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How Much Is Too Much… A Noobs Guide to Cycling For Speed or Fitness.


May 2013

There’s a funny thing about about science, especially academic science. It was explained to me like this by someone in the field: You’ve got a whole planet of college professors trying to get published to remain relevant at their University. It’s very difficult to get published for being captain obvious so there’s competition to be all the more outrageous in your subject matter… Do so intelligently, and with the correct slant, and you’re in. Your golden parachute of a retirement and your 25 hour a week job (that’s right… $70,000 and a golden parachute for 25 hours a week – why is college so expensive again?) is safe.

Unfortunately this leads to bad science. Science becomes a contest to prove the absurd.

Well, the same could be said about the fitness industry as well. Not only do we have to sift through companies trying to sell their products, we have to figure out on our lonesome how to outfit and feed ourselves as well. One interesting topic that I love to experiment with is how much cycling is too much. Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time will tell you that if I want to be fast, I ride too often. I don’t take enough days off – and they’re probably right (and I often write about wanting to). The problem is that I really love to ride every day too (or every possible day, let’s say). There’s no doubt that I need a day off every now and again. I just went 16 days in a row and I was really wiped out. I took a few days off for weather and came back stronger and faster than I’ve been all season long.

Ideally, I’m good for 16 miles on weekdays and then I can pretty much go wild on the weekend days and I like to have one rain day off out of the seven. That’s ideal. I can go for 13 days uncomfortably but 16 turned out to be too much. I was really tired.

Now let’s get one thing very clear right off the bat. I’m getting up there in years, I’m no spring chicken anymore. My glory days, as far as sports go, are way behind me. While I do have a bit of a competitive streak in me, when I boil the hoo-ha down I’m really more about just being fit and active when I’m double my 42 years. The problem, what really got the competitive thing going was actually this blog. I knew I could ride ok, I could keep a decent pace, but I had no idea how fast I was until I started writing about it. Once I found out that I was at least above average (naturally with not real “training”), that really clicked something in me and it was on. You see, I’ve never been naturally talented at anything. I have always had to work my ass off to be good enough to warrant “being on a team”… Baseball, hockey, basketball (too skinny for football), any sport I played in, I had to work to be good. With cycling though, just buying some halfway decent equipment and getting into shape was more than enough and on top of that, I quickly became enamored with the endorphin rush that I get on lay ride longer than 30 minutes. If that wasn’t reason enough, cycling has me as lean as I was in college, maybe even high school – and I get to eat whatever I want to boot. Cycling has been like a magic pill for me – something that ‘cured’ a whole lot of ills’ so I won’t do the recommended training programs with base miles followed by lots of rest, then space training days with more days off… No thanks.

So, where is the balance? How much is too much?

Well, answering that gets tricky. Cycling is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise. Unlike running, there is almost no recovery time so riding daily is absolutely possible. On the other hand, if you want to be fast, really fast, time off pretty much has to be a part of the training plan after a base mile phase unless you have a team (including a masseuse) supporting you. I’ve tried to balance both daily riding and riding fast (24 mph + in a group), I’ve tried every combination of recovery rides, interval training, alternating distances and efforts that I can think of and then some that I got from research online and I simply cannot find a anything that works entirely for both.

In the end, it boils down to a choice between frequency or time off and reaching my true potential in terms of speed. My personal choice leans more towards frequency. Simply put, I’m happier when I can fit in a daily ride. I handle stress better and I enjoy life more. I need at least one day off every 14 days (usually a rain day) but can ride faster with one day off per week. Two days a week off are better still but I might only see a week like that a handful of times between April and late October, if at all.

In other words, I have to decide what is more important because I can’t have both max speed and a daily ride. My choice is for the daily fix, though there are things I can do (like slow paced recovery rides) to help keep the speed up too. In my world, there is a such thing as ‘too much’, I’m just not all that happy about it.


  1. I like your thought process, and the two bits of info I can provide is that Rich Roll (iron athlete) and others promote a ‘go slow to go fast’ approach. This doesnt entirely stack up, according to, however.

  2. I am going to build base over the next month, then really pick up the pace after than. I am going to bike like I run, slow and steady at first and work on speed later.

  3. Sara says:

    Hi Jim,

    I was wondering if you would be interested in submitting a piece for our website,

    I’m very interested in your history with addiction and how you used triathlon to motivate yourself. If this is something you’d be interested in, please contact me: editor@vivathlete(dot)com

  4. bikevcar says:

    16 days in a row is seriously hardcore. Chapeau. I find it works best to get some rest when you feel you need it, but also to then hit continuous daily blocks of cycling. Variety is the spice of life

    • bgddyjim says:

      Usually I just wait for rain days and call those good for days off but we had a lousy spring (cold, nasty, rain and sleet) so when we got a block of clear weather I just kept rolling until we got hit with some rain… We just had a 15 day stretch – never would have guessed it. Either way, you’re right. I was beat at the end.

  5. The strategy of waiting for rain days for rest doesn’t work here in Southern California.

    • bgddyjim says:

      LOL… I never even thought about it that way (in terms of region) – we get rain at least once a week up here in Michigan. Very funny.

  6. The third common mistake is doing the same workout on the same day, week after week. This is boring and unnecessary, so lose those crazy “Tuesdays are for speed work, Wednesday are for hill-climbing” kinds of rules or club ride schedules. As long as you get in the variety and intensity of training necessary, it really doesn’t matter which workout you do on any given day, as long as you recover in time for the next workout or event. Finally, don’t skip training days during the week with the intention of making up for it on the weekends. Use your lunch hour, bike commuting, and even night training so that you are training, on the bike, four or five days a week, no matter what.

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