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3 Signs a Cyclist Needs a Rest Week

By Jiri Kaloc

How can you tell you’re carrying too much cumulative fatigue? Should you go by how you feel, by changes in performance or your heart rate variability? Let’s take at the 3 most important signs that every cyclist should look out for.

#1 Your performance drops by more than 3%

Performance is the easiest indicator of your need for recovery because it’s measurable. You can compare normalised average power from hard rides or the quality of your interval training. If your average normalised power decreased by more than 3% in 2 out of your last 3 hard rides, it’s a clear sign that your body is asking for a recovery week. Similarly, if you’re missing the power numbers or duration by more than 3% in 2 out of 3 of your last interval training sessions, you should rest.

If you listen to this sign, you’ll hit the sweet spot between enough stress that your body will adapt and not so much that it will take way more time to recover than usual. But keep in mind that changes in performance lower than 3% are within normal day-to-day variation. Similarly, even a larger drop in a single ride is not a sign of cumulative fatigue. What you’re looking for is a trend, not just a single bad day.

#2 You feel progressively worse for 3 days straight

Another indicator is as simple as how you feel after a ride. If you feel progressively worse for 3 days in a row while cycling, it’s time to take that rest week. Same as with performance, you’re not looking for one difficult day but a clear trend. The hard part is that “feeling worse” is very subjective but there are ways to judge it.

Exhausted cyclist
Exhaustion can amplify every single negative thought and make it seem like all hope is lost. © Profimedia

If you are used to tracking the rate of perceived exertion, then you can use that as a guide. When a regular endurance ride ranks 1-2 points higher than usual, you can safely assume you’re feeling worse. Another way to assess this is to go over your training notes history. If you see more negative vocabulary than usual in your notes in the past few days, it’s also a sign. If you don’t track subjective feelings after your rides, consider this a good reason to start doing it. You can even set up your Garmin to ask you how you feel after each ride.

#3 Your training plan is asking for a week off

It can be tricky to take a rest week when you don’t really feel fatigued and your training seems to be going well. But when your training plan says one is coming up, you should take it. One training phase should take between 4 to 6 weeks and it should always be followed by rest. Science shows that this window is how long it takes for training to produce meaningful adaptations. When you add rest at the end of the phase, you take full advantage of the training you do. When you decide to skip it, you are exposing yourself to a lot more risk of overtraining or injury.

Use heart rate variability too

If you have a Garmin watch, a Whoop strap, or an Oura ring, you can see your heart rate variability trending over time. Even though it seems like these devices can give you clear guidance on when you should rest and when you can keep pushing, always try to put this data into a broader context. There are things that your smartwatch simply can’t take into account and it’s your job to consider everything that’s going on in your life and training and make the correct call. You can check out our previous article on how to best use heart rate variability to make an informed decision.