Jan 18, 2011

Rest days

According to the Bible, even god needed one. This morning, I woke up at 5 a.m. with the intention of heading to M2 for a morning mash session. But when I woke up, my legs quietly screamed into my ear, “are you out of your damn mind?” The fact is that this would have been my fourth day on the bike in a row, with some long miles logged and a hard interval workout yesterday. Not that four days in a row is extreme – I’ve done it before – but with the uptick in weekly mileage and ride intensity, this early in the season, I try to limit myself to no more than three consecutive days of riding before taking a day off. So, being my own personal coach, I decided to devote this day to resting my legs, though I will still probably do a core workout in the evening. 

There are many lessons to be learned from this morning. The first of which is knowing how to listen to your body. We all know how it feels when our legs are sore, or when our back hurts, or when our stomach is turning, but learning to interpret what all of that means is a whole other story. Leg pain, for one, is part of the sport. But you have to know whether it’s a burn from a hard effort – non-damaging pain, or a muscle pull – could be an onset of an injury. With the former, you can safely press on, but with the latter, it would be wiser to stop. Frankly, if you’ve been a part of this sport for at least one season, you shouldn’t have any difficulty telling the difference. A much harder distinction is between soreness and fatigue. 

When I used to power lift, sometimes my leg workouts on Monday would leave me sore until the following Thursday, or even into the weekend if I had taken a bit of time off before getting back into it. If I hit the squat rack heavy on Monday evening, on Tuesday morning, my legs were probably a bit fatigued, but by Wednesday, the energy would be back, even if the soreness persisted. 

Cycling works the same way, kind of. If I feel a bit of a tingle on Thursday from the intervals I did on Tuesday, that doesn’t stop me from another workout if I feel rested. If I feel rested, I can still push hard and get the most out of my workout. If, however, I’m feeling very fatigued, even if the soreness is not that bad, the workout will probably be half-assed and I’m better off taking a day to fully recovery and come back full strength the next day. Clearly, this is not the way you approach a race, but as far as training goes, this seems to work for me. So the lesson here is simple, learn to distinguish between pain that means soreness, pain that means fatigue and fatigue that comes without pain. 

The only way I know how to learn this is through trial and error. Get out of bed in the morning and train, your legs will let you know soon enough which one of the three you’re dealing with. But make sure to make  a mental note of how you felt when you got up in the morning. This way, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel each time. Another tip is not to automatically assume that you are fatigued because you are sore, you might not be. However, if you are sore, make sure to warm up properly or else you are at a heightened risk of injury.

Another lesson learned is that rest is a necessary part of training for several reasons. First, physiological: When you train hard, you break down muscle tissue that then rebuilds and grows stronger. Continually breaking it down without a chance to rebuild is not very productive and can, in fact, be very destructive, leading to overtraining. 

Another reason for rest is mental. This is actually a two-fold. Training when you are fatigued can be very mentally straining as you are not performing up to par and perhaps beginning to feel depressed about your level of fitness. This might not happen if you realize that you are training while fatigued, but if you know you are fatigued, why are you training? The second part, at least for me, is motivation. I really like to be on the bike, and when I’m off, for even a day, I can’t wait to jump back in the saddle. This enthusiasm combined with rested legs often results in very productive workouts, and definitely helps getting me out of bed before sunrise.

Rest is important, and considering it looks like this is going to be my third week in a row of near, or over two-hundred mile totals, next week of rest and easy riding should be very beneficial for all of the abovementioned reasons.


  1. Per Friel, my training blocks were in the same three-weeks-one-week structure you're probably working on right now. That being said, call me when you're swimming ten miles and running twenty - in addition to riding 200 - and then I'll listen to you complain. :-)

  2. Well, Andrew, that's why you are an Ironman, and I'm just a bike racer. I didn't think I was complaining, just musing :).