Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard
– Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year
Question: “Is it ok to ride every day? And if so, what types of rides should I be doing?”
Diane’s reply: Now that summer is in full swing, most cyclists are outside racking up the miles on their bikes. It may be tempting to ride every day to try to speed up your fitness level but that approach can be a double-edged sword. It’s true that riding more will increase your fitness level, but riding too much can lead to injuries and overtraining. There’s a fine line between doing enough and doing too much. How do you know if you’ve crossed it? Let’s take a look.
If you didn’t do much riding because of a cool spring, work/family commitments, injury or illness etc., then increasing your mileage too fast can lead to injury, illness, and/or burnout, which will eventually take you out of the saddle and off the road. Being in good shape coming into the outdoor season doesn’t mean you won’t get injured or ill. You can still do too much if you don’t get enough rest. Even pro cyclists in the Tour de France and other big bike races battle injury, fatigue and illness. So how can you improve your bike fitness while keeping injuries and illnesses at bay? The following tips will help you improve your fitness and stay strong, fresh and injury-free.
1. Alternate a hard or long day with an easy recovery. Recovery days should be ridden as follows:
Hard days are interval training days, hill climbing repeat days, and long endurance days. To do a recovery ride, choose a flat loop or route, and stay in the small chain ring in an easy gear. Keep the cadence higher than normal to help flush your legs out (release muscle toxins and soreness from the legs). 95 to 110 rpms is good for a recovery ride –30 minutes minimum and 60 minutes maximum. This will allow the body to be in a state of “active recovery:” the body is working and using the same muscles it normally does but is not being taxed too much, as a result stimulating a healing or recovery effect on the body.
Recovery rides also allow a mental break from the rigours of long and hard workouts. Research shows that short, easy-intensity spinning speeds healing from muscle damage caused by intense workouts. Many cyclists have a fear of not doing enough and even do recovery rides too hard and too long, eliminating the recovery effects. Instead of helping the body, they hinders it by doing what we coaches call “grey miles” – miles that are neither hard enough to lead to greater fitness and power nor easy enough to stimulate recovery and recuperation. If you are training with a heart rate monitor, you should be in zone 1 and no higher than low zone 2. On a perceived level of exertion, where 1 is the easiest you can ride and 10 is the hardest, you can ride, you should be at 4.
2. To give the body a full rest, take one day off per week.
This day can be spent doing other types of exercise to help continue with the recovery process — preferably a non-weight-bearing activity such as swimming, elliptical, rowing, weight training, or yoga etc.
The following is a weekly riding schedule for a cyclist who has kept herself in shape by riding indoors in the off-season.
Day One: Long endurance mileage – Keep the heart rate in zone 2 and low to mid-zone 3 on any climbs.
Day Two: 45-minute recovery ride
Day Three: Interval training (can consist of aerobic-capacity, aerobic-threshold-style intervals, or hill repeats)
Day Four: Rest or cross-training – keep the intensity low and in zone 1 or 2 if you are doing a cardiovascular workout.
Day Five: Medium distance with sustained periods of zone 3 intensity. On a perceived level of exertion, you should be operating at a 7 to 8 out of 10 for segments of this ride.
Day Six: 30 – 60-minute recovery ride
Day Seven: Interval training or steady but not maximal effort riding.
This is a weekly riding schedule for a cyclist who may be fit, but either is not as serious as a more advanced rider or who doesn’t have as much time to spend on the bike.
Day One: Long Endurance mileage ride – Keep the heart rate in zone 2 except for the climbs.
Day Two: 30–45-minute recovery ride
Day Three: Interval training
Day Four: Rest or cross-training – Keep the intensity low and in zone 1 or 2 if you are doing a cardiovascular workout.
Day Five: Medium distance and medium intensity. High zone 2 to low zone 3
Day Six: 30–45 minute recovery ride
Day Seven: Off
I have already mentioned how long recovery rides should be. The length of the other rides will depend on your current fitness level, goals, time availability, or whether you’re returning to the sport of cycling due to illness, injury, pregnancy or a combination of the above. Below is a suggested length for each of the other types of rides.
Seasoned fit, or more advanced rider:
Long endurance rides: 3–5 hours in length, or more, depending on current riding goals and time availability
Interval training: 15–20 minutes of high-intensity segments within the workout
Medium distance, with medium intensity: 90 minutes–2 hours
Moderate fitness level, beginner, returning to the sport after a hiatus etc:
Long endurance rides: 90 min–2 hrs.
Interval training: 8–10 minutes of actual high-intensity segments within the workout
Medium distance and medium intensity: 45–75 minutes
If you aren’t following a schedule, choose one of the suggested outlines above, and track how you feel over the next two months of the summer. This approach isn’t just for competitors. It applies to all levels of riders, at all ages.
Get out there, be consistent, and ride smart.
Diane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations
Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.