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What is a Cycling Recovery Week?

calendar icon March 28, 2023
calendar icon 7 MINS
author icon matthewmace

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Add a scheduled recovery week into your training and become faster on the bike.

To get faster on the bike, you need to ride more, correct? Yes and no. Most periodised training plans include a recovery week every 3 to 4 weeks of training. During the first few weeks of a block, you place additional stress on the cardiovascular, muscular, and metabolic systems.

And while those sweet spot rides, zone 2 long rides, and high-intensity anaerobic efforts will make you faster, without the recovery, you won’t cash in the benefits.

To become a better cyclist — whether that means getting faster, riding further (or both) — we recommend adding a recovery week into your program at the end of every block, usually within that 3 to 4 week period, to help you get the most out of your training. That also means you can train hard when needed while not in a fatigued state to get the most out of each session.

This blog post will explain how to structure your recovery week, how they work, signs you need a scheduled recovery week, what to do during the week, and more.

Key takeaways:

  • Add a recovery week every 3 to 4 weeks of training
  • Perform active recovery rides and less intense training
  • On your recovery week, reduce overload and ensure to finish the week feeling better than at the end of your last training week

How do recovery weeks impact your recovery?

Cycling less on a recovery week, at a reduced load and with a greater emphasis on recovery, allows for long-term cardiovascular and other training adaptations to take place — it’s when your body adapts to the previous weeks of moderate-hard training [1].

These longer periods of rest (1 week) help you better manage your training load. It also means you can train hard when required without being in a fatigued state — you’ll be able to hit your numbers. In other words, you’ll get the most physiological benefits and adaptations from your training.

Think of it like this: if you received a gold coin for every training session you completed, you’d have a lot of gold coins. But without cashing those coins into the bank, you can’t spend them. Recovery weeks are similar, but you’re not cashing in gold coins; you’re cashing in the previous moderate and hard weeks of training — it’s when your body adapts and recovers.

If you’re interested in learning more about how recovery works, you can read our blog post rest and recovery — key to stronger cycling.

What are the signs you need a recovery week?

If you’re training hard multiple times a week, it’s normal to feel somewhat fatigued. But if you begin to notice:

  • A performance decline in your sessions
  • You feel more tired or fatigued than usual
  • A lack of motivation or drive to train
  • Tired legs even after a rest day or two
  • Restlessness/difficulty sleeping 

Then you will benefit from an easier week. And while it may feel strange training less to improve, we assure you that you’ll feel energised and ready for training when you transition into more moderate and harder intensity training in the following weeks.

Should I take a recovery week from cycling?

If you’re following a periodised training plan, then recovery weeks or days of recovery will likely be structured into your plan.

And if you organise your own training, adding strategic easier weeks every 3-4 weeks allows you to get the most out of your sessions on (and off) the bike.

But here’s the thing: if you’re not following a structured training plan, you might not need to take an easier week. Let’s say you only ride 3 times a week — if that’s the case, you might not be building up enough fatigue to warrant a longer recovery period.

If you do feel tired or mentally exhausted, try taking a few days off. 

Many cyclists also end up taking rest weeks when life happens. You know how it goes — family commitments pop up, friends visit from out of town, you’re extra busy at work, and so on. If you find yourself training less and at a lower intensity, life may naturally create these rest weeks for you.

Pay attention to your schedule and see what makes the most sense for you.

Below is a real example of a training load; you can see the peaks and dips of your Training Stress Balance (TSB) — we’ve highlighted the orange line to better understand how you should structure easier weeks into your training.

Cycling training load example including recovery weeks
Cycling training load example (including recovery weeks)

What to do on a cycling recovery week?

If you’ve never taken a (scheduled) recovery week, then it might feel strange spending less time on the bike.

Besides, how are you supposed to get faster if you’re not training hard?

Well, it’s during these recovery periods when you cash in those training adaptations. Your body recovers from the build-up of fatigue and intensity from the previous weeks. It’s part of the recovery process.

At the RCA, we like to use a stepladder approach to training, and instead of a “rest week,” or a “recovery week,” we call it an “easier week,” as you’re still training, but at a much lower intensity.

