Recovery Week Advice

Hi,

I recently got back into cycling after a 5 years break. I am 46 years old, I am logging my rides with power and heart rate data and am uploading them to Strava and Golden Cheetah.
Between, covid lockouts, work, wife and kids, I cannot ride regularly, I mean I do ride 3-5 times a week but the CTL accumulations have not been steady. Some weeks has been harder than I would like and others easier. And I have been trying to learn how to use PMC. Not for racing or any other event, it is just that tracking fitness helps me with motivation to ride more.

My question is about when to do a recovery week and if PMC would be able to tell me when to go for a recovery week. What I initially wanted to do was to take a break every 4th or 5th week but given that I happen to have unintentional easier weeks from time to time, am I still supposed to do a recovery week when it is due or if I can manage the timing of a recovery week using TSB for example?

Like right now, I am supposed to do a recovery week as I haven’t done any in the last month but my TSB is -3.4 and ramp rate is -1.2 baseline being 0, I feel like I should keep going until I can accumulate some stress.

Any advice is appreciated. Thanks,

If life imposes a natural recovery week then I tend to just go with that and not take another one immediately after just because that’s what was on the schedule. Means being quite flexible with your planning, and your PMC is unlikely to look like the nice 3 weeks ramp - 1 week recovery - rinse and repeat that TR plans out!

The exception to this would be if the “natural recovery week” wasn’t really recovery but just a load of life stress with not much training. E.g. you couldn’t train because you were sick, working long hours, travelling, etc. In that case even though your PMC might look like you weren’t doing much, your body might well still need an easy week.

My easier weeks, still have some hard efforts in them but they are just not long enough to accumulate or maintain stress. They look more like tapering weeks rather than recovery weeks I guess.

If I had to take 4-6 days off the bike, I would consider that a recovery week but don’t know what to do in my case. Couldn’t find anything about it in google either. I guess the PMC users are much more disciplined than I am and they don’t run into this sort of issues.

Unlikely! Most people I know are juggling issues like these the whole time. Even pros get sick, have to fit in sponsor commitments, have young kids that keep them up all night, etc. It’s good to have a plan, but just as important is the ability to adjust that plan when it runs headlong into real life. I.e. figuring out:

  • How much you can substitute intensity for volume when you’re short on time
  • How much non-training stress is taking out of you and impacting your ability to train and your need for recovery
  • Which sessions are really key and need to be fitted in (or a variant) if at all possible vs the ones that you can drop if necessary
  • How much you can take advantage of quiet life weeks to do extra training without overdoing it
  • How to keep nutrition and sleep on track to minimise the impact of periods when training is on the back burner

PMC is a useful tool for both planning and then inevitably re-planning, but it’s just a guide. I try and stick to the old adage “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”. I.e. when I can’t do what was planned then focus on what I can do to improve, maintain, or at least minimise losses in fitness rather than getting too hung up on what I was supposed to be doing.

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I found this…

  • The ideal training zone for TSB falls between -10 and -30. If athletes push beyond -30 they are headed for extreme strain or have recently completed an extensive race effort. Numbers extending beyond -30 will require consecutive days of rest to achieve the necessary recovery for future performance.
  • The opposite is true as well—if you start to see +15 to +25 TSB you are extensively recovered and essentially losing fitness.

It doesn’t say anything about recovery weeks but my TSB rolls around 0 these days so I think I shouldn’t do any recovery weeks before seeing something less than -10… I think I don’t have any stress that I need to recover from at the moment so recovery week would lead to fitness loss.

Don’t know if this is true but it makes sense to me :slight_smile:

Joe Friel’s book has a big section on recovery/rest, but he doesn’t give a PMC-based approach to determining whether to back off and take a recovery week. Most of his recommendations seem to be based on ‘feel’. If you feel tired, take it easy. He also mentions that heart-rate variability measurement is useful.

He has a chart of ‘morning warning’ signs that you need to back off. I found it reproduced on the web here: Morning Warnings | Saris (cycleops.com)

IME, executing a season planned by PMC is an exercise in futility. I use my PMC to help plan volume and know when I need to dial down a workout in my plan so I’m not going crazy with TSS in the middle of a block.

I don’t use it to tell me when I need recovery, ever. That is the tail wagging the dog. Most of the time, your TSB when training should be negative. Mine resides between -5 and -20 most of the time, and I’ll hit lows a few times during a block.

At 46, three working weeks followed by a few days (up to a week) recovery is the way to go IMO. Let the PMC be the PMC and learn from it, but it’s not a tool that should make decisions for you.

One word of caution about PMC, CTL, TSB, etc. I find it a very useful way to visualize training, but you need to correlate your body to the numbers on the chart … kind of like RPE and power. TSB of -10 may be way different for you than someone else.

