If you’ve been riding since early spring, you’ve got months of riding in. Does everyone need a little time off the bike?
There might be plenty of good riding in the months of October and November, but for many of us, the weather, the short days, and more than half a year of hard training have us ready to hang up the bike and put up the legs. Whether you want to or not, should you take a break?
First off, we’re not pros. 99% of cyclists aren’t earning their living based on their race results and their power-to-weight ratios. What we do on the bike is for fun, but as athletes, what we do on the bike does matter. We use the time to train, to achieve goals, to push our limits, and improve our physical and mental health. Some rider can’t imagine taking more than a day or two off the bike, and many wouldn’t even consider resting for more than a week or even replacing riding with cross-training for a month or more.
There is plenty of evidence, however, that taking a break is good for everyone in the long run. Even the pros do it. At the end of their racing season, many coaches will instruct professionals to put their bike away for anywhere from ten days to three weeks or more. Even if you haven’t been riding as much as a pro, you may still have accrued enough fatigue and general wear-and-tear over the spring, summer, and fall months to warrant a similar break.
It can be hard to tell if your body will benefit from a few days of rest. While it’s important to know the difference between fatigue and overtraining, the line is certainly blurry. If you’re experiencing a suppressed heart rate, weight fluctuations, changes in appetite, changes in mood or depression, changes to your sleep pattern, or general soreness for days or even weeks at time, you should be looking to take a little time away from pedaling.
Mental Refresh. It can be tempting to opt for a rest week, with lighter rides and less intensity. You should already be incorporating rest weeks at least once a month in your training, but what we’re talking about something different. A real rest period means no riding, and even cross-training should be short in duration and low in intensity. This is a great chance to reset your mind and take away the stress of chasing your goals, squeezing in rides, or worrying about your fitness. You may find it like taking a really deep breath that makes you feel a renewed sense of motivation and passion for cycling.
Physical Reset. If you ride intensely and consistently, you’re reshaping your body in so many ways. It isn’t just muscle mass or body composition, either. Consistent exercise can recalibrate your hormones and body chemistry, changing aspects of your life ranging from sleep, libido, even causing mood disorders. As much as a rest will help your mind, you’ll also find the rest gives your body a chance to repair muscle, balance out glucose levels, and find something closer to its natural state. Don’t worry about weight gain, but be aware that with little to no activity means your body will need much less fuel to function smoothly.
Diet Reset. Dietary pressure in athletes does take a toll. During your break, note any strong feelings or emotions you may have attached to food, diet, weight, or other body image issues. Don’t feel guilty about having an extra spoonful of ice cream or a cookie, because this is your time to relax. It can often be very useful to use this time to create new healthy habits, such as experimenting with new dishes, intermittent fasting, or other dietary theories you might find interesting.
Cross-Training. You don’t have to come off the gas completely. Use your break to take up a new hobby. Many athletes use their end of season break to slowly build up strength and endurance in sports like running, hiking, swimming, or cross-country skiing. Start slow to reduce your risk of injury, and listen to your body. If you are sore or in pain, dial it back; this is the time to ease into things, not jump in with both feet.
Find A New Balance. Finally, your break offers up a new opportunity to take another look at your work/cycling balance. Make an honest assessment of the amount of time you dedicate to the bike, to work, to your family, and to sleep. Yes, sleep should have a set amount of time set aside in your evenings because of the massive influence it has on your health. Can you ride less? Can you incorporate more detailed structure into your training to be more time efficient? Can you commute more, travel less, or maybe get your significant other to take up cycling as well? You don’t have to make new plans, but it’s worth taking the step back and really examining your habits.