Rest and Recovery Question
The following question was submitted by a reader. Before answering this I'd like to thank those of you who have sent me suggested topics to write on here. There were many good suggestions. The only matter, as always, is available time .
Question: I've noticed that you post ride stats nearly every day on Twitter. I've been finding excellent performance increases for myself when I ride fairly hard for a month or so, then take a week off the bike and do nothing but walk or run and maybe calisthenics (but no trainer, mtb or
road biking at all). The hard month has to be focused training and not just going out and beating around for a while, but if it consists of intervals and hill repeats and long rides, the week off does amazing things. For example, last night was the first night out after a week off, and I could sustain much higher speeds in the face of a 15 mph wind than I was even able to sustain in the middle of last month's training. This is something I notice consistently on the first night back on the bike.
My thought is that much rest would be counterproductive without a good baseline of fitness but I'd be very interested in your opinion on all of this, particularly if you have specific recommendations for rest.
Answer: There's no doubt that rest is beneficial to performance. How often and how much are the key questions. In my opinion there needs to be daily, weekly, monthly and annual rest. In the context of what you suggested works for you, I generally have athletes train at an individually high level of average stress for 2-3 weeks and then take 3-5 days of very low stress to allow for recovery. This often (but not always) includes a day off, as in their other "normal" training weeks.
For seasoned athletes I have found that low stress within their sport is better than no stress. No-sport-specific stress generally means a significant loss of fitness after a few days and psychologically stressful concern about their progress toward their upcoming A-priority race.
There is also considerable difference in how much stress individuals can tolerate. Professional endurance athletes typically have a very high capacity for training stress. Novices have a very low capacity generally. In between these extremes there are many other variables that affect one's capacity for stress such as age, diet, lifestyle, sleep patterns, the nature of the targeted event, current level of fitness, and more. So it really is not possible to set a standard for recovery that works for everyone. The best we can hope to do is determine what works best for each of us. This, by the way, is a moving target. There is considerable variance in how we respond to stress from day to day.
You appear to have discovered what works best for you. That's no small accomplishment. You'll perform better because of this.