If you are "time crunched" do you need a recovery week?

I’m usually at 7-8 hours a week in the winter months, and the last 3 weeks have been 520-580 TSS each week. Intensity is not much - I do a day of neuro work (cadence and sprints) and a day of Trevor’s famous 5x5x1’s. 1 day might be some tempo or SS intervals. I was going to the gym 2-3x a week until covid closures.

So I am wondering is there really any reason to do a “recovery” week where i’d say drop to 4-5 hours and a TSS of say 300? Whoop says im green, Xert says i’m OK. Once concern I have is with ramp rate and overall progress - an EZ week to me would be 1 step forward 2 steps back since my time is limited already. I was planning on listening to my body and taking an extra day off if needed. Or am I being dumb and should just plan on it?


@trevor @ryankohler any insight?

I have a similar question only on a macro timescale. Since my season (CX) doesn’t start until Sept 2021, I have been viewing the Sept 20-Feb 21period as a maintenance block. No draining interval work or super long LSD rides, focus any hard work on my at-home strength and core training, and just keeping up a consistent training routine. Still 10-12 hours total, between bike and strength. So I haven’t been taking rest weeks either.

For reference, my typical peak CTL is in the 90-100 range. Right now I’m hovering around 50.

At a macro level, is it OK to have an extended (4-5 month) period of training like what I and the OP described? What is the dependence on one’s objectives?

@SteveHerman and @thom2544, great questions. There are a number of factors to consider, but here are my thoughts.

  1. There should always be a recovery period built in. Does it have to be a week? Not at all. It can be shorter if necessary. From a physical perspective you may not feel like you need it, but if you are following the principles of training, we would expect that even a time-crunched approach should yield an overload at some point, and thus some level of recovery would be necessary to see those adaptations.

  2. Moving beyond the physical, I’m a big proponent of the mental side. I first noticed with juniors early on in my coaching career that taking them out 2-3 months with a pretty typical 3 week on/1 week off approach was fine, but building in what I ended up calling a transition week at 12 weeks was critical for them. Otherwise they would keep pushing through (because that’s what kids do!) and eventually crack mentally. So that transition period is usually an “extra” period of mental rest that goes beyond the physical. It’s unstructured and a time to allow yourself to disconnect from “intervals” and “training” to ensure you are fresh for another build.

These two approaches, adjusting recovery periods to suit your needs and building in forced transition periods (bonus: when you don’t call them “recovery” they are easier to do because they have a purpose for moving you forward), have helped with athletes over the years. Otherwise I find the tendency is to either attempt to continue building fitness/CTL/training load or just hold a high fitness/CTL/training load for the entire season. Much of the time that does not end up being the result.

Finally, I would suggest that early in the season at a maintenance level like Steve is experiencing right now, that may be ok at a macro level. If your CTL is roughly half of what it is at peak, and you are not working to provide an overload (with intended adaptations), then we can consider that as some basic fitness: no real overload; rather, you’re just staying healthy and enjoying exercise.

So think about it in relation to your objectives, and make sure to consider your level of recovery, readiness, and mental status as you progress through those time blocks. These will come in handy as you look back on past approaches/seasons, and plan for upcoming ones.

Coach Ryan

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@SteveHerman @thom2544, another way of looking at things is that, if you are a time-crunched athlete, then by definition you have a heck of a lot of other priorities in your life. So with that perspective, it is absolutely not a bad thing mentally to take an occasional break (definitely doesn’t have to be a week), if for no other reason than to focus on those other priorities so that it doesn’t always seem as if you’re spinning multiple plates in the air. Definitely don’t neglect that mental benefit.
Time-crunched athletes also often compensate with more intensity, so a recovery week can even involve a week with zero intensity and just easy recovery rides. That will also allow your body to adapt and compensate.