CTL, TSB, etc are calculated off of TSS and, therefore, are mathematical measures of training load. They are not measures of fitness or performance, though.

A while ago I decided to add some sweet spot work into my recovery week because I didn’t like how much my CTL dropped during the previous recovery weeks. What I failed to do was listen to my body telling me that it needed more rest, not sweet spot work. I almost failed the following training block because I wanted the PMC to look a certain way.

I’m still experimenting with recovery weeks, as I tend to do a little better when carrying a small amount of fatigue. My first priority during recovery weeks is to shed the fatigue, which (for me) I can judge most easily by how heavy (tired) my legs feel during the warmup for any ride. The longer it takes them to wake up directly relates to how deep of a hole I’ve dug. I’ll do one more Z2 ride after the first with no tired legs, then I typically add 1x15 or 2x15 sweet spot to the following rides. This upcoming recovery week I may add an “opener” like Truuli for a bit more intensity before resuming the next block.

Anyway, TLDR, listen to your body and correlate how you’re feeling to the charts.

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This is exactly what I was trying to say, put much more succinctly. Listen to your body.

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Need some learning on that front… After restarting cycling in September, I did 3 months without a recovery week. And it was going fine until I made a big Sunday ride and the progression fell apart. I didn’t feel tired before or during the big ride. I mean, I got tired of course, it was a 6 hour ride but nothing out of the ordinary, didn’t get exhausted or smth. But on the next ride, I tried this hill next to my home, it is 10 min climb for me and I always climb it at the same avg heart rate, and check out the avg power, try to understand if I am getting fitter or not… And it was significantly worse than before… I have climbed that hill 80 times this year, trying to keep all parameters the same so I was certain that something was definitely off. Only then it occurred to me that the big ride had put me in over training zone and I actually lost fitness due to that ride… And I wasn’t feeling tired before the ride but thinking back now, I probably wasn’t able to listen my body properly. Hence the recovery week questions…

Well, the first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one right? Thanks for all the advice

You didn’t lose fitness due to that ride, but you definitely incurred a big dose of acute fatigue. If you recover properly from it - take a few days up to a week or more easy - you’ll be fitter for it.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Most people don’t recognize the need for recovery or don’t know how deep in fatigue they really are until they learn. Some never learn. One local athlete who is chronically injured, sick, and overtrained once told me “Coaches are stupid. You don’t get faster by not working out.” He’s gotten worse and worse as an athlete over th years in spite of massive volume. It’s sad to watch, but you really can’t tell him anything.

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What kind of volumes are we talking about? And how does he train? Zones, training philosophy etcetera. Could be informative for others (me) to see what not to do.

I don’t even think his volume is routinely all that high. Just went back and looked at his October - only 18000m swim, 900mi bike, 325mi running. That’s actually pretty low for him. I can recall months of 20km swim, 1200+mi bike and 500mi running. I’ve told him in the past that I think he should swim more and run (a lot) less.

But the training zones - everything he does is what we’d call “gray zone”. It’s not too hard. It’s not easy. It’s all the same pace all the time. I’d call it “zone 3”. He chases PRs in every race (rarely gets one) rather than trying to peak or push fitness higher. He races everything from 5km runs to IM distance triathlons, and never seems to have a focus event, rather just trying to be good at all things all the time.

The biggest issue I’ve seen through the ten or so years that I’ve known him is that he never, ever, takes any kind of down time unless injury forces it. And even then, he’s in the pool, or trying to come back from injury far too fast. His body is clearly broken down: extremely low body fat, he looks like he’s much older than he is - picture what most of your grand tour riders look like for the TdF, and that’s what he looks like all the time. His run form has broken down over the years to the point where he can no longer bend his knees effeciently and he runs extremely stiffly. He says, “That’s just the way I run”… but it wasn’t always as bad as it is now.

He desperately needs to take several months off. His wife is a high level runner and triathlete of much more moderate philosophy. She probably could’ve raced elite if she chose to. Instead, he quit his job to train more. He almost never takes a day off from anything. Back when I talked to him more, his wife agreed with me… didn’t matter.

As mentioned, I tried helping him - and I still do on other things like equipment and what not - a few years ago when he said he was chronically fatigued and injured. Now, this was before I was doing any formal coaching or certified, but his quote was what I mentioned, “You don’t get faster by taking time off; you get faster by training. Tapering is stupid, coaches who tell you to taper are stupid.” something to that effect. It stuck with me, and so I am now very cautious and reserved about talking to him about anything at all Sadly, I’ve watched over the years as an athlete that was once breathing down my neck at many races has not improved at all in more than a decade in spite of way more consistency and training volume that I could dream of in that time, and as his body has broken down in his early 40s.

The red flags to look for - chronic injuries; dramatic, unplanned changes in technique in relatively short periods; extremely low body fat at all times; moodiness and chronic fatigue.