Long layoffs happen. Sometimes you are injured. Sometimes your life is too hectic to be training for cycling.

Inevitably, you’ll want to get back into cycling after a long layoff. It’s a struggle, but you can do it!

Ask Levi: How Can I Get Back In Racing Shape?

Today’s question is about how to get back into racing shape after a long layoff and the resulting weight gain…

I have a question. I raced from 1994-2003 and when I stopped I was pretty close to cat 2 status. Then I got married, house, kid, second career and grad school all during which I haven’t done anything riding-wise. My time I spent on cycling I sacrificed for some other things but now it’s time to get back what I lost. Being a real rider. I really miss cycling and want to get back to riding enough so I could maybe think about racing. I’m 6’1″ 215 lbs (racing weight was 180-85, eesh!) What is step one? Lose weight and diet? weights? Just get back on the bike and ride? It’s cold here in Illinois so right now I’ll be doing stuff indoors. Any advice would be appreciated.

-Determined Drew

Hi Drew,

This is an interesting question for me, because I have been in a similar situation quite a few times, albeit on a smaller scale.

But whatever the cause, it’s always a challenge to get back in the game, and it can be aggravating due to all the hard work it takes just to get back to the shape you were in. (I always tried to jump back in right where I was before and blast some hill intervals – big mistake!)

Being winter, this is actually a good time for you to get back into it. Here’s why…

Lose Weight

Your initial goals will be lose weight and put some miles in your legs. The weight loss will come from weight lifting and diet changes, two things that go well with the winter weather. (You probably already know how hard it is to diet during the season and still maintain enough energy for big miles and hard training. So work on the diet now.)

Now when I say diet, I mean cutting out junk food and not eating too far in excess. You’ll probably still need a decent amount of food since you’ll be training, so don’t do any severe calorie restriction. Just focus on healthy, natural foods.

Build Strength

For weight lifting, I’d recommend doing some intense weight lifting. And I mean a real weight lifting program with heavy squats and deadlifts, lunges, overhead press, incline bench press, pull ups, chin ups, and dips. (You could even try the 5×5 program from www.StrongLifts.com to get started.)

A lot of cyclists would shudder at this advice, thinking they’ll gain a ton of muscle mass. But I think you’ll find that you shed a lot of fat and end up losing weight with this approach!

Get Some Miles In

At the same time, you need to get your legs adjusted to the motion of pedaling a bicycle for hours on end, once again. After a long layoff, the tendency is to overdo it and end up overtrained, which is another reason the winter weather is good for you. By forcing you to ride an indoor trainer, you’ll be able to keep mileage in check. (Even the most motivated riders coming back from 5 year layoffs would have a hard time doing 4-8 hour rides indoors!)

I’d shoot for six 30-minute rides or three 60-minute rides per week, done at an easy to moderate pace. You can alter this each week, but I’d stick with the shorter and easier rides to get your aerobic base built up. The intensity in your training will come from the weight lifting. (And as the weather gets nicer and your legs get accustomed to the bike again, you can cut back on the weight lifting and gradually ramp up the intensity of your rides.)

Start Training

Begin a real training plan. Perhaps pick up a power meter, too – they’re much more affordable than they were in 2003!

Good luck! Getting back into cycling is a lot of fun! Just keep working hard and you’ll be racing Cat 2 soon enough!

Coming Back From a Minor Injury or Sickness

A similar question came in:

Question: I was in race fit condition before I had a fall on December 20 and have been off the bike ever since. I suspect I may be ready to get back on the bike by Feb 01. Do I have enough time for a 100km race on March 08. If so, what training should I do in 5 weeks?

Recuperating Roger

Sorry to hear about your fall Roger. I was off the bike about six weeks this winter myself. Every time I get injured and have to rest, I worry about losing fitness. But it’s surprising how fast your fitness comes back!

First off, make sure you are ready to get back on the bike. Take it slow and don’t re-injure yourself. (You’re better off coming back a few days late than a few too early.)

But let’s assume you are ready to go and have five weeks till your race. The good news here is that you were in shape not too long ago, so you should be able to get back to that level shortly. Just think of the past six weeks off as a well-deserved rest!

The other good news is that if you were in race shape, your training plan must be working!

You won’t be starting from scratch after a long hiatus, so I would just backtrack on your current training plan.

Here’s how I would do it:

Week 1: Recovery rides just to make sure you’re ready to get back into training.

Weeks 2-3: Start training based on what you were doing three weeks before the accident. Just pick up a few weeks before where you left off. (Basically you’ll repeat your December schedule in February.)

Week 4: See how you have progressed so far. If you’re feeling alright, continue with your plan. If you are feeling race-ready again, do a good hard week like you might have had planned for late January.

Week 5: Taper off and rest up for the race. Keep the volume low, but be sure to throw in some intensity so your legs are primed for the race.

March 8th: As long as you feel up to it and have the green light from your doctor, race!

Good luck and have fun!

This article was originally published on January 8, 2009. It was revised and updated on October 27, 2019.

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1 Comment
  1. Solid advice here Levi. Thats more or less my current strategy after a lack of serious riding for several months

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