn’t at peak fitness, but that wasn’t the point. What the extend break did for me was allow my body to adapt to the training that I had put in before taking the break and fully recover from this training and the long season as well. Sure, I lost some top end and my ability to go hard at race pace was not existent, but I don’t really care about that right now. I had not lost much of my endurance and aerobic fitness and the break had allowed my legs to feel fresh and not fatigued from lots of training.

About a week after the Fall Epic ride, I noticed a positive bump in my fitness and how I felt on the bike. It seemed like I was able to take the stress of the big ride and adapt to it quickly because I was not holding onto a lot of residual fatigue.

I have a new perspective on recovery now, especially off-season, extended recovery.

Extended recovery is usefulness to recharge our bodies and help us to get back to effective, beneficial training. I was worried that I would lose a huge amount of fitness over the two weeks away, and yet, I didn’t lose much fitness at all, and was able to quickly bounce back to a point that I don’t think I would be at had I not taken the extended recovery break.

So I’ll challenge you, when was the last time you took an extended break and allowed your body a chance to recover and your mind a chance to recharge and have a break away from the constant grind of training?

I’m not saying that you have to take two full weeks off from training, but I do think it would be beneficial for many cyclists to take off longer than they might feel comfortable with, long enough that you will be a little bit outside your comfort zone. Many of us cyclists thrive on the punishment that we can put ourselves through in training and endure repeatedly and we become accustomed to the feeling of constant fatigue. We become so accustomed to the feeling that we don’t even feel it after a while. It can take putting the training aside for a while to feel the absence of fatigue to see the benefits of extended recovery from time to time in our schedules.

Here are five extended recovery tips that I found helped me recharge and come back hungry to get back to training for the upcoming cycling season.

  1. Don’t immediately jump to some “cross training” activity to replace your cycling training. The idea is to allow for full recovery. You can be active, maybe do low impact activities that don’t result in significant fatigue like paddling a kayak or stand-up paddle board. Go for a hike. Stretch and use a foam roller regularly.
  2. Fill some of the time you would otherwise spend training with some low intensity core strength training.
  3. Do some enjoyable activities that you normally don’t do or get pushed to the side due to your training schedule. For me, I was on vacation, and I spend time fishing which helped me to relax and allowed my mind and body to recover.
  4. Focus on maintaining a disciplined diet and ensure that the quantity that you eat is reflective of your lack of training so that you don’t put on body fat that you will have to work hard to lose later.
  5. Jump-start your stretching and mobility routine and use a foam roller and massage ball to work out adhesions in your muscles. This can be a great time to schedule a massage as well.

If you haven’t taken some serious time away from the bike recently, now can be a great time to do so and the benefits to you as a person and a bike racer can pay huge dividends for the upcoming season and your overall health.

Looking for a training plan to help you get started once you’ve finished your break from training? Check out my Free 4 Week Base plan for a taste of how to start out laying a proper base next season or for a full base period training plan, the 8 Week Foundation plan.

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