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Feeling tired? Maybe it's time for a ride…

Intuition suggests to most riders that when they’re tired they need rest. Suggest training when tired and arms are thrown aloft in horror – “but you’ll get over-trained and ill”.

No. No you won’t. Not if you’re careful. What you will get is an enhanced adaptation to the exercise and a boost in performance.

At university I had a friend who was a good runner. I say good, he was good at running 3 miles. I say he was good at running 3 miles, he was good at running a particular 3 miles - because those were the only 3 miles he ever ran. Three times a week, making sure he recovered fully between each run. Same pace too. The body can only adapt to the positive stress we place it under.  He thought he should recover between training to be able to train well. In a sense he had a point, but in the grand scheme of things, his body had already adapted to that run and he’d never improve.

Consider how a rider comes off a grand tour, a fatigue infested and almost inhuman three weeks of racing, then with some rest finds a great seam of form. Can you imagine them not racing because they were ‘tired’? The key is managing recovery and health status, whilst allowing quite an extreme overload.

We’re no different in stravaland and I want to explain why it’s not only OK to ride when you’re tired, BUT why you should and how to go about it.

A change IS as good as a rest

Let's say you commute to work by bike. Same route every day, there and back for years. You become efficient at riding to work. Then some diversions are put in place and you can’t use your usual route. Unfamiliar roads, you take some wrong turns, go too hard up some hills – you’re less efficient.  Then in time you adapt, and when the old route is available, you now have more options – more resources to call on.

When we exercise we rarely recruit all the muscle fibres within a muscle. When in a state of fatigue, our preferred fibres that have developed a great neural drive and aerobic physiology are less able to contribute as much power as normal. So we have to recruit less used fibres with a less optimally adapted status. This explains the cramps in weird places when at the extreme end of our limit - we’re trying to use muscles that aren’t conditioned. However with use, by forcing their contribution, they become able to contribute when we’re fresh – more resources to call on when doing our normal rides, means more power.

With training, the sole purpose is to generate a state of overload - in the force we have to produce, the duration of the force production, the supply of oxygen, the fuel sources, the neural drive to make the muscle contract and so on. In addition we have to recalibrate the extent to which the brain allows us to endure physical exertion.

If you limit your training to ride then rest until you’re fresh, you’re limiting the degree of adaptation you’re demanding from the body. Whilst extreme overload isn’t advisable, it’s actually quite hard to define extreme overload – until it happens. We’re incredible at adapting on the hoof, something you may have discovered if you’ve ever ridden a long tour or multi-day event. You start riding on day three, you don’t know how you’ll make it through the day and two hours later you’re zipping along.

How not to overdo it

So what steps can you take to bump up your adaptation without going too far and starting to break down rather than build up?

The key is that recovery has to happen at some stage. Whether 48 hrs, an easy week or a month with little intensity, you have to permit the body time to undertake repairs to cellular damage, make changes to blood-chemistry, restore fuel supplies and also become mentally fresh.

Before starting to push the boat out on your training you need to be free from injury and illness - and fresh. My first suggestion is to double your training load for two weeks, then have an easy week with half your usual volume. There, that didn’t hurt did it? Much.

Experiment using long recovery rides to add volume without intensity.

Finish a long tough ride with a hill interval session.

Decide if you’re really too tired to train after 40 minutes or so of riding - how your legs feel eating breakfast isn’t an ideal indicator.

A great part of these periods of overload is the mental aspect, the determination and resilience you develop by riding father and harder than you’ve done before, heading out the door when you feel tired, then seeing how you tackle arduous rides in future.

Doubling up

One fairly recent interesting development in training is to use a double session, with the second of high intensity in a fasted state. In effect you deplete your glycogen stores during session one in the morning, eat a low carb diet through the day, then undertake an interval session when fatigued. Although the quality of the session will be reduced, you’ll see lower power/speed, the adaptation will be enhanced above normal levels.

While experimenting ensure that you eat well. Healthy non-processed food - lots of green leafy vegetables, healthy protein sources, good fats and plenty of water. Be conscious of injury pain in contrast to fatigue discomfort and signs of illness. However, expect to be OK.

So give it a go, at best you’ll discover a new performance level, and if you’re self-aware, the worst that could happen, won’t. And if you want, you can join me riding 50% of the Grand Tour distances in 2015 – I can assure you of big gains, after the fatigue!

Dave Smith has been involved in coaching cyclists in all disciplines for more than 25 years. A former GB national and Olympic road coach, Dave has trained Tour stage winners and Olympic medallists, world champions and numerous national champions. In addition he has applied his quirky and counter intuitive thinking to help dozens of regular cyclists, polo players and F1 drivers. He rides 250 miles a week on and off-road in all weathers.

