I hate rest weeks. I’ve felt horrible this week because I’m resting. I look down at my legs now and I’m envisioning them getting weaker by the hour. It’s probably my personality that is to blame for this. I have a tendency to overdo things. I take up hobbies, pull myself up to the hobby table, then engorge myself with every detail. I’ll take a slice of bicycles, with a side of wheels, and extra slices of training programs. You going to eat that piece of power meter? How about those pieces of zone 5 intervals? I’ll eat it all and just keep going. That’s why it’s hard for me to take time off. The other problem I have is that I’ve been athletic and training pretty much my whole life. Being in my 20’s doesn’t seem that far away and I can remember training hard 6 days a week and never needing a rest week. However, an older age is now upon me and I must rest. Rest I must.
I learned my lesson last year. I rode hard from March 2014 until September of 2014. I came crashing down at the end of October. The summer was great. I was riding my bicycle every chance I had. I was doing 1 or 2 centuries a week with some interval work mixed in and rarely resting. I was training with power and trying to get that magical Chronic Training Load (CTL) as high as I could. I was all in and committed. They say you should just ride lots if you want to get stronger right? They also say you should rest once in a while but who has time to read that nonsense. I have to train hard and push past my boundaries to get better. I did get better. I broke some personal power records. Then those pesky things like life, stress, and overtraining started to show up. Those won’t slow me down. I kept pushing until I started feeling like I would rather paint the whole house than go out for another bike ride. Moderation is key. Moderation is not my cup of tea however.
Now that I have embraced the rest week things are weird. I feel so bad on my rest weeks. I get tired, my muscles ache when I haven’t been working them out, and my mood feels horrible. Our bodies are funny like that. When you are training hard the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is in overdrive. It is responsible for the flight our fight response in our bodies. We are biologically set up this way because the cave man/woman needed the ability to run faster to eat or avoid getting eaten. These are great drugs that our bodies naturally produce like noradrenaline (norepinephrine). In a rest week you are not producing all of these great chemicals. Your body is resetting itself. The parasympathetic nervous system is in overdrive (PSNS).
The PSNS is your rest and digest system. I’m sure the PSNS has to compensate when the SNS is highly active. That’s the way our bodies work really. Add an increase in training load and our muscles strengthen and gain size. Stop working out for a period of time and our body gets rid of that muscle because we don’t need it. Muscle consumes a lot of calories. The body doesn’t want to keep up with that demand if it doesn’t have to. Our bodies are always trying to reach homeostasis. If the flight or fight response is elevated, I imagine the PSNS has to elevate activity to compensate. When the rest week comes, we have a lowered SNS with an overcompensating PSNS. (As you can tell I’ve been reading too much about rest weeks now.)
All the technical mumbo jumbo aside, rest weeks are the hardest weeks in my training plan. I feel horrible, I can hardly ride my bike, and the self doubt starts to set in. I know that resting and recovering is a big part of getting stronger. I know I need to slow down to get faster. So what is my rest week? I basically take three days completely off the bike with an easy spin class in between each off day. That’s 6 days of no riding or easy riding. It’s brutal because I want to just keep pounding away at the bike. However, I remember how much burnout sucked last fall and I don’t want to do that again.
All those awesome sayings about beating your opponent, don’t get outworked, and other things are great motivation to push beyond your boundaries. You have to remember that you do have boundaries however. In order to move that boundary forward, some down time may be all that is needed.
Have a great week everyone. Embrace the suck, even if it’s rest week suck!