thanksgiving exercise

Thanksgiving Challenge and Training Tips for Cyclists


By Chris Carmichael
CTS Founder and Chief Endurance Officer

Depending on your work and family schedule, you might have a few days off during Thanksgiving Week, or you might be fortunate enough to take the whole week off. Maybe you’ll be one of the millions braving the airports and highways, or perhaps the party is coming to you instead. I’ve always seen the week of Thanksgiving as a great opportunity to sneak in additional time on the bike, and here are 8 ways to make the week better.

Ride a Turkey Day Event

Just like communities have a lot of Turkey Trot 5k and 10k running events, there are plenty of themed group rides and races during the week and weekend. Check out indoor options on your favorite app as well. If you’re traveling and have access to a bike, these group rides are a convenient way to find a good route in a new city. If you can’t travel with your bike, consider renting one from a shop at your destination.

Ride to Dinner

This is one of my favorite ways to incorporate a big ride with travel. If your family is driving across town or a few hours to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, put your nice dinner clothes in the car and plan ride your bike to dinner. If your destination is a bit farther away than you want to ride (like a 6-hour drive…), then plan your route from a convenient drop off point along the way. And, if you’re not a huge fan of sitting around all afternoon with your relatives, this is also a good excuse to arrive later and get right to the good part… Thanksgiving dinner!

One additional benefit of riding to dinner, or just riding locally in the early afternoon on Thanksgiving Day, is that the roads are empty. The opposite is true the day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday. If there’s a day this week when you should ride indoors or take a rest day, Friday would be a great choice.

Create a week-long challenge

Over the years, I have issued specific Thanksgiving Challenges on this blog, and I think holiday-themed fitness challenges are a good way for people to set short-term goals that enhance their overall fitness and performance. Rapha’s Festive 500 is a staple of the Christmas-to-New Year’s week, but there’s no reason you can’t do the same thing this week, if you have the time. Rather than construct one challenge for everyone, here are a few ways you can create the one that works best with your schedule or goals:

  • Consistency: Aim to ride every day from today through next Sunday. The time and distance are secondary if this is the challenge you choose. You’re after consistency and the commitment to maintaining a routine.
  • Distance: Mileage-based challenges are best for cyclists who aren’t going to incorporate other exercises into their week. The distance you choose should take the kind of riding you’re doing into account. If you’re only riding on the road, you can most likely cover more miles in a reasonable number of hours than you can on gravel or single track. No matter what you choose, aim for 1.5 times your normal weekly volume. This is enough to create a challenge and a bump in training stress without overdoing it and increasing the risk for injury or excessive fatigue that requires substantial recovery next week.
  • Energy: For cyclists working with power meters, you can create a challenge based on kilojoules. Again, take a look at your normal weekly training kilojoules, and multiply by 1.5. Although calculations for caloric expenditure aren’t entirely accurate, athletes who do a variety of activities (cycling, mountain biking, cross training, hiking, etc.) can get reasonable data to use for setting a caloric expenditure goal for the week.
  • Time: This is a great way to set a goal that takes into account different types of riding as well as other activities. If you normally train 8 hours a week, try to train for 12 during Thanksgiving Week. All types of exercise count.

What if you’re traveling without a bike?

If you don’t have access to a bicycle during the week of Thanksgiving, take the opportunity to walk/hike. If you are already engaged in a strength training or mobility program, continue with that if possible. For those who aren’t, this week could be a good opportunity to get started with bodyweight resistance exercises or resistance bands. These exercises are essential for establishing the range of motion for resistance training before adding load from weights.

Ride while Thanksgiving dinner is in the oven

If your house is the destination for Thanksgiving dinner and you’re doing the lion’s share of the cooking, consider doing your food prep early and scheduling a ride while the bird (or whatever your main dish will be) is in the oven. This strategy can be particularly useful for people who get stressed by the process of cooking and preparing for a house full of guests – even if they are treasured family and friends. The idea isn’t to take you away from the gathering if that’s where you want to be, but it’s an option to consider if you could really use a break before company arrives or you would benefit from the stress relief of a workout before spending an evening with your crazy uncle.

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Protect your sleep routine

To avoid reaching next Sunday totally exhausted, make sure you protect your sleep routine during Thanksgiving Week. Try to avoid staying up late the night before traveling. If you are traveling across time zones, stay awake and get some sunshine if you arrive during daylight. On the other hand, if you arrive at night, keep your activities low key and leverage the fatigue from travel to get into bed and go to sleep. If you normally wake up at a specific time, try to maintain that schedule. And even though you might stay up late with friends or relatives one or two nights, try not to burn the candle at both ends all week.

Minimize grazing/mindless eating

Thanksgiving is a holiday that revolves around food, so you’re going to be surrounded by it all week. Try to maintain your normal eating behaviors, in terms of when and how much you normally eat, even if the foods change a bit because it’s the holidays. In other words, if you normally eat breakfast, have a small mid-morning snack, a light lunch, mid-afternoon snack, and then dinner, continue with that pattern instead of eating non-stop from 9:00am to 9:00pm.

Eat what you want during Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving dinner comes once a year, nothing you eat or avoid eating is going to make a significant difference in the long run. If you are being conscious of (but not obsessive about) your eating behaviors the rest of the week, enjoy Thanksgiving dinner and the people you are with. Adding the pressure of eating a certain way or avoiding specific foods isn’t necessary.

Ride indoors or off-road on Black Friday

If you decide to create a consistency challenge and aim to ride every day from today through next Sunday, I recommend riding on the road on Thanksgiving Day, and riding indoors or off-road on Black Friday. Roads are empty in the late morning and early afternoon on T-day, but roads are packed with inattentive and rushed drivers on Black Friday. Best to ride gravel or mountain bike that day.

If you manage to increase your weekly training workload during Thanksgiving Week, congratulations! Be sure, however, to consider both your training workload and the fatigue from traveling and lost sleep when you make training plans for the following week. In order to leverage the good work you do in this coming week, you have to rest and recover.

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