For cyclists just starting to get out onto the road, there’s good news for long-term health and injury outlooks. According to a study published by the Journal of Orthopaedic Research, injury rates are declining, including those ailments that arise from the act of cycling itself, rather than road traffic accidents. This is a reflection of improved medical care, improved knowledge, better training methods, and improved nutrition. All of this might not be obvious to the new cyclists, however. One principle above all others can help in avoiding injury and, in turn, promoting growth – and that’s embracing the rest day. There are many factors as to why rest days are effective and, therefore, essential, and it starts with sleep.

The function of sleep

The best way to consider the importance of sleep is to look at the factors involved with not getting enough. The basics are obvious; a lack of energy, irritability, altered appetite, and reduced mental acuity. There are also compelling studies that suggest a deeper seated physiological role in lacking sleep. Poor quality and levels of sleep contribute to reduced testosterone levels, according to one Italian study, and another published by Physiological Reports open access noted that acute sleep restriction could reduce muscle synthesis by up to 18%.

One important factor in sleep is exercise, of course. It promotes hormonal balance, expends additional energy within the body, and creates a foundation on which to have solid sleep. However, exercise too close to sleep, or overexertion, can lead to poor quality sleep. This is because adrenaline, which disturbs rest, can be produced too close to bedtime, and an over-elevated body temperature interferes with the natural cycles associated with sleep. It’s important to maintain a healthy, rather than excessive, level of exercise.

Repairing the muscles

The action of strenuous exercise creates microscopic tears in your muscles and depletes glycogen levels within those muscles. This leads to immediate muscle fatigue, according to Healthline, and is why it’s crucial to rest muscles and eat plenty of nutritionally rich to restock those muscles. What happens if you don’t take a rest day?

According to Men’s Health in an advisory piece on weightlifting, one major analysis of 140 studies has shown that you should never exercise the same muscle group within 48 hours of the workout. If you do, you can suffer fatigue, aching, decreased performance, and even lower muscle gains. For cyclists, the action is more gentle, but perhaps not on your thighs and other leg muscles. Give them at least two days of rest after a particularly strenuous workout.

Preventing overuse

Cyclists are primarily at risk of upper body injury stemming from road traffic accidents. Lower body injuries, conversely, have been shown to mainly occur from cyclist error. One Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons publication noted primary reasons for this included poor preparation, poor equipment, poor technique, and, crucially, overuse.

Rest days are crucial for cyclists: Mtb in a forest in autumn.
Rest days are crucial for cyclists, allowing their bodies to recover from rigorous physical activity. Continuous cycling without adequate rest can lead to overuse injuries, affecting muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Taking planned rest days helps repair these tissues, reducing the risk of long-term damage. It’s about working smarter, not harder – integrating rest into training schedules ensures sustained performance and health. Photo by K O’Shaughnessy

The poor technique angle can also become more amplified over time if rest days are eschewed in favor of continuing to push the body. Correcting your bike riding position and stance is important for gains and enjoyment, of course, but if you are riding incorrectly on a regular basis, your body will be under more strain. If you then don’t rest, the overuse of your body and the poor technique compound into a higher rate of injury. Avoiding injury is absolutely crucial to enjoying cycling, and even more casual or lower-intensity rides can have a significant and deleterious impact on your muscles and joints if not carefully minded.

Your body needs rest. It allows the muscles to rebuild, for stores of energy to build up again in their tissue, and for your sleep cycles to find a steady rhythm. The alternative is to overpush your body, causing the breakdown of muscle, the increased risk of injury, and overall a detrimental impact on the brilliant hobby that is cycling. This advice will ring true both for excited beginners and long-term professionals who are used to pushing the demands on their bodies to a relatively extreme point. Take it easy – enjoy the ride – and give your body the day off it needs afterward.

Jane Sandwood

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