Ask Syd: Does Taking Time Off Make You Faster?

“A day off can work wonders” is a phenomenon I have experienced time and time again when learning new skills (on and off the bike). I had a coach in highschool who encouraged us to take a whole month off. “You’ll freeze out bad habits”, was his reasoning.

If I take a week or two off the bike the first ride back is usually amazing. I feel more coordinated and confident, and as long as my fitness is still there, I feel much faster. Have you experienced this? I wonder if there is a pre-race strategy there… Or maybe it’s just an illusion?



My friend Nico left this comment on my most recent post about learning to wheelie and I thought it was a really interesting idea and possibly something others would benefit from thinking about as well.

When I first started riding bikes seriously (about three years ago), I found that if I took any more than two days off, my first ride back would be an all-caps DISASTER. I would be slow and sloppy and frustrated. Now, it’s kind of the opposite. I find that when I give myself the rest I need — especially after a few weeks of working on skills — that’s when the breakthroughs happen.

I think the key here is balance. You have to balance putting in the work with recovering both mentally and physically. If you aren’t putting in the work — whatever that may be — taking a few weeks off is not going to be a boon. In fact, it will probably hurt you overall. I’m not sure I buy the idea of “freezing out bad habits.” It might work — but you may also freeze out good habits. Habits take time to be ingrained. If your bad habits are deeply ingrained, the only way to get rid of them is by learning a different habit or behavior. They won’t just go away if you take time off. You will ALWAYS fall back on the bad habit if you haven’t learned something different to replace it.

That said, while we give a lot of credence to recovery from a physical training standpoint, we often overlook mental recovery when it comes to skills work. And that’s a mistake! Your brain takes time to process new information — at least mine does. That’s why I find in-person clinics to be challenging — I prefer working on skills in short (15-30min) bursts and a 2-4 hour clinic overloads me. That doesn’t mean I’m not getting anything out of it — I usually see a big improvement a few days AFTER a clinic, which is why I love Lee McCormack’s online training because I can continue to share that improvement. Even so, I find that if I’m trying to learn a new skill, or dial in a new habit (i.e. changing the way I hit corners), I don’t want to take more than a day off from practicing. The good news is once that new habit or skills becomes ingrained, it should stay with you even after a few weeks (or months) away from the bike.

But everybody’s different — I think the most important point here is to learn how you learn and figure out what works for you. If a two week break gives you a massive boost, make sure you’re scheduling in breaks throughout your year, so you’re staying mentally fresh and having fun. If you find yourself feeling sloppy after a few days off, make sure you’re riding consistently, especially if you’re gearing up for a race or a big ride.

Syd Schulz

Pro mountain biker.

Average human.

I write about bikes and life and trying to get better at both.

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