Thanks for the inputs @ThermalDoc and @ryan! You’re absolutely right on the life priorities end. For me, hanging out with my 10 month old rugrat is a big priority and if I get home from work and he wants to play the workout takes a back seat. If the workout (lifting or bike) is important then it has to happen before anyone wakes up. Given that volume isn’t a huge driver for my events, I feel that I don’t need to start building my weekly volume too early.

I do want to clarify something that Dr. Cheung said re: time crunched compensating with intensity. Are you suggesting that this is advisable? That seems contrary to the FastTalkLabs recommendation to focus heavily on low intensity.

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Hi @SteveHerman no, I’m absolutely NOT advocating lots of high intensity for time-crunched athletes, just pointing out the fact that many default to this mode of training distribution. I still feel that the polarized model works better even with 8 h/week, esp if it’s possible to get in one longer low-intensity ride a week.
Being a CX guy myself and with those events 10+ months off (hopefully), now is also not the time to prioritize intensity anyway. I would really take in Episode 141 and the idea of long-term planning and focus on building a healthy robust body. For me, I’m decreasing volume and especially intensity this winter. Instead, I’m diversifying with core/strength work, lots of bouldering (my other sport), and short 3-5 km easy running to get outside. Also yoga to help recover and adapt to those cross-training activities.

Stephen Cheung

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What about block periodization, for the time-crunched athlete who can’t increase weekly training volume (time-limited) and might not be able to ‘compensate with intensity’ (already recovery limited) but is worried about stagnating with the same training distribution every week?

I haven’t actually implemented this, but I have seen athletes in a similar situation as the OPs. Where they are stuck in a situation of easily tolerating the consistent training load, but not being able to increase weekly volume or intensity any further. And I don’t want to just have to tell them “sorry, you might just be at your ‘lifestyle-limit’”.

Brief over-intensive periods provide the progressive overload. Might be able to plan work/life around those hard weeks where the athlete knows they will be a bit more drained than usual (I think this has been talked about on the podcast?). Manage it so that they can just about tolerate the higher volume of intensity for the week.

Then back off intensity and maintain volume & consistency of mostly/exclusively low intensity, as @ThermalDoc suggests, to absorb the intensive load. Giving the benefits of training consistency each week and accounting for other life-priorities.

If nothing else, the athlete might feel like they are adding a week of uber-intensity, rather than subtracting a week of rest on top of their regular schedule?

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@SpareCycles, yes, this is a great option. Being a time-crunched cyclist myself, I use this fairly regularly throughout the season. I look at it as, when the opportunity presents itself to apply a block approach and get an overload in a novel way compared to my usual routine, I’ll take it. As long as the recovery is appropriate, it can be a great way to adjust training to get the necessary overload.
Coach Ryan


Hi Dr Cheung, I hope all is well! Could you define the length of " one longer low-intensity ride a week." As you know , getting out on the roads for a long ride can be tough in the Niagara/Buffalo region in the winter. I do understand that that amount of time can vary widely, but given 20 years of 10,000 km per year, what would a longer ride typically be?

Thx @SpareCycles and @ryan what would you do for the “intensity” week?

Hi @thom2544, it will vary depending on my goal or time of year, but here are some examples of what I’ve used in the past:

  1. 4 days high tempo/low sweet spot during commutes, 2x per day for ~45 min per session. Some sessions would be better than others, but overall the goal was to accumulate a lot of time at around 89-93% threshold HR. These weren’t structured intervals. They were more high-cadence tempo rides with pushes on small grades and short climbs along the way.
  2. 3 days of two-a-day sessions ~45-60 min with roughly 4-5x5 (2:1 work/rest) supra-threshold. Some sessions might touch on zone 5.
  3. When the kids are in school, I’ll start up a Thurs-Sat routine with ~4-6 hours climbing Thursday (climbs all done just below threshold), Friday shorter threshold session, and Saturday long aerobic ride.

You can get creative with how to schedule these to suit your needs and your time available.

Coach Ryan