Unexpected time off doesn’t have to be a setback in your training. You can use these steps to make the most of your unplanned time off and return to training with more motivation and focus than before.

Taking Unplanned Time Off

Sometimes life forces you to slow down and take time away from your bike. When this happens, it’s normal to worry about the state of your fitness or the progression of your training plan—especially if you’re nearing an event or a race. While having to take time off can be an inconvenience, it usually isn’t as much of a setback as you would think. In fact, it takes several days without training to experience any actual decline in performance. Even then, only your capabilities at the highest intensities are affected. For most athletes, it takes at least fifteen days without exercise to experience declines in muscular endurance. 

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On the flip side, unplanned time can come with a few benefits. As with any kind of time off, unplanned time off gives you a chance to mentally and physically recover from your training while providing you with the opportunity to revamp your goals and improve your training habits. To make the most of this unexpected time off and return to training feeling even more prepared than you did before, follow these six steps.

Step One: Take As Much Time as You Need

When life forces you to take time off the bike, it’s normal to want to get back to training as quickly as possible. While an eagerness to return to training isn’t a bad thing, training before you’re ready can be counterproductive. When you train through illness, injury, or high levels of personal stress, it can prolong your illness, worsen your injury, or add extra stress. This is why it’s best to take a complete break from training when you need it, taking as much time as you need to recover, rest, and get back on track. The same applies if you’ve taken time off for the holidays, a personal event, or a busy week of life. Don’t return to your training until you have the physical, mental, and logistical bandwidth to be productive. 

When you take a break, don’t beat yourself up for missing workouts or being “behind” in your training plan either. Instead, treat this time like valuable recovery time, and focus on mental and physical recovery. This can help you shift the narrative surrounding your unexpected time off and reap some of the benefits that come with time off the bike. For tips on how to make the most of this downtime, check out: Recovery for Cyclists: Why It’s Important and How to Improve It

Step Two: Evaluate Your Current Goals

You’ll know you’re ready to return to training when you have the availability in your schedule and the mental and physical bandwidth to complete workouts effectively. Before you jump into training again, it’s a good idea to check up on your training plan and make sure the events and structure of your training plan are still in alignment with your season-long cycling goals. Depending on how much time you’ve taken off, you might want to make some adjustments to your plan. Or, if it’s been some time since you looked at the entirety of your plan, you might want to add or edit your existing goals. This time off gives you a natural opportunity to re-evaluate some of the long-term goals and events on your Calendar and decide whether or not you’d like to swap some out or add new ones in. You can add new events to your training plan on the Calendar tab of your online profile or TrainerRoad app. When you add or delete events, your plan will automatically adjust in response.

Step Three: Accept Training Plan Adaptations

If you’re following a TrainerRoad training plan, you won’t need to worry about loading a new training plan or making manual adjustments to your current plan after time off. Adaptive Training automatically adjusts your training plan in response to skipped workouts and any prolonged period of time spent away from your plan. When you open up your training plan, simply accept the adaptations suggested by Adaptive Training. As you complete workouts, Adaptive Training will continue to suggest adjustments based on your performance in your completed workouts.

Step Four: Take a Fitness Assessment Test

If you haven’t done a fitness assessment test in a while, or you’ve spent several weeks without training, now is a good time to re-evaluate your FTP with a Ramp Test. Doing this helps ensure that the workouts in your plan aren’t too intense. With that said, if you have tested recently and you’re jumping back into training after just a week or two off the bike, you likely won’t need to reassess your FTP. Fitness doesn’t decline that rapidly, so your current FTP is likely still applicable! In addition to this, Adaptive Training will adjust for the small changes in your fitness by adjusting your individual workouts in response to your performance in your workouts.

Step Five: Set Process Goals 

While big-picture goals are great for providing long-term structure to your training plan, they’re not always the best short-term motivators. Process goals make the return to training more digestible while providing excellent short-term motivation. Outlining some reachable process goals can also help you ease back into the rhythm of training. To jump-start your training, choose two or three process goals that will help you gain momentum during your first few weeks of training. If you need help coming up with some good process goals, check out 5 Useful Process Goals to Motivate Your Winter Cycling Training.

Step Six: Start Small and Listen to Your Body

If you’re returning to training after illness or injury and you need additional time to ease into your training, try completing some easier Endurance workouts with TrainNow before jumping back into your training plan. A few easier workouts with TrainNow can help you wake up the legs and reacclimate to training. If you are returning to training after illness or an injury, be especially cognizant of how you feel and how your body responds to your training load. If you’re experiencing any pain or feeling overly exerted or fatigued, back off and take a few additional days from your training. It’s better to return feeling one hundred percent than to risk prolonging your illness for a few extra workouts!