Fall is Fabulous – So Get Off Your Bike!
Fall is a fabulous time of the year to log long and fun rides. So why am I telling you to take 7-14 days off the bike? Today we’ll talk about the importance of taking a physical and mental break from the bike, and how doing so can super-charge your results for the next year.
The best time of the year – But time for a break
Truth be told, my absolute favorite time of year to ride is the fall. The temperatures in the northeast are absolutely stellar, and I really love starting out the long rides with arm and leg warmers, a windvest, and long-fingered gloves. For me, there’s nothing as relaxing and refreshing as the cold morning air nipping at my nose and ears with the intoxicating sense of fresh foliage beginning to return to the earth, and the fresh dew on the grass glistening in the golden yellow rays of the fall sunrise.
As the dog days of summer fade behind us, and the farmers look towards daylight savings time giving them more light to work with in the mornings, many of us immediately begin to ramp up our mileage as the weather gives us more advantageous conditions before our forced pilgrimage to the trainer.
War cries of “Get those miles in while you still can!” ring loud throughout the road cycling communities across North America and Europe, and riders head out en masse to get as much fitness as possible. But what if I told you that turning intensity down, and turning the mileage up, isn’t going to give you the best results?
As with every sport, the more your play, the greater the changes the body makes in its structures to the demands the activity places on it. For those who just go out and play or participate in a sport without working to balance some of these changes, it can lead to injury, illness, and even the loss of the ability to participate.
For many cyclists the thought of balancing out the positions, postures and extremely repetitive movements that we perform for hundreds of hours a year, is an after-thought at best. However, over the course of the last 5 years, we’re seeing a shift away from all-day-every-day for biking, to a more well-rounded approach of being able to keep away back, hip, and knee pain by performing some off-bike routines.
While this is a big leap in the right direction, there are still 2 aspects of staying truly healthy and balanced that we as endurance athletes are still missing:
Taking a short break away from our primary sport each year.
Understanding and practicing to improve our mental performance.
We’ll cover the second topic in another post later this winter.
Time for a break
The Power of Time Away
Taking time away from things that stress us in life, is actually pretty common…well, at least the DESIRE to get away is.
The highlight for many workers, and some whole countries *ahem, France* is time off to go on vacation. For our beloved country of France, this vacation time happens to coincide perfectly with the road cycling world’s pinnacle event, the Tour de France. As we work day in and day out, we can feel the stress slowly building inside us, wearing us down. As human beings we thrive on, and crave some routines to ground us, but they also can become incredibly wearing.
As the months slowly pass by and we near our determined vacation schedule, the excitement grows, until the day is here and we are finally free! Going on vacation allows us to break the daily monotony, explore the world around us, or in some cases, to just go do nothing but lay on a beach or sit at a cafe in another city. The nothingness and/or newness allows the stresses we know begin to fade, and we feel out inner energy levels slowly grow.
We return back to our regular lives feeling lighter, refreshed (ok, sometimes with a little dread), and our work capacities restored or grown.
So why don’t we do this for our riding?
Chris Froome taking it easy at the beach
The big obstacle
Riding is, regardless of whether you do it for sport or fun, a stressor on the body and mind. And while we ride to get away, test our limits, or to have fun with friends, taking a little time away is integral to our long-term well being.
Some feel that saying or even thinking such a thing as a break is blasphemous, but hear me out. Taking time away from your PRIMARY riding can have a huge bolstering effect on your happiness, health, and long time well-being.
The obstacle is often our fear of “losing fitness” or “getting out of the habit”. Yes, these are legitimate reasons to be afraid, yet as is widely accepted and practiced in our beloved sport, in order to get stronger, fitter, and faster requires work periods, followed by rest periods. In order to progress the body doesn’t just need time to recover, but it needs time to ADAPT.
This is the missing link for many recreational riders, more so than racers.
How to do it
I can feel that you’re hesitantly shaking your head in agreement here, but are still a bit skeptical. So let me put your mind to ease, and tell you how simple, and even fun, this “time off” can be.
For those who have had seasons that were filled with very hard rides, races, or life events, and have left you feeling much like the rookie-year version of Charlie Wigelius in his book Domestique, taking 7-14 days completely away from cycling is going to be the way to go.
For the level of wear you’ve put on your mind and body throughout the high-riding season: Driving to and from events, pushing hard training intervals week after week, having the good & bad days of training and nutrition, getting away from it all is one of the best things you could do.
In the more extreme cases, doing nothing for 5-10 days but eat lots of fresh produce, proteins, and drinking plenty of water, along with sleeping an extra 2-3 hours a night, is going to be the best thing you could do for your fitness and well being.
And for the vast majority of us taking a full 3-4 days off the bike completely, followed by starting light sessions of strength training, light stretching, yoga, pilates, or meditation for a week or so, is a great remedy.
Try something different
But those who just don’t like being inactive and who find it hard not to do SOMETHING, anything, what should we do?
Take 2-3 days to sleep in. If you’re very much a creature of habit and wake up early without an alarm clock, take a slow morning to work on your bike, pick up a cycling related book like Riis, Shut Up Legs, and Domestique, or if you prefer something training related pick up a copy of Roar, The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery, or of course Cycling Science by our own Toolbox Editor Dr. Stephen Cheung.
After these 2-3 days, if you really need to move, go for a hike, hit the pool for a swim, use the Galloway Method to start running, or maybe even try a (low risk) new sport like surfing or rucking.
And if you REALLY need to get a fix of something that has 2 wheels and pedals, ride a bike in a sport that is NOT your primary focus. If you’re a roadie, grab a gravel bike. If you’re a Mountain biker, pick up a road bike or a Cross bike. If you do all of these, grab a beach cruiser and ride around town with your neighbors fluffy Pomeranian in the basket with a baguette and a beret.
There’s a power in time away and in letting the body and mind recover and have a break from our normal routine. Try it! You may be very surprised as to how great you feel after this short break, and the renewed enthusiasm and zest you’ll have when you finally return back to your trusty steed.
Until next time, remember to Train Smarter, Not Harder, because it IS all about YOU!
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Enjoy the fall – Take it easy
Menachem Brodie is a USA Cycling Expert Level coach, SICI certified bike fitter, and NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist. For the last 10 years he has been working with athletes from around the world to get fitter, faster, and stronger through strength training and in-sport training plans. He has presented on Strength Training for Cyclists & Triathletes internationally, and is the author of 2 authoritative online courses: