Now that the weather is cooling off a bit and it is basically dark out the entire day, many of us might be considering a short break from the bike. Though, in our typical cyclist mindset we won’t do much of anything until we know the effect it will have on our fitness. Well, as you may suspect a pro longed period off the bike will not make you faster, but it isn’t going to spoil the upcoming season either.
If a break sounds nice at this point in the year, go for it. A week off will do you good mentally, and depending on your current level of fatigue it might even make you faster. If you are really enjoying your new bike free lifestyle and opt for another week of sloth then you will start to chip away at your fitness. Similar to training, during detraining your high intensity related adaptations will be the first things effected and there will be a notable reduction in your VO2max after two weeks of rest.
Anything beyond two weeks and your hard earned quads of doom will begin to shrivel up. Your muscle capillarisation will decrease and a conversion of muscle fibers will begin, greatly reducing your maximal output. If this sounds depressing (I am cringing just writing it), then get back on your bike after the 2 week mark.
2 weeks is a bit of a threshold for detraining, if you can limit your break to this duration you don’t have much to worry about. For those who are taking an unplanned break due to sickness or injury that goes beyond two weeks, don’t sweat it. If you can’t ride, you can’t ride, don’t beat yourself up.
Here is an arbitrary curve showing the potential for detraining over an eight week period. This is for an athlete who had trained up until the 0 day point, so they had some momentum going into the break. Keep in mind that this is a generic curve and every athlete will retain fitness differently, but it illustrates that you will get a short term boost from resting (by shedding fatigue) but then you will start to lose fitness quickly.
A final thought, most modern literature on training adaptations will show that you can reduce your training volume (duration x frequency) by about 2/3 if you maintain the same intensity in your sessions without significantly affecting your VO2max. This holds true for several months and certainly long enough to get you through the winter (especially if you crank up the intensity.) Use this as a guideline for structuring your breaks / training routine this winter.