As summer approaches, it is not unusual for cyclists to increase their riding mileage. A rider can either increase the length of each ride, or increase the number of days a week they ride. Many cyclists do both.
However, there are some tips and guidelines which should be followed in order to avoid injury or fatigue.
Allow for Recovery
Probably the most important fact to consider is that you can only really go hard three to four times a week. Your body needs a chance to recover. Training is the process of tearing down and building back up.
If you ride hard more than three or four times a week, your body never gets a chance to recover and rebuild muscle tissue. Here is an area where modern training aids such as heart rate monitors and power meters are most valuable. These devices are great for telling a rider they are going too hard on their easy days. It is pretty simple to set levels such as 50 to 60 percent of maximum heart rate or 150 watts of power, and then make sure that on your easy rides you never exceed those levels.
Less Is More
Another important consideration is to never do group rides on your easy days. It is just the law of nature that group rides turn into hammerfests. You don't want to lose a critical recovery day because you bowed to peer pressure and rode too hard. It is best on your easy days to ride by yourself or with one or two riders who you trust will keep the pace mellow.
Easy Does It
One potential trouble area occurs when you increase a specific type of riding. A good example is upping your climbing miles. If, for example, most of your rides include between 1,000 and 3,000 feet of climbing, increasing that figure to 5,000 or 6,000 feet too quickly may result in knee pain.
It is important to ramp up to big climbing miles slowly and be prepared to use lower (easier) gears to be more friendly on your knees. This also applies to riders who prefer to push big gears rather than spin. There aren't any formulas needed here. This is more of a case of using good common sense and listening to your body.
If you are still experiencing a specific pain or general fatigue several days after a hard effort, then you need to rest. If you have just recently increased your mileage or weekly riding days, then back off a bit and take it a bit more slowly.
Rest is good and should not be confused with weakness or lack of dedication. Knowing when to go hard and when to go easy is very important.
So, as you build up your riding for that hilly century or gran fondo, do so with a plan which you can re-evaluate as you gauge your health and overall fatigue.
Bruce Hildenbrand is a freelance journalist covering cycling and a host of other outdoor-related sports. Find the latest news, rumors and more on his Active Expert blog. He splits his time between Mountain View, California, Boulder, Colorado, and Europe.