Recovery might be the most important “training” you do on your bike. It’s often the hardest and the most overlooked aspect of training. Riding your bike stresses your body, especially when the training is long and/or hard.
However, we get stronger, faster and more fit following rest. In other words – training creates stress, while recovery promotes adaptation.
Many riders believe they must train hard every day. Lack of recovery is the key reason cyclists stop improving and plateau. Lack of recovery often leads to breakdown, illness and overtraining. Riders lose “freshness,” and the mental ability to keep riding. They get “sick of training.”
Don’t let this happen to you.
Recovery is a critical component to training, and once you realize its importance, recovery days are embraced, cherished and eagerly anticipated.
Recovery can be broken down a few ways. Certain rides may be classified as “Active Recovery Rides.” Characteristics include:
- Average heart rate <68% of threshold HR (from your 30 minute time trial)
- Average power <55% of functional threshold power (again, from your 30 minute TT)
- Perceived Exertion = <2 (2 of 10)
- Your level of exertion is very, very low. It feels “embarrassingly easy.” Extremely light pressure on the pedals. You induce no fatigue to your legs. It takes no concentration to maintain pace and continuous conversation is possible. The only concentration required is to ride your bike slowly enough. Cadence is low and ride duration is short (typically 30 minutes – 2 hours, depending on a variety of factors, such as rider experience, level of fatigue, etc).
The key to remember is that a recovery ride really can’t be too slow. Your only goal is to “flush” your legs.
In addition to Recovery Rides, you should take a periodic “Recovery Week.” After a strenuous block of training, a recovery week allows freshness to return (mental and physical) and helps your body to adapt to the cycling stress.
I generally schedule a formal recovery week for my athletes every 3rd or 4th week. I typically schedule a recovery week for my Master’s cyclists every 3 weeks and younger athletes (under 40) every 4 weeks. These are general guidelines and not hard and fast rules. A 50-year-old cyclist who has trained and raced his or her entire career may be able to train for 3+ weeks before a recovery week is required.
On the other hand, a 28-year-old rider who is new to the sport and has a limited amount of general athletic experience may need a recovery week more often.
A recovery week is characterized by significantly reduced volume (often 50% or more) and easy rides. Recovery weeks are a great time to focus on pedalling skill rides.
While I use the term Recovery “Week,” the actual recovery portion is typically about 5 days, which again can change by the athlete. Here is a template for a typical recovery week:
- Day 1: Off
- Day 2: Short and easy (z1-only).
- Day 3: Short and easy, and may (or may not) include a few spin-up or other pedal drills.
- Day 4: Off
- Day 5: Short and easy ride.
- Day 6: Relatively short ride, but a bit more effort. This is often a ride which includes a significant amount of z1 but also some z2 if the rider is feeling refreshed.
- Day 7: Longer aerobic ride (z2-3)
By the end of the 5th day, the cyclist is usually feeling quite fresh and eager to get back after it. The key here is to slowly ramp up the effort, but continue to keep the training stress low for another day or so.
So remember to include at least 1 recovery ride each week, and GO EASY. In addition, schedule a recovery week every 3rd or 4th week. You’ll ride stronger, you’ll be mentally and physically fresher and you’ll avoid burnout. So learn to enjoy your recovery.
Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can help you prepare for your key events and races.