Here’s another post in our series Ask Chad.  This question came in through e-mail.

I’m in the middle of the Advanced Build plan. I’m wondering if there is any benefit in the 8 weeks to a “recovery week” My workouts are good, but I’m wondering if my legs might benefit from a week off. In every plan i’ve ever done a reduced week has been built in somewhere, but I’ve never done a bike specific plan before. Any thoughts on this or is one of these weeks supposed to serve like recovery. thanks

Here’s Chad’s response.

Recovery weeks are as subjective as most other facets of training in that some riders benefit highly while other riders are capable of working weeks on end without a legitimate recovery week, improving their fitness all the while. The tradeoff usually comes with training volume, level of experience, and somewhat related to training volume, consistency.

For what I consider to be high volume trainers – riders with at least 10 hours/week to train – the importance of a recovery week is more crucial to steady improvement than a rider training for only 6 hours/week. This is, of course, dependent upon workout intensity too, e.g. 6 hours of aerobic endurance is far less stressful than 6 hours comprised of aerobic endurance + VO2max intervals + Steady State intervals which requires substantially more attention to fatigue, level of motivation, and declining performance.

With regards to level of experience, a new rider with only a couple years of loosely structured training is a far different animal than a Masters rider with 20-30 years of somewhat consistent annual training under his belt, age aside. Not only are the latter better at detecting when they can benefit from a recovery week (or even a few days), but their bodies are far more accustomed to the seasonal shifts in training demand that come with years of repetition.

And then there’s a matter of consistently performing your planned workouts, as prescribed, during each of your non-recovery/breakthrough weeks. Missing one intervals workout during the 3rd week might mean that you can go 4 weeks before needing a recovery week on that 5th week, and consistently missing an important workout on a weekly basis might keep you from ever really needing a full week devoted to recovery.

With all this in mind, you might have determined that there’s no simple one-size-fits-all answer, and that’s exactly what I’m telling you. If you review an earlier post discussing recovery as it relates to heart rate, you’ll be privy to my approach to recovery which is a matter of recognizing HR patterns and power output capabilities. If your HR is consistently low and you’re not meeting your numbers, it might be time to take an extra day off. If upon returning from some extended recovery the same is still true, it might be time to take a few days off, maybe even schedule a reduced-load/recovery week.

I don’t place a lot of faith in the traditional “3 weeks on/1 week of recovery” because it’s a cookie-cutter approach to something that often varies widely from rider to rider. Over time, all of the metrics that are at our disposal can give you clear insight into just how much stress your body can handle before it needs extra time to absorb the stress, recover, repair, and be ready for the next onslaught.

Really simply, pay attention your HR, pay attention to what should be a consistent level of improvement both in terms of how you feel (RPE) and power data, and pay attention to how eager you are to work hard when your training plan calls for it.


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Nate Pearson

Nate Pearson is the co-founder of TrainerRoad. He is an avid triathlete and cyclist, husband and father of two. His training is fueled by great coffee, BBQ and pie.