How to know when to take a cycling break

Most athletes push themselves too hard. Learn the difference between good tired and bad tired - and know when it's time to take a break.

Credit: Frank Rowe

In three years, Alex Wrubleski has gone from an oval-obsessed speed skater on Canada’s national team to a hill-climbing machine on the women’s European cycling tour. After a win at the Redlands Classic, a major North American road race in 2008, she spent most of the spring racing in Europe, scoring several top 10 finishes for her Webcor Builders team.

From Wrubleski’s combined experience on the ice and road, she’s found the secret to getting just the right amount of rest—something a lot of athletes struggle with. “So many cyclists are either afraid of not doing enough training and feel the need to go hard all the time, or are afraid of doing too much,” she says. “I have been on both ends of the spectrum, and I learned that listening to my body was the best way to figure out what I need. Rest and recovery are just as important as the training and without both, you will never be fast when it matters most.”

Figuring out how much rest you need is based on an acute understanding of how your body feels. At first there will be some trial and error. There is a good tired and a bad tired. “If you can learn to tell the difference between the two, then your training will be much more effective,” says Wrubleski. Here are a few clues to get you started:

Good tired

You get out of bed and notice some fatigue and a little stiffness in your legs. It’s a satisfying feeling—as though you accomplished something yesterday. Overall you feel awake and pretty chipper. You still run up the stairs to work, but with less pop in your step.

Follow-up: Hit the road for a light-to-moderate recovery ride. Don’t overdo it, but time in the saddle will make your legs stronger and encourage faster recovery times in the future.

Bad tired

You wake up the day after a hard ride feeling like you didn’t get enough sleep. You lash out at your partner for finishing the milk. Your legs feel like lead weights and are sore and stiff. You skip the stairs and stand on the escalator. If it weren’t for that major meeting today, you’d climb back into bed and stay there.

Follow-up: Skip the recovery ride, drink lots of water, have a nap and try some yoga or a light walk. Tomorrow go for a long, slow spin.