To Rest Week or not to Rest Week?

In this week’s edition of the Training Guide, GFNY Coach Christian discusses whether or not you should program rest weeks into your training plan.

Rest Weeks vs De-load weeks

Before we start, it’s important to discuss some definitions. Athletes often think of rest weeks and de-load weeks as being interchangeable. However, in my opinion, they are very different things.

A rest week is just that: a week solid of rest or very easy training. On one hand, it can give the body a big break from the stress of training. On the other hand, after a week of rest or near-rest, detraining will already take a major chunk out of your fitness.

A de-load week is simply a small reduction in training volume and intensity. Perhaps 70% of the volume and intensity of your hardest week of training during that particular training cycle is a good number for a de-load week.

A de-load week can also be accomplished in several ways. One way would be to apply that 70% factor across the whole training week: reduce volume and intensity of all workouts across the week.

Another way is to simply take a few rest days, followed by normal training. My favorite way to do this is simple: take Monday and Tuesday totally off, ride easy on Wednesday to wake the body up a bit, and get back to normal training on Thursday. So while the volume will be down for the week, it’s really three days of rest vs an entire week of rest. This can be ideal to recover from a big week of training: a training camp; a holiday weekend full of long rides; or just a big-time overload week.

Rest Weeks: The dos and don’ts

I always cringe when I see amateur athletes taking very easy weeks or full rest weeks on a routine basis. In my opinion, there’s no reason an athlete should have to take rest weeks through the course of a season.

After seven days of rest or easy riding, detraining is already occurring. Athletes who take frequent rest weeks often note feeling flat, stale and unfit the week following their rest week.

Also, most athletes aren’t doing enough damage to truly need frequent rest weeks. Adhering to the common 3 week on/1 week cycle of training, where the 4th week is a rest week, will simply lead to under-training for most people.

There’s a few exceptions:

-At the end of the season. Taking a rest week, or even two or three, is a good idea at the end of a long season.

-Mid-season if you have a very long season. If, say, you have a goal event in May, and another in September, taking a rest week right after your event in May can be a good re-set before beginning to train again for your event in September.

De-load weeks: the dos and don’ts

De-load weeks are far more useful, and should be far more frequent, than rest weeks. Whereas a rest week will leave you lethargic and under-trained, a deload week should leave you fresh, sharp, and motivated.

However, I still see athletes overuse de-load weeks. For example, the traditional 3 weeks on/1 week ‘off’ format can work well when we use the 4th week as a de-load week and not a pure rest week. However, I don’t think this is necessary for athletes training at low volume. If your big weeks are less than around 14 hours a week of training, I don’t suggest taking a de-load week after every 3 weeks of training.

That doesn’t mean to never take deload weeks, it just means to take them when you need them: after a training camp or long weekend of riding as we mentioned above, during a period that life has you slammed and you’re extremely busy with work/family/off-the-bike things, or after a race.

For athletes who are training with high volume, then taking a de-load week after 3-4 weeks of hard training can be a good way to freshen your legs and guard against overtraining.

Remember that life often intervenes

Another reason I don’t plan deload or rest weeks often for amateur athletes is that life often intervenes and provides unplanned rest anyway.

Work trips and vacations often provide rest throughout the season.

On the other hand, life stress can come up and force me, as a coach, to plan some rest if I know the athlete is stressed, busy, or not sleeping enough.

For that reason, I rarely pre-plan deload or rest weeks with busy athletes, and instead adapt on the fly when I see signs they might need some rest. If you’re a self-coached athlete, I suggest you try to do the same.