The first time I had a coach, in the early 90’s, two things jumped out at me. She said that my steady and longer rides were too hard and that I needed to do those sessions at a lower intensity for them to work best; she also noted that I needed at least one day off per week. That sounded blasphemous to me. Shouldn’t I train harder, longer and more often than the competition if I wanted to go faster? And if you are paid for helping me ride faster, shouldn’t you tell me to train harder longer and more?
She was correct. I was wrong.
Her advice lead to my VO2mx improving about 22% over six years building to 5.8L/min.
Rest and intensity discipline work!
Unfortunately, rest is under appreciated. Rest days seem to fall at the cross section of our desire for working towards something and logistics, often falling through the cracks.
In our busy productivity-focused lives, rest is sometimes viewed as an afterthought or a hinderance instead of the necessity it is. There are occasionally athletes that end up not using a complete rest day for various reasons. Over the past 20 years, I have worked with pro to new athletes, world and national champions and first timers… in all of those groups, most athletes do best with full on rest days as a key point in their training. Often more than one per week!
A full day of rest is huge to letting your body and mind recover, and puts you in position to really focus when you need to.
Now that we are in the transitional phase of the year (mid-late fall) for most athletes, consider stretching the rest day to 1-2 weeks off, and then a few weeks where you have more total days off than normal – 2-3/week. This initial period of the “off” (IE, get stronger) season, is what sets you up for future fitness building. You will be physically and mentally healthy, and ready to go! After that first 1-2-week period, some light training is fine. Short runs, rides or swims, easing into strength training. Those are great options. Consider, during this time, ditching the data harvesting tools (gps/HR/power) and working on using RPE primarily to manage intensity. You will have 11 months to bring in more detailed quantitative analysis and execution of workouts. For a few weeks here, loosen the reigns and listen to your body.
Once back to normal progressive training, do the absolute best you can to make at least one day a rest day per week. I”ll double down here, whenever possible, see if you can make that rest day on the weekend. If you run long during the week and do a longer bike or bike-run on the weekend one day, this is doable. Imagine how it would feel to get into workouts on Monday AM after having a day where you were not working, were not training, and were just enjoying the rest of life? Freshness is really motivating and fosters recovery over the long term to boot!
When you are laying out your training for the coming months, do not just work sessions around the biggest workouts of the week, anchor things with the rest day! It is the day that allows you to get the most from the hard work that you do now, and in the future!
Do NOT turn the rest day into the “I missed a session, so I’ll move it there day”! If you have a long bike-run or a tough interval run, would you slide a missed workout to that day and just jam it in there? NO! Do NOT treat rest as less valuable than work – doing so always leads to problems. If you drop a missed session into your rest day, now all the days after are impacted – most often, negatively. When you hijack your rest day as a make-up day, you have created a step of program drift, leading to changes in the projected outcome of your training efforts!
Honor the rest day. Consider 1-2 of them per week. Over the long haul, you will be fresher, perform better, have more fun, and your family will remember who you are to boot!
Rest Up to race fast!