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Most all of us have experienced it; the workout that didn’t go according to plan. In fact, if you are challenging yourself enough, you should have some workouts that don’t turn out the way you hoped they would. No matter how many times we tell ourselves that it’s ok to have an off day, it can be so frustrating to be standing on the side of the road or trail, exhausted, and failing to hit your intended marks.
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There is a very specific moment when you look one way to continue onward and look the other way to consider just pulling the plug on the workout and coasting home. What’s the right move? You don’t want to wimp-out on your workout, but you also don’t want to suffer through pointless miles. The next time you find yourself in this situation, consider these factors to help you make a decision that won’t bother you for the rest of the day.
It seems obvious that if you are sick you should give your body the necessary rest to heal itself, but that can be a tough lesson to learn for Type-A, do-or-die, hard-core cyclists. Illness, even just being a little under the weather, can objectively impact your body’s natural functions such as heart rate. That means no matter how tough you are, you are in a compromised position to reach your goals. Even if you are able to achieve the workout, it’s much better to sit out one day of training to ensure proper healing, rather than push your body, risk greater illness, and possibly miss weeks of quality workouts.
Injury, whether officially diagnosed or not, is another good reason to discontinue a workout. Many injuries related to cycling are chronic or gradual onset injuries which means they will likely come on slowly and progress toward worse and worse pain. If you are able to catch the progression early enough then you may save yourself from needing long, extended periods of recovery, surgery, or intensive rehabilitation. As a general rule of thumb, if your pain is 3 out of 10 or less, you may proceed with the workout with caution, but any greater pain intensity is a sign to call it a day. If you have to quit your workout due to injury, spend the time that you would have been riding to do rehabilitation, strengthening, stretching, icing, or even making a doctor’s appointment.
When deciding whether or not to continue on with a lack-luster workout, it’s important to consider what the overall goal of the workout is and if your effort is reflecting that goal. For example, if the workout is a tempo or sweet spot workout, but you are finding it exceptionally challenging, your heart rate is near maxed out, and you feel like you may cramp at any moment then it’s probably time to call it a day. This is because the physiological load (such as heart rate) is likely much higher than the intended purpose and if you continue on you may limit your ability to take on harder workouts scheduled later in the week.
On the other hand, if you are attempting to complete all-out or VO2 max intervals, and you are falling short, then it may be beneficial to suffer through to the end. In this circumstance, the goal of the workout is to exert your lungs and cardiovascular system to its maximum, and if you are able to reach that exertion level, you will benefit from the workout. Even if you fall short of your intended intensity, and your legs are not experiencing your planned load and higher wattage, continuing can still be advantageous as it benefits your heart and lungs.
Another factor to consider before bailing on your workout is where you are in your training cycle. For example, if you are beginning a new phase, or just had a rest week and should be feeling good, then it might be worth bailing on the workout and resting for one more day. In this type of scenario, your body may just need a little more rest than you anticipated and it may be better to ease up for another one or two days rather than beginning a new training cycle already fatigued.
Conversely, if you are near the end of a training cycle and you are expected to be fatigued, then it’s time to buckle down and finish to the best of your ability. Sometimes it’s necessary to push through fatigue in order to gain fatigue resistance and build fitness. If a recovery week or even a single rest day is in your near future, continue pushing through the workout to see it through to the end of the cycle.
Finally, consider your overarching goal of training. If you have a big race within two weeks then it might be worth giving yourself a little extra rest and airing on the side of caution. It is unlikely that any workout you do within two weeks of your race will influence your overall fitness. If you have no races in the near future, then that gives you a bit more freedom to push the envelope.
Assuming you’re healthy, just get out the door. Sometimes it’s easy to want to bail on a workout before you even start. More often than not, if you push yourself to take those first few pedal strokes you may surprise yourself with what you are capable of and you won’t even want to consider cutting your ride short.