There is more to effective recovery than simply taking a day off the bike!
All effective training plans are structured and involve carefully placed recovery phases. A recovery phase can be a single day in the middle of a training block, or up to a week to really recovery and peak before a specific event – a taper.
A common mistake made by cyclists is to repeat the same training, week after week, all season or all year round. It is the progression and overload, paired with recovery that leads to improvement.
Without allowing yourself to recover, you will stop making progress, increase the risk of injury and illness, run the risk of overtraining and ultimately, your head will fall off (not literally)!
Why is recovery so important?
When you train, you stress your body and break down your muscles. Your broken down muscle require repairing, which is part of the adaption process – repairing your muscles stronger than they were before. This results in your body, and specifically your leg muscles being able to withstand increased strain, allowing you to produce more power for longer.
It is this ‘cycle’ of muscle breakdown and repair, which allows you to push harder during your next training block and make that next step towards achieving your goals.
Why do my legs hurt so much after training?
This feeling is known as ‘DOMS’ or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, which is usually experienced most severely 24-48 hours after an unusually tough or unaccustomed exercise.
It is the damage to your muscle fibers, which is the most likely cause, which usually subsides after 72 hours.
When you experience DOMS – you know you have trained hard and it is likely that you should take a rest day soon!
Luke says the worst case of DOMS he has experienced has been after Paris Roubaix each time he has ridden is, where subsequent 48 hours have left him with a heavy aching feeling all over his body – neck, shoulders, hands, arms, gooch (Perineum), legs – the lot! Bouncing over 55km of cobblestones amongst a 260km race is going to take its toll – it’s certainly unusual for the human body (even pro’s) and it is impossible, without riding the cobbles every week, to become accustomed to it.
The following days after Roubaix form a critical recovery phase for Luke and most of the classics riders, allowing the body to adapt, rebuild its damaged tissue and prepare for the next block of competition or training.
Luke says ‘the day after Roubaix, I feel like a zombie – my whole body is battered. A lie in to catch some extra sleep, followed by a recovery ride is about all I can manage’.
When to recover?
A structured training programme will ensure recovery takes place at the correct time. Too many recovery phases will prevent you getting the most out of yourself, while too few will result in digging a hole and potentially overreaching, leaving you with a constant drained feeling. It’s a fine line between resting too much and not resting enough, and there is no one size fits all answer to when you should have a recovery phase.
By monitoring daily training and through thorough analysis and rider feedback – rest phases can be scheduled to prevent overreaching and to ensure the maximum gains are sought from your effort.
What can you do to aid your recovery?
1 – Fuel
After training, you need to fuel well – that’s carbohydrates to replace glycogen stores, plus protein to repair damaged muscles. Vitamins and minerals are also crucial, which means plenