Okay, so now you have determined statistically and using your instincts when you need a little break from intense workouts and rides. I think that as you track data, you start to see the need for variety and rest. There are two distinct “training” situations that I run into all the time: a day when I need to go a little less (or more) intensely and a day where I need to recover.
Variety and LSD
Recall from previous entries that there are really two things that cause training stress: intensity and duration. So, for example, after a hard interval session mid-week, I am going to opt to do a longer and slower ride the next day. I am not going to continue to match the interval session’s intensity back to back too often. For one, it would build up too much training load too fast and secondly, I want to be working different systems. I want to be a well-rounded cyclist, not only focusing on 30 second power but also endurance. So, I will hit it hard one day and then turn around and mix it up with a long easy day.
When I go for the long slow distance (LSD), I track heart rate (and power) and try to keep in zone 2. This endurance zone is one that typically a cyclist could ride all day long. It is one in which you could hold a conversation and manage most hills at a moderately easy feeling pace. ALL BIKE RIDING IS HARD! I don’t look at any other metrics on LSD rides, I just look at my zones and try to keep my efforts in zone 2.
One interesting guideline I use comes from Dr. Phil Maffatone who gives the formula of 180 minus your age as a heart rate for endurance exercise (plus or minus a few points for certain factors, see the link). I have been using the number 135 +/- for a while now, and I know that if I am somewhere between 125 to 135 bpm, I am in the right zone for endurance training. These rides are easy, and they do help you to build fitness and work your endurance system.
I don’t worry as much about power on these rides, and sometimes I ride my steel bike that has no power meter on it. Again, one major benefit of power in training is that it more accurately adjusts to the ups and downs of intense riding, whereas heart rate lags behind. On long slow efforts, this is not a problem in my mind, although it is interesting to see how much more power you can put out at a low heart rate as you get more fit over time.
So, shoot for variety in your training and utilize LSD quite often to keep working on the ever-important base without blowing yourself up all the time.
Some days, even LSD will be too much. On days where I am completely cooked from a hard race or long hard ride, I look at a way to get in some activity without adding any real training stress. Remember that the body rebuilds itself after intense activity, so if you always keep working intensely, you will never rebuild your torn-up legs! Active recovery will allow you to flush the junk out of your legs and allow you to recovery more quickly.
If my legs hurt, I look to do one of the following activities. If I feel more tired afterwards, I went too hard!:
Active light spin: I will ride in zone 1 for 45 minutes to an hour and try to achieve a high cadence, at least above 90-95. My goal is usually to try to hit 100 in the little ring. My head unit will show only power zone, heart rate zone, and cadence. I want to only see zone 1 for power or heart rate, with maybe a little zone 2 if there is a hill or something I cannot avoid. This is painfully slow and really takes high effort not to just ride harder.
Skills ride: I will go out for an easy spinning ride on the MTB or CX bike and just putz around in street clothes. I will try to ride over stuff and take some downhills at speed. I pedal around trees and take sharp turns. These add little stress and help immensely in the cyclocross season.
Walk or hike: Take an easy walk or hike and stretch those legs without putting lots of stress on them. I will often wear compression sleeves on my calves when doing this. Walk the dog and get a bonus!
Swim or go in the hot tub. These non-weight-bearing water activities are great.
Sauna: When I had a gym membership, I would hit the sauna and sweat it out on an easy day. It always made me feel less stiff.
Yoga: Look up some yoga for cyclists’ videos on YouTube! Yoga is a great way to build flexibility and strength. It will help you feel less stiff after a few hard days.
Some more ideas were given in an old post.
There will be times when you just need to take a complete rest day and do nothing. Your body should be able to tell you when to stop for a day or two. You HRV will be way off, you will have extremely achy legs, and you will need sleep. What I like to try on these days (if they fall on a weekend or vacation day) is to not set an alarm and see what happens. There have been days where I can easily get ten hours of sleep without interruptions. When this happens, I often do not ride that day. Every fourth week or so, I try to get some days completely away from the bike, and I think you should as well. This year, I did not take a bike on vacation with me, and I came back way stronger for it.
So, be active in your approach to training and recovery. Use variety, active recovery, and complete rest to help keep your training on track.