Endurance athletes are notoriously bad at resting or taking a break without guilt tripping about losing hard earned fitness and, for some, putting on weight. There is an inevitable tendency to attach personal worth and identity to the training we do and, without it, there can be a nagging feeling something is missing.
However, rest is an essential part of training, we all know it, but it can be a struggle to implement it even when boredom is creeping in. Why is rest so important?
First, it allows physical recovery. This can apply to periods stretching into days and weeks rather than just the couple of minutes between efforts, particularly at the end of a season of hard training, racing and events.
Secondly, and often over looked, is psychological recovery. In order to hit the next period with purpose and intent, the mind needs to be looking forward to engaging with the next training phase. Going into autumn and winter bored and stale means this absolutely critical period may be less effective than it could be.
Third, a period away from the bike allows reengagement with the world outside of training. Cycling is an absorbing sport and it is easy to cross the line from it being a fulfilling interest to a distributive obsession. There is a risk of becoming unidimensional and a carrier of all eggs in a single receptacle. Maybe some time to take stock?
Having readily accessible answers to three questions, when why and how, will make a period of rest at this time of year a more palatable thought.
When? Set a firm date to commence the next period of training. Knowing when training will re-commence allows the System 1* or ‘Chimp’** part of the brain to relax whilst resting because it knows when the hard work will start again. Write the date on the notice board, in the training diary, as a reminder on the phone, anywhere and everywhere to give it substance. The ancient evolutionary part of the brain does not deal well with uncertainty and will nag, prompt and induce anxiety without a date as a soothing balm. If it knows when, there’s a chance it will give you some peace.
Why? Set some goals for 2024. This is connected to the point above. Activating the System 2 or ‘Human’ part of the brain to rationally analyse what the goals could be for the next period of training and the forthcoming season will give clarity, reassurance and critically, purpose. Consequently, when the child-like System 1 goes, ‘yeah, but why?’ You’ll have an answer. Again, write them down, make them SMART if you can, make them meaningful and relevant to you: give them life.
How? Set the training structure. Having established the when and the why, planning and understanding the how is easier. Planning a structured training program from now (or from the end of a well earned break) to the beginning of season to hit the goals, gives reassurance to hard wired System 1 brain.
If you can answer the three questions, there’s a fighting chance of an enjoyable, profitable break.
If you’re struggling with the when, why and hows that relate to your training, get in touch here.
*Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow
** Prof Steve Peters in The Chimp Paradox
Rich Smith is a psychology graduate and a British Cycling qualified Level 3 Road and TT coach supporting riders nationally and internationally and is coach to the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team. He has a strong Chimp and an occasionally feeble System 2. He launched RideFast Coaching in 2015 to deliver one to one, rider centred training that is physiologically effective but also psychologically sustainable.
The ramblings of a cycling coach...