26 comments

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RobD [632 posts] 3 years ago
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Good article, definitely some food for thought.

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NikoD [7 posts] 3 years ago
4 likes

"...the determination and resilience you develop by riding father and harder than you’ve done before..."

I'm not sure mother would be happy with me doing that.

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cat1commuter [1421 posts] 3 years ago
1 like

Is there any science to back up this advice? References?

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Dave Smith [47 posts] 3 years ago
1 like

Overload/eustress is such a fundamental principle of endurance training I'm unaware of science which suggests otherwise.

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FlatericFan [29 posts] 3 years ago
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This goes against every training principle that i have read in recent years ..... gotta give it a go lol

Interesting article

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Dave Smith [47 posts] 3 years ago
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It's just a simple extension of the core principle of overload - delaying recovery, increasing the volume, giving an enhanced overcompensation.

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banzicyclist2 [299 posts] 3 years ago
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I've increased my normal commute home to 25 miles twice a week over the last couple of months, now the usually 11 miles seems dead easy. In fact far too short, I'm hardly warmed up after 11 miles.

I'm also on a low carb based diet during the week and eat carbs at weekends. Next is to lift the commute home to a 32-35 mile route and get that to feel "normal". I'll be fitter than a butchers dog by springtime.  4

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nickdodo [11 posts] 3 years ago
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I tried the email suggested and the server rejects it. Is this email correct?
Nick

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Skylark [203 posts] 3 years ago
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What is this?

More tabloid advice by yobs for yobs.

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Sadoldsamurai [46 posts] 3 years ago
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Thanks for as good straightforward article..
How about a similar one..on motivation.

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Simon E [3349 posts] 3 years ago
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FlatericFan wrote:

This goes against every training principle that i have read in recent years ..... gotta give it a go lol

What kind of training principles have you read if you've not heard of this stuff? I recommend you read about Tudor Bompa, referenced on this page and central to the training advice from Joe Friel and many, many others:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tudor_Bompa
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercompensation

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Dave Smith [47 posts] 3 years ago
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Yes, obviously.

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gr3g0ree [67 posts] 3 years ago
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Similar training principle is used in biathlon to peak before the season starts and then (to try) to maintain form during season with races included in training regime.

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Matt eaton [741 posts] 3 years ago
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Glad I read this. I was feeling tired after racing yesterday and almost didn't go out for my interval session this morning as a result.

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Skylark [203 posts] 3 years ago
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Matt eaton wrote:

Glad I read this. I was feeling tired after racing yesterday and almost didn't go out for my interval session this morning as a result.

If you race one day, and if you did it well, the next day should be about recovery *on the bike*. Not more interval sessions.

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notfastenough [3731 posts] 3 years ago
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dogcc wrote:

What is this?

More tabloid advice by yobs for yobs.

Would you be so kind then as to post some coaching advice from a non-yob source for a non-yob audience?

Of course, your source should also have a history at least equal to "former GB national and Olympic road coach, trained Tour stage winners and Olympic medallists, world champions and numerous national champions."

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Matt eaton [741 posts] 3 years ago
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dogcc wrote:
Matt eaton wrote:

Glad I read this. I was feeling tired after racing yesterday and almost didn't go out for my interval session this morning as a result.

If you race one day, and if you did it well, the next day should be about recovery *on the bike*. Not more interval sessions.

I don't disagree with you in principal, but in reality there are a lot of things that get in the way of following the best possible training/recovery plan. The job that I do pretty much guarantees more time off the bike than I would like and I feel that I get the best gains by training pretty much whenever I can (sometimes the day after a race, sometimes not), ensuring that I build in recovery before the next race.

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Skylark [203 posts] 3 years ago
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Matt eaton wrote:

I don't disagree with you in principal, but in reality there are a lot of things that get in the way of following the best possible training/recovery plan. The job that I do pretty much guarantees more time off the bike than I would like and I feel that I get the best gains by training pretty much whenever I can (sometimes the day after a race, sometimes not), ensuring that I build in recovery before the next race.

Entire point is to capitalise on those efforts after the race. Otherwise the race/ride may as well not count.

If you plan a race don't just plan a single day but a set of days before and after.

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Matt eaton [741 posts] 3 years ago
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dogcc wrote:

Entire point is to capitalise on those efforts after the race. Otherwise the race/ride may as well not count.

If you plan a race don't just plan a single day but a set of days before and after.

Sure, we should capilaise on the efforts assiciated with the race itself, but there is the school of thought (as per this article) that delaying recovery and training whilst fatiged can increase the overal benefits. I don't know which approach is right and in truth it probably varies a lot from one individial to the next.

