Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Streaking cyclists

Ask any athletic coach and they'll tell you something like "exercise breaks you down, rest builds you up." This is true: The workouts we perform deplete our energy and break down our tissues, and then our bodies repair and improve when we rest, to deal with the stresses we subject them to. So most coaches recommend that their athletes take days off from their training each week to allow for that recovery and the subsequent physiological adaptations to happen. I've long believed in taking one or two days off every week from cycling so I can recover and adapt. But recently I have begun to doubt rigid adherence to weekly rest days for cyclists.

One of the first things that made me question the requirement for rest days was a common pre-raceday workout called "leg openers." These are typically pretty short, between 20-60 minutes, with a few short intervals thrown in, often three 1-minute efforts. I've known many cyclists who do these types of workouts on the day before a race. They seem to keep your legs fresher for the race than if you took the previous day completely off. I've been doing these before race-days for years, on and off.

I've also begun doing leg-openers on Fridays (which used to be one of my two weekly rest days) before our big Saturday team workout rides. I generally ride a stationary bike in the gym at work for 20 minutes, with 3x1-minute intervals. Lately I've also been doing leg-openers on my other rest day; Sundays. I ride my bike around town for a similar workout. So now I ride almost every day. My power hasn't been harmed and I feel better than when I don't do leg-openers. And managing my weight has become easier!

My team-mate Jim Langley noticed the same thing years ago; he felt worse after his days off. So he vowed to ride every day for as long as he could manage. This turned into a "streak:" An uninterrupted string of consecutive days with a ride included. He has been riding every single day since 1993 (only lost 6 days since 1990; due to a broken hip!)! Uh, he's faster than me too even though I'm 7 years his junior.

Another reason I think cyclists can ride on consecutive days is that it's a low-impact sport. The repairs and adaptations our bodies go through seem to work fine even without days off. I'd hesitate to apply "streaks" to sports like weight-lifting, for instance!

I now appreciate the feasibility, and the benefits, of riding on consecutive days for long periods of time without ill effects.

Note: That statement applies to experienced cyclists, because beginners really should take days off to avoid repetitive-stress injuries (RSIs; I'd even recommend riding no more than every other day). Older cyclists probably should be extra-vigilant too since healing typically becomes slower as we age.

Still, I feel no need to start my own "streak," mostly because I don't want to be a slave to it. I plan on doing my leg-openers on Fridays whenever possible, but I will probably take Sundays off much of the time... I do try to have a life outside of cycling too!

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