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Why You Should Take a Day Off On the Weekend

Weekends have historically been prime time for smashing group rides and ticking off huge miles. At KET, we are big advocates of the 'volume is king' philosophy, so why would we suggest skipping a day perfectly suited for accumulating a lot of volume? It's because we are advocates of high volume only if it is recoverable volume.



What is a Rest Day?

A rest day is simply a day completely dedicated to removing as much fatigue in your body as you can. This means doing as little as possible, sleeping a little more, eating a little more, and overall just relaxing and being stress-free.


The terms "rest day" and "recovery day" are often used interchangeably but they are not the same thing. A recovery day is when you do some form of light activity to help augment the recovery process, but a rest day is doing the absolute minimum you can to maximize recovery. There are times to use one over the other, but most athletes will ride too hard on recovery rides or do too much yoga or stretching thinking more activity will help more. All activity will use your precious energy, regardless of how easy you think it is, and doing more 'recovery yoga' could lead to increasing the amount of fatigue you have instead of helping with recovery.


When to rest vs recover


Effective training is through accumulating fatigue in a controlled and predictable manner while recovering and alleviating that fatigue at strategic times to allow your body to get stronger. I have a whole blog already written on this subject that can be found here. On some days that strategic recovery needs to be larger than others, those days you would choose a full rest day over a recovery day.


Say you are an elite rider deep in your very early base period. You may only be doing one or two harder workouts a month during this time, you won't accumulate loads of sympathetic nervous system fatigue because you aren't doing loads of high-intensity work. Without this form of fatigue, you may have the ability to focus on developing parasympathetic fatigue through low intensity, steady state rides. You may not want to take a full day off so you can keep that chronic fatigue higher and in an effective adaptation range for as long as possible before taking your rest period all at once at the end of your training block.


Tracking this fatigue can be done in apps like TrainingPeaks or WKO5 with the Performance Manager Charts. WKO5 will recommend a range of "form" values that are most conducive for training and tapering. I am not a fan of the wording on the Performance Manager: Fatigue, Form, and Fitness. This wording makes it sound like these are mutually exclusive things when, in fact, these are all just different manifestations of fatigue.


In this example, the rider might be trying to keep their Form (also known as training stress balance or TSB) within the "optimal training" zone of -11 to -29 TSB. Taking a full day off might freshen them up so much that they fall outside of the optimal training range so they will need to either ride harder the following days to get back there or wait several days for it to fall back naturally.


This rider regularly bounced back and forth between easier and harder rides throughout a training block to ensure she was keeping her TSB within the optimal zone, or as close as possible.


Similarly, If you are trying to extend a peak period after a taper, you may want to do recovery rides here and there to keep you from extending too far into the over-fresh range and beginning to lose fitness.



This is my personal TSB between Moran 166 and Iceman, two of my A- priority races of 2023, separated by about a month. I took several days off after completing the 700 TSS race before managing recovery rides, full rest days, and a few interval days to keep my high end power sharp and gradually get my TSB within the optimal performance and fresh range and keep it there by Iceman. There is also a tune-up MTB race in there to ensure everything is good to go before Iceman.


On the other side of the spectrum, if you are training fewer hours a week, and you are performing 3 harder workouts in that period, your riding is more intense relatively especially compared to your chronic fatigue. This means a hard workout could cause a drastic change in your TSB, causing it to shoot past the optimal training zone. To avoid overtraining you will want to take a full day off to get your fatigue and TSB back to a level that allows you to train effectively.


This rider was at a training camp accumulating TONS of fatigue. Before he was able to continue with his training program, he required 2 days off and a super easy recovery day in order to get back to a fatigue level that allowed him to continue to train optimally.



Why Are Rest Days Less Effective During the Week?

We have seen a few examples of how to utilize rest and recovery days in practice. But not all rest days are created equal. Some things happen in life that can't be predicted or calculated on a graph or chart like these.


Most of us aren't like true professionals, we have a life outside of riding that comes first. We have family members to take care of, relationships to nurture, and jobs that require lots of our time and energy. These things are all physical or psychological sources of stress and shouldn't be ignored when you take a look at your training fatigue.


Let's say you are planning a training camp vacation for a week and you are expecting to dig yourself deep into a hole of fatigue so you will need to take a few days off to recover. If you are looking at the theoretical values given in TrainingPeaks or WKO5, you might determine that 2 days off will get you back to where you need to be. That theoretical two days off would only be true if those were completely off days dedicated to resting.


If your first two days after you return from your trip are at work and you need to catch up on all the stuff you missed while you were gone, those days will be pretty stressful and not allow you to adequately recover. This could mean it might take you three or four days to properly recover, and now that you have started training too soon you could get yourself into trouble with overtraining and excessive chronic fatigue in a week.


Another factor that affects recovery during the week is your sleep schedule. If you are up late with your kids and then have to wake up early the next morning for work, your best tool for increasing your recovery has been hindered. Losing sleep or even just poor quality sleep can make you feel tired the following morning, and if it continues your performance will suffer as you begin to accumulate unnecessary fatigue.



How to Add a Weekend Rest Day?

After everything said so far, you probably came to the conclusion that you should add a weekend rest day to your training every once in a while. Here are some of our recommendations on how to best do that.


Ending a big training block


If you have a big cycling vacation or training camp coming up, it would be a good idea to dedicate one last day of your vacation to being as relaxing and stress-free as possible (that's what a vacation is supposed to be, right?). This could look like a 7-day training camp where you ride for 6 days and the final day is just a relaxing day at the beach without the stress of traveling. Dealing with logistics and being on your feet all day is psychologically draining as well as physically fatiguing, so don't just assume a day without riding is a day without fatigue.


Another example could be if you are planning your last major block of training before your priority race and you are planning on pushing your limits on what you can handle. If you are digging deep and for a long time, you will have loads of fatigue that will need to be managed before you head into your final race-specific block and taper. The best way to get a jump start on this recovery process is by taking a day off, or even better take two!


Doubling up on rest days could be a tremendous way to quickly and efficiently remove tons of fatigue. You could end your final big training block on a Friday, take the weekend off entirely, and then the following week will continue as a recovery week and slowly build back up into those final training blocks.


After a race


Looking at my training between Moran and Iceman, you can see the importance of rest days to quickly eliminate a large amount of fatigue. If you have a huge race you should look into taking a day or two afterward to focus on sleeping, eating, and resting as much as possible. If you have two high-priority races within a short amount of time, an off day after the first race will allow you to quickly recover and prepare you to put in the last remaining important workouts without risking coming into the second race overly fatigued.


If you have a busy weekly schedule


The best reason for most people to take an off day on the weekends is simply because they have such a busy life during the week. Between work, family, and friends, it may be difficult to find any time during the week when you can relax and have time for yourself. You may not be able to reliably sleep in on a weekday or more easily control. You can consolidate all of your fatigue throughout the week and perform a few shorter but harder workouts and when you have more free time on the weekend, you can rest even harder and prepare you for the next week.


Consistency is one of the most throughout aspects of training. If you are riding 4 hours throughout the 5-day week and then doing 8 hours every weekend in just two days, your fatigue is disproportionately stacked within those two days and you may struggle to properly recover during the week. Cutting your weekly hours back by 4 hours and replacing one of those weekend rides with a rest day may end up giving you better fitness returns as you can more effectively recover.




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