How Much Cycling Is Too Much: What are the signs it’s time to take a break?


When it comes to activity, many of us need to think about exercising more and not less. But in some cases, cycling too much can be a bad thing. As someone who has now managed to work out exactly how much cycling my body can handle, I thought it would be helpful to take you through some of the considerations I had when deciding how much cycling was too much.

You are cycling too much if you have any symptoms of overtraining, such as lethargy, frequent illness, or a high resting heart rate. Many cyclists ride for more than 8 hours a week but this does not mean everyone can. Those with health conditions, who ride at high intensities or have poor fitness should cycle less.

So, we’ve established that there are some definitive negatives to cycling too much, but what other symptoms should you be looking at, what are the long-term results of overtraining, and how much cycling should you be doing each week?

How much cycling per week is too much?

When it comes to “how much cycling is too much”, there is no general answer that will apply to everyone. There are a variety of different factors that will impact how much cycling you personally can and should be doing before you may be doing more harm than good.

I think it is important to note that if you are new to cycling or exercise in general, you should not let the concern of “cycling too much” take away from the clear benefits of regular moderate exercise. Regular exercise is recommended by every country in the world and backed up by every study I’ve ever seen.

If you are looking to get into cycling and thinking about how much you should be cycling each week, it is important to seek advice from a medical professional. While I am a doctor in my day-to-day life, I don’t know your personal situation or your other medical conditions. Getting these checked out by a qualified doctor who knows you personally is a very important step you should not skip over.

How much do other cyclists ride each week?

When it comes to the question of how much cycling is “too much”, it’s really helpful to be able to put your cycling into perspective. To do this I’ve asked a large cycling community how many hours they cycle each week to get an idea of what the average is.

As you can see from the chart above, many cyclists are riding more than 8 hours each week. For those of you at the start of the cycling journey, who might be asking “Is 2 hours of cycling too much?”, now you can see that when put into perspective, you are likely to be safe cycling this much.

What factors impact how much cycling is too much for you?

There are a range of different factors that will impact how much you should be cycling each week. These can be based on you personally, as well as the type of cycling you are doing.

Individual health and background medical conditions

This is one of the most important factors that will impact how much cycling is bad for you.

If you have an underlying health condition or are new to cycling, it is important that you check in with a medical professional before you start a new exercise regime or training plan. Certain medical conditions will impact how hard you should be pushing yourself, and it’s worth getting everything checked out sooner rather than later.

Obviously, if you have one of these medical conditions you will want to be led by your personal doctor on how hard to be pushing yourself. Once the doctor has signed off on your cycling, other factors such as your base fitness will also play a key role in how hard you should be riding.

If you think about it, a new cyclist who decides to cycle 100 miles a week may well be pushing themselves too far, whereas other more experienced cyclists may well see 100 miles a week as a rest week. When looking to increase the amount of riding you do each week, you should make sure that you are gradually increasing your pace and distance through a well-planned training regime. This is going to be much better for your body than jumping from nothing to 100 miles a day.

Riding style

The type of riding you are doing will also impact how much you should be cycling.

The intensity, duration, and frequency of your rides are the main factors to consider when looking into your riding style.

Obviously, you should not be doing as many hours or miles of cycling if you are sporting compared to cycling on a bikepakcing trip. On the other hand, if you are cycling at a slow and conversational pace, you may well be able to cycle many hundreds of miles a week. If you think about it, many commuters won’t think twice about the 5 hours a week they spend cycling to work.

Everything else

Apart from the riding itself, there are a range of other things to take into account when deciding on how much cycling is too much.

Firstly you need to take into account other exercises and types of activity you are doing. Someone doing an hour running each day is unlikely to be able to do as much cycling as much as someone who isn’t.

Another key consideration is making sure that you are optimizing other areas of your life. You will not to be able to reach the peak of your cycling amount each week if you have not optimized your nutrition or sleep.

Is it unhealthy to bike everyday?

Generally speaking, you do not want to be cycling every day. Almost all athletes will plan to have rest days built into any training regime, and this is for good reason.

When you exercise, you use up your body’s glycogen stores. Glycogen is the muscle’s store of energy and takes some time to properly “re-fuel” after a long cycle. A rest day is really helpful for giving your body time to catch up on this re-fueling process and helps to keep you working at your best.

Not only do the muscle energy stores fall with continued cycling, but the actual muscle fibers themselves will be damaged as a result of cycling. Don’t worry, this is normal and is the way your body actually builds stronger muscles, but a rest day gives these repairing muscles a chance to properly knit themselves back together and become stronger

In general, most cyclists will advise a minimum of 2 rest days a week, however, I personally will aim for 3. Not only do I find cycling every day of a week to be tough physically, but I also find it can be mentally taxing, and I always enjoy cycling more after a short break.

Obviously, there is some leeway to this, and again you need to take into account the type of cycling you do.

As you can see below, when I asked the same cyclists about how many rest days they take each week, the majority took 2 or 3 days per week.

What happens if you do too much cycling?

Cycling too much can put a strain on you physically and mentally. Generally overtraining or over cycling can result in short-term and long-term complications.

Short-term problems

The first problem you might notice with overtraining or over cycling is stiffness and soreness. This is your body’s way of telling you to take a break, and if you already feel tired when getting on the bike, it might be a good time for a rest day.

Not only your muscles will be taking the strain, but you may also find you are more tired than normal or lethargic. This again is due to your body trying to catch up on all that “repair” that is going on overnight and probably is a good sign it needs a few rest days. Not only this, but you may find counterintuitively that your sleep is actually worse even though you’re more tired, and your appetite is low even if you don’t have energy.

One of the most common signs of over cycling is getting ill more frequently, or sustaining lots of injuries while riding. Both of these come as a result of your body’s inability to focus on your immune system when it is already having to focus on healing all of the “damage” you are doing to it yourself.

Finally, a great marker that your body is in need of a rest day is your resting heart rate. If your body is already having to work harder than normal (shown by your resting heart rate being higher than your baseline), then it is likely you’ve been overtraining and you should take a break.

A good way to monitor these factors can be by looking at your stress scores on activity monitors or smart watches. These monitors track a range of variables including your heart rate variability and sleep scores which can be a good marker of when you need a break.

Long-term problems

In the long term, overtraining can lead to serious complications. Some studies into long-term intensive exercise training have shown effects such as heart damage and arrhythmias as a result of overstraining on the heart, which can obviously be very serious.

These studies were done in high endurance athletes and so you should only be concerned about these long-term effects if you are cycling a considerable amount each week already. If this is an area you are concerned about definitely speak to your doctor.

The other factor that you might notice in the long term is the impact cycling can have on your relationships or personal life. While many of us love cycling, and would do it everyday if we could, if you are consistently overtraining, you may find you are falling behind on your personal responsibilities and this is a sign you should be building in some more down time,

Overall

When it comes to whether or not “too much cycling is bad for you”, there are lots of factors to take into account.

While most of us should be exercising more, if you are experiencing any of the factors we talk about above, such as tiredness, lethargy, or a raised resting heart rate, you may be pushing yourself too hard and be due to a break from cycling.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

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