From a personal perspective, if I'm racing on a Sunday I will try to make my last ride of the week a recovery ride on Thursday, with Friday and Saturday as rest days. As for after the race, it depends totally on my work commitments but in an ideal world I'd probably do some active recovery on Monday and something a bit tougher on Tuesday and Wednesday which brings me back to active recovery on Thursday and a couple of days rest before racing again. It would be highly unusual, however for my week to look like this.

If, for instance, I was unable to get out Wednesday or Thursday, I would probably choose to delay recovery and do an interval session on Monday and a recovery ride on Tuesday.

Having said all of this, I don't take racing particuarally seriously (until I get on the start line of course). It's just a focal point to try to maintain a bit of fitness.

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Skylark [203 posts] 3 years ago
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Matt eaton wrote:

... but there is the school of thought (as per this article) that delaying recovery and training whilst fatiged can increase the overal benefits. I don't know which approach is right and in truth it probably varies a lot from one individial to the next.

Training whilst fatigued does NOT make any sense. Article isn't saying that.
It is rather a notion of loading the workload. You load the workload and different people have different regimes to accomplish this.

I would go so far as to say that "Fatigue" is a very dirty word when it comes to training. Because the onset of fatigue shouldn't be taken lightly. Sure enough you get tired but that's different from fatigue. If you are fatiguing at the cycle of once every week then you're doing it wrong.

Perhaps the defintiion of the term isn't clear enough but here is some English:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/fatigue/basics/definition/sym-20050894

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mtbtomo [267 posts] 3 years ago
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You could do interval sessions the day after a race. It depends what you're trying to achieve. Sometimes you will have a few tough days in a row. Doesn't have to be race/recovery/tough ride/recovery/race.....

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Matt eaton [741 posts] 3 years ago
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mtbtomo wrote:

You could do interval sessions the day after a race. It depends what you're trying to achieve. Sometimes you will have a few tough days in a row. Doesn't have to be race/recovery/tough ride/recovery/race.....

That's really what I'm getting at. To avoid semantic arguments lets drop the 'f' word.

This does all get a bit complicated - wish I had a coach!

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peted76 [1126 posts] 2 months ago
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Good article on training.. I get it and I like it. 

However I have a question,  is the 'physical tiredness/drain' the same tiredness/drain I feel when I'm stressed as hell at work, not sleeping well and haven't done any excercise for a couple of days..  is it the same thing or is that something else, maybe hormones or different chemicals or different feelings being released/drained/felt?

Would putting my body under the stresses of riding 'then' still do me good in the same way as training hard and then doing more training would as discussed in the article?

 

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bobinski [294 posts] 2 months ago
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I would like to ask same question.

I rode Tour of Cambridge a few weeks back and did ok though cramp and dropped chain etc made me miss out on a qualifying place by a couple of minutes. Still, i felt good. I have a pyrennes trip in just over 2 weeks. But, I have hardly trained sinceTofC. Every time i do i feel like collapsing  1 Work stress is through the roof, i am hardly sleeping  and at 55y of age  training, however carefully, just seems impossible. A persistent double ear infection hasnt helped. It feels like a perfect storm and its a struggle to push on the bike. Should i push on? 

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PRSboy [288 posts] 2 months ago
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Disclaimer I am not a doctor, but I would imagine that the stress of recovering from infection and dealing with lack of sleep should not be added to by increasing a training load.  Your body can only rebuild on so many fronts, and I would worry about increasing the likelihood of your ear infection getting worse, or spreading in some way.

Fighting infection is different from benefitting from the supercompensation that comes from rebuilding after training load.

For my own part, I've managed in the past to make myself very ill twice by ignoring the onset of an infection and training hard.

Don't feel that you need to 'push on' and 'train' as that is just adding to the stress.  Just enjoy a pleasant ride out on the bike and give yourself a chance to get on an even keel.

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bobinski [294 posts] 2 months ago
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PRSboy wrote:

Disclaimer I am not a doctor, but I would imagine that the stress of recovering from infection and dealing with lack of sleep should not be added to by increasing a training load.  Your body can only rebuild on so many fronts, and I would worry about increasing the likelihood of your ear infection getting worse, or spreading in some way.

Fighting infection is different from benefitting from the supercompensation that comes from rebuilding after training load.

For my own part, I've managed in the past to make myself very ill twice by ignoring the onset of an infection and training hard.

Don't feel that you need to 'push on' and 'train' as that is just adding to the stress.  Just enjoy a pleasant ride out on the bike and give yourself a chance to get on an even keel.

 

That is my gut feeling and i was only questioning as a result of the article popping up. Thanks for your very helpful input.