Toolbox: Planning to Recover
Now that he’s hopefully finally finished digging out from the prolonged winter in eastern Canada, our resident sport science guru has been equally busy digging out from under the avalanche of training and sport science questions from our readers. This week, our mailbag discusses the merits of a complete day off the bike each week…
Planning Recovery Days
I wanted to get your opinion about a cycling question. I am a Cat 3 racer, and in the past I’ve usually tried to take one day a week off. I started doing this because I read in Greg LeMond’s book that it was beneficial to your metabolism. That being said, I’ve read several times where Armstrong says he only takes about 20 days a year off of the bike. He is obviously very lean, so it doesn’t appear that his metabolism has suffered. My question, as a cyclist who continually battles losing a few extra pounds, is should I take a complete day off every week, or just take an active rest day spinning on a recovery ride? Thanks for any advice.
Ah yes, I well remember soaking up every word of LeMond’s training program from his book during my early years in the sport. LeMond is my personal idol in the sport, and it’s impossible to overestimate his impact in every aspect of the sport that we now take for granted. This is true of everything from focusing the entire season on major targets (Paris-Roubaix, Le Tour, World’s), to equipment (he initiated or popularized everything from helmets and clipless pedals to full-zipper jerseys), and even how the typical amateur cyclist trains. After all, it’s almost cast in stone that Tuesday is a sprint or hammer day, Wednesday intervals, Thursday an endurance day, and Friday an easy day.
The other thing Greg advocated was taking Monday either completely off or a very easy recovery spin. There are a number of excellent reasons for riders to follow this advice:
• You’ve probably worked and squeezed in your training all week, then raced or done super-hard workouts Saturday and Sunday, and your body needs to recover from all that accumulated stress. Frank Overton wrote an excellent article on what aspects you can focus on during these recovery days . I really advocate that riders change their mindset to one where the recovery program is at least as important as the training itself. Remember that a bone grows back stronger after it’s broken, but only if it’s given a chance to recover!
• You’ve probably neglected your family in the process of racing/riding all weekend, so you better make it up to them on Mondays and Fridays if you don’t want to find your bike “swimmin’ wit da fishes!”
Now the other thing that I am adamant about is to NEVER listen to any professional cyclist’s training plan and then slap that onto yourself. I ignore LeMond’s weekly plan and take every non-race Saturday off instead of Friday so that I can spend all day with my wife and young family. I build my schedule and training around that and still have better racing results than when I was younger and doing nothing but school and cycling. Lance may take only 20 days off a year because THAT’S HIS JOB! He’s also incredibly fanatical about figuring out exactly how many calories he burns and consumes (who else weighs their cereal?), and that’s how he manages his weight. Check out another of Frank’s articles on weight management.
So in summary, I think that all amateur cyclists can do themselves a world of good physiologically and mentally by resting and doing things to keep themselves out of the doghouse at least one day a week. If you do ride (I still commute on my rest days), lock it in the granny gear and fine yourself a dollar for every time that your heart rate creeps above 110!
Thanks for writing!
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, with a research specialty in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. He has been an avid roadie since beginning university in the mid-eighties, and still has non-indexed downtube shifters on his winter bike and wool jerseys hanging in his closet. He can be reached for advice or comments at [email protected]