Every cyclist “suffers” when they’re riding hard.

But, is all suffering equal? And if not, what makes one type suffering different from another?

In this short post, I want to offer some pointers on how to distinguish between good and bad suffering so that you can successfully avoid overtraining…


Good suffering is when you know that you’re riding at the limit of your ability and you’re stretching your boundaries.

You’re consciously testing your fitness and your body is responding and rising to the challenge.

It’s good because the pain comes from being at the sharp edge of your capacity and from riding at a level that’s taking you to higher levels than is familiar to you.


Bad suffering on the other hand is when you’re struggling. Struggling mentally and struggling physically.

It’s when you’re trying to push your boundaries and the body isn’t responding.

Whilst it might hurt in a similar way, bad suffering is not the same as good suffering. It comes from your body saying no, and is a warning sign rather than a green light to keep pushing on.


Good suffering is what’s called eustress. It’s stress that is beneficial.

In the context of cycling, it’s the kind of stress that gives the go ahead for your body to adapt – to get stronger after you’ve weakened it through training.

Bad suffering is synonymous with stress, i.e. stress that is detrimental. This is stress that causes your body to weaken yet not get stronger.

Eustress leads to greater fitness, and stress leads to fitness degradation.


The cyclist who can recognise, during their hard rides and/or training sessions, what good stress and bad stress feels like has a great opportunity to avoid overtraining…

Those who cannot distinguish between the two however are in a threatening position if they’re trying to improve their fitness.

It’s imperative to train yourself to know the difference between the two so that you can push on when you experience good suffering and stop to reassess when you experience bad suffering.

The key mistake that leads so many cyclists to overtraining, injury or burnout is failing to identify which type of suffering they’re feeling as they train.

Far too common is the story of cyclists pushing harder and harder in their training in order to suffer MORE, without any consideration as to whether they’re piling on greater amounts good suffering or bad suffering.

Relatedly, cyclists who notice their fitness development slowing or going backwards are often inclined to try harder, i.e. to induce more stress.

But again, it comes down to inducing the sort of stress that will turn things around.


Pay very close attention to your sensations as you train for cycling.

Ask yourself, in your tough rides and workouts, is this hard because I’m pushing my boundaries, or because I can’t reach my boundaries?

Is the pain coming from a place of fatigue and struggle, or is it coming from testing what I’m capable of?

When you become good at distinguishing good suffering and bad suffering, you’ll be in a fantastic position to improve your fitness in a long-term, meaningful way.

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