During the summer months, I find it easy to hop on the bike and for at least part of my ride — if not the whole thing — really push it. After all, if I’m going to become a better cyclist, I have to push myself, don’t I?
The trouble with that thinking is that it piles too much stress on the body, and instead of being a way to improve, the rider who always pushes it can easily become fatigued and ride slower, not faster.
But even when I’m pushing it during the summer, I build rest days into my schedule. Partly, that’s dictated by work. Sometimes, I just can’t get home early enough to get in a quick 15-20 miles.
Mainly, though, it’s a self-imposed layoff. I usually bike four days a week, so I have some rest days built into my schedule. If I do manage to ride a lot during the summer, I still won’t go more than five days in a week. I have found that at my age, rest is vitally important.
Endurance coach Joe Friel points out that fatigue keeps your body from breaking down entirely. It forces you to rest. But newer riders who are trying to get fast to keep up with the A riders in their group, or who push themselves six or even seven days a week run the risk of overtraining — when they’re putting in a lot of effort, but not showing much in the way of improvement. They could even be getting worse.
So you’ve got to rest from time to time. Friel recommends three days doing a low intensity exercise, such as swimming. If you decide to ride, stay away from other riders, so you don’t give into the urge to race. If those three days of light work don’t help, get off the bike altogether and rest. Sleep. Sit around. It’ll do you good.
Now that winter is approaching, most of us will be doing a lot less cycling, although some of us will set up the trainer and go hard at it several days a week during the off season. Calmate! Take it easy. Work on building your endurance for the upcoming riding season. There’s no need to approach that with a sense of urgency.
Experienced riders know this. It’s the noobs who push too hard. Now’s the time to build some much-needed rest and rebuilding into your routine. You’ll be better for it when spring comes along, and you decide to get in shape for that first big organized ride. With enough rest, you’ll be able to build up to it quickly.