The diagram below shows an example of the RCA approach to training. As you can see, every 3 weeks is an easier week, and the volume, training stress (aka Tscore or TSS) and Chronic Training Load (CTL) gradually increase week on week in the build-up to your target event.

An example of the Stepladder approach to training.
An example of the Stepladder approach to training.

But what should you actually do during this easier week of training?

  • Reduce the amount of intensity (e.g. 3 sessions down to 1 or 2) 
  • Reduce overall weekly stress (e.g. 600Tscore down to 300-400Tscore 
  • Prioritise sleep and recovery — stretching, massage etc
  • Limit multiple intense off-bike training sessions 
  • Reflect on the past few weeks of training (are you on track to achieve your goals?)

During your easier week, you’ll find yourself with more free time, especially if you usually log upwards of 10 hours a week of training. 

Spend this time doing other activities you usually don’t have the time to do — maybe that’s giving your bike a long overdue clean, sleeping in for an extra hour on the weekends, or kicking back and watching Netflix. It’s up to you!

Should you still train on a recovery week?

Yes, you should still train on your recovery week. However, it won’t be the same intensity as a normal training week, but you should still be cycling.

Aim to achieve less training stress and cycle at an easier intensity. Think more active recovery rides and easy group spins, and less intense workouts or hard training for the next seven days. 

It’s not a period of complete rest and recovery — it’s a time to dial back your training while you keep the engine running.

How long should a recovery week be?

Most periodised training starts off easier and ramps up each week. Therefore, it makes sense to take a full week (7 days) of recovery every 3 to 4 weeks, for most cyclists.

If you’re feeling especially fatigued and not fully recovered, you could increase your recovery week up to 10 days. And if you’ve been training hard for a while, consider a scheduled off-season — more on this shortly.

Should you still lift weights on a rest week?

If you want to lift weights on your recovery weeks, that’s up to you.

But if you do decide to throw in a strength and conditioning session, lift lighter weights and dial the training intensity down.

The last thing you want to do is to feel more tired after a recovery week, sacrificing performance towards upcoming workouts.

Should I schedule an off-season? 

RCA riders not on the bike

If you’ve been training a lot (and at a high intensity) for the last few months or up to an event, you may consider an off-season of 2-4 weeks.

During this scheduled “off-season,” spend no time on the bike. This is different to an easier week, as you’re not training whatsoever. 

Scheduling these rest weeks can provide a much-needed physical (and mental) reset.

Riders who are logging a more intense training load will need more time off the bike than an athlete with a less intense training load.

How long you choose to take off is up to you, but if your training has been less intense, 2 weeks may do the trick. But if you’ve been training and racing for the last 6 months at a high intensity, you may prefer 3-4 weeks off.

It’s common for riders to take 2 long breaks off the bike a year — think about where you would implement these into your training.

And if your training hasn’t been too intense or you’re not training for an event or a race, easier weeks every 3 to 4 weeks may be enough for you.

To summarise  

Recovery weeks look different to your regular training weeks — they usually include fewer rides at a much easier intensity.

It’s during these structured recovery weeks that your body adapts to the training from the previous weeks.

Spending less time on the bike is also great for motivation, preventing burnout and overtraining. Oh, and you’re also more likely to avoid injury.

Schedule a week of less intense training every 3 to 4 weeks and cash in on all the hard work you’ve been doing. It also means you can push yourself in those harder sessions after your easier week is complete.

Did you enjoy this blog post? If so, you might also enjoy our article on 6 cycling recovery tips to prepare for your next ride.


How many days rest after cycling?

A lot of riders can train 5-7 days a week. But after a hard interval session, try adding an easier ride before performing more intense efforts. This will allow your body to recover.

How to plan a recovery week for cycling?

Plan a rest week every 3 to 4 weeks of training. Although, if life forces you to take a rest week (family commitments, work, etc.), you can use this to rest and reset from training.

How hard should a cycling recovery week be?

Your recovery week should be easy, reduce overload and aim to feel better at the start of the following week than you did coming into the easier week.

1) Romero, S.A., Minson, C.T. and Halliwill, J.R., 2017. The cardiovascular system after exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 122(4), pp.925-932.