At the end of a training block, it’s time to dial it back and take a recovery week. While a week may seem like a long time to focus on recovery, it can be one of the most productive weeks in your training plan when you give it the care and attention it needs.
What is a Recovery Week?
Recovery weeks, also referred to as rest weeks, are weeks in a structured training plan dedicated to rest and recovery. In most plans, you’ll have a recovery week integrated into your schedule every three to six weeks. The week itself is designed to reduce overall training stress through low-intensity rides. These types of rides put comparatively smaller amounts of stress on your body so that you can recover completely from prior weeks of training. Don’t be fooled by the low-stress or “easy” workouts, though. This week is still a critical training week.
Should I Skip the Recovery Week?
In general, you should never opt out of a recovery week when you need it. Recovery is a necessary part of a periodized training plan and key to becoming a faster cyclist. When you don’t recover sufficiently, you risk shortchanging positive physical adaptations and compromising the productivity of upcoming workouts. When done consistently over time, you’re at risk of non-functional overreaching and overtraining syndrome.
That’s not to say there aren’t times when you will want to skip the recovery week. For example, if life has forced you to miss a lot of the workouts in your training plan or to take lots of unplanned rest, then you might consider skipping the recovery week. Say you had an unexpectedly busy week at work and had to miss four out of five of the workouts in your plan. This may have turned that training week into an unintentional recovery week. If you did something like this immediately before a planned recovery week, it would make sense to skip that recovery week.
The Recovery Week: Step by Step
With that said, unless you’ve taken impromptu recovery, you shouldn’t miss your planned recovery. You’ll know that it’s a recovery week because the overall TSS of the week will be lower, all of the workouts will be active restoration rides, and there will be no high intensity. Here is an example of a recovery week from a low-volume training plan. It has four dedicated rest days and three active restoration rides.
How you feel during this week will depend on your recovery rate and how fatigued you are from the last few weeks of training. You might recover more quickly than you anticipated, or you might be so fatigued that you need additional rest. To help you make adjustments during your recovery week, here’s what you can expect, things to watch for, and ways to improve it.
Day One and Two
You’ll probably feel pretty tired on the first and second day of your recovery week. You might notice fatigue in your legs, a higher than usual resting heart rate, and a higher demand for food and sleep. An active recovery ride as mellow as Pettit might even feel challenging.
During these first few days, all of the scheduled training is optional. If you’re struggling during the active recovery rides, feel free to cut the workout short or move them to a later day in the week. In the example week above, there’s a restoration ride on Monday. If you weren’t feeling up for a 60-minute ride on Monday, you could drag and drop that workout to another day in the week.
Recovery Tip / Adjust as You Go: The recovery week is one of the more flexible weeks in your training plan. Feel free to cut active recovery rides short or swap them for rest days.
Day Three, Four, and Five
On days three, four, and five, it’s normal to feel tired. You might even be a lot more fatigued than you expected. Remember, you’ve just completed several weeks of hard training—it’s going to take more than two or three days to be completely rested. Now is an excellent time to improve your sleep and nutrition and ensure you’re getting enough of both. Better sleep or nutrition can make a big difference in the recovery process.
Make the most of those mid-week rest days, too, by putting as little stress on your body as possible. Don’t add off-the-bike workouts and if possible, try to limit any strenuous activity you do in your day-to-day. As is the nature of life, it isn’t usually realistic to eliminate all strenuous activity, but it’s good to limit it wherever you can.
Recovery Tip / Nourish Yourself: Just because you’re not maintaining the same activity level doesn’t mean you should be eating less. Depending on how demanding your training block was, you might even be eating more. Focus on nourishing yourself this week to ensure that you have enough fuel to assist your body’s physical adaptation.
Day Six and Seven
By the sixth or seventh day of your recovery week, you should be feeling like your usual self. You might be feeling some snappiness coming back into your legs and an eagerness to tackle hard workouts. On the other hand, though rested, you could also notice a stiff or flat feeling in your legs. If this does happen, don’t worry, the flatness will usually disappear once you get back to training.
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When you begin the next training block, you should feel mentally and physically prepared to take on another three to six weeks of challenging activity. If you don’t feel this way, then that’s a sign that you should take a few additional rest days. At this point, you’ll have to use your own discretion and really pay attention to the signals your body is sending you. Depending on how you feel, you may want to extend your recovery by a few days or an additional week.
Recovery Tip / Reflect: Your recovery week is an opportunity to reflect on the past few weeks of training. What worked and what didn’t? If some weeks or days didn’t go to plan, then what could you have done to make them better? Consider choosing one new process goal to focus on during your next block of training. Just one small change can make a huge difference when compounded over time.
Make Your Own Recovery Week
If you’re not following a structured training plan, consider adding a recovery week to your schedule. The building blocks of the recovery week are simple. All you need is a couple of active recovery days with rest days in between. The trickiest part is setting the time aside to recover and making sure that you stick to your recovery when it’s time.
The same goes for any athlete who needs additional recovery when they’re following a structured training plan. If you ever feel like you need a recovery week before your next scheduled recovery week, plan your own. You can use the settings in your Calendar to copy an upcoming recovery week and insert it into your current training week.