5 Signs Its Time For A Break
It happens to everyone at some point. You’ve been riding and feeling strong, but slowly fatigue starts to set in. Your rides get slower, the legs feel sore, and it’s just really hard to find the motivation to get out and ride.
Are you losing your love for cycling?
What you’re feeling is called burnout, and you don’t have to be an elite racer for it to happen. In fact, it’s much more common in everyday cyclists who often push themselves harder than most to get more out of every ride. This is especially common at the height of the season—usually around July or August, when riders have been building intensity and volume, and are teetering on the edge of overtraining.
Don’t fear though, you’re not falling out of love with the bike. If you’re feeling any of the symptoms below, then the cure might just be a 3-7 day bike-free vacation to help you feel mentally and physically refreshed and excited to get back on the bike.
Here are 5 signs that it might be time for a break:
1. Riding Feels Like A Chore
What’s Happening: Every ride feels like a struggle, or you find yourself looking at your bike with dread.
Why It Happens: This is usually the first, and biggest, sign it’s time for a break. We all struggle through rides sometimes, or have bad days in the saddle. But sometimes the repetition of riding: doing the same routes, the same intervals, the same group rides, etc… combined with physical exhaustion can take the joy out of riding.
The Cure: Take 3-5 days off the bike and change it up. If you ride on the road, try mountain biking. If you ride a mountain bike, try road cycling. Try running, or hiking or playing Frisbee. Just do anything but touch your main bike for a few days. You’ll probably be begging to get back on the bike after that.
2. You’re Constantly Sore
What’s Happening: No matter how much protein or how many aminos you eat, no matter how much you stretch or use the foam roller, your legs feel achy, sore and heavy day after day.
Why It Happens: Soreness happens because exercise causes micro-trauma in your muscles (the whole lactic acid thing is a myth). Recovery happens when your body repairs these small tears, making your muscles stronger. To appropriately recover you need two things: proper nutrition and time.
Even if you’ve nailed the nutrition aspect, if you’re not taking enough recovery time your muscles won’t be able to repair the damage and you’ll feel sore. Many cyclists worry that taking time off will cost them fitness, but sometimes the opposite can be true. By taking some time to let your body repair, you’ll actually get faster.
The Cure: Take a break from everything. You’ve broken your body down to the point that it’s telling you you need to stop. Take 3-5 days off from any hard physical activity (riding, running, etc…) and rest. Take walks, go for hikes, or just hit the couch and eat plenty of balanced meals to give your body the things it needs to repair.
3. You’ve Plateaued
What’s Happening: No matter how hard or long you ride, you feel like you just can’t get any faster. In fact, sometimes you’re going slower.
Why It Happens: Your body runs not just on food, but it’s own internal energy sources. If you’ve been riding a lot, you’re constantly exhausting your body’s stores of things like muscle glycogen, cellular ATP, and yes, fat. When you deplete these long term stores enough, your body doesn’t have as much energy to burn, and you begin to slow down. Giving your body a break of even a few days can help rebuild these vital resources.
The Cure: Firstly take a few days completely off the bike, rest and eat plenty of balanced meals. Then start back up again slow. During the first few days back on the bike, cut your weekly mileage in half, ride with a heart rate monitor and keep your HR at around 60% of max. Keep that chain in the little chainring and take it easy. No cheating—you won’t do yourself any good by riding harder.
4. You’re Constantly Tired
What’s Happening: If you feel like you have little energy and are sleeping more than usual, it might be because of how much you’ve been riding. You may also feel like you’ve got a summer cold you just can’t shake, and you feel run down.
Why It Happens: It’s normal to feel tired immediately after exercising, but most generally healthy people should feel back to normal, or even more energetic, in a day or so. If you find yourself constantly feeling tired, or without energy, it could be your body telling you that you’re pushing too hard. The reasons are closely related to #2 and #3. As your body’s natural energy resources dwindle and you accumulate fatigue, you may be using what you have for cycling, leaving you without much energy for other things. Because your body’s natural resources are low, your immune system may also be slightly depressed, making you more susceptible to getting minor infections like colds.
The Cure: By this point you need about a week (7 days) completely off the bike. You’re probably on the verge of overtraining, which is bad juju. Take a week off and have fun. Take your kids to see a movie, catch up on some reading, take a weekend trip with your significant other, sleep plenty and eat good meals. Just catch up on life and enjoy your time away from the bike. At the end of the week, you’ll probably feel excited to get back out and ride.
5. You’re Riding Like A Lion
What’s Happening: You’ve been tearing it up for a few months now. You’ve been dominating your group rides, winning races, and smashing personal bests for more than four consecutive weeks.
Why It Happens: You’ve trained well and honed your form. But the cyclist riding at that kind of high level is balanced on a knife’s edge between performance and overtraining. Most professional coaches, following the adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, advise their riders to take a small break after four or more weeks of strong riding.
The Cure: Take a 3-4 day break to rest and recover. Try a different type of riding, go hiking, or just do nothing. The idea is that a rider who takes a short break at the height of his powers will recover very easily and come back even stronger, whereas a rider who slips off that edge into overtraining will need a longer recovery period and more training time afterwards to get back to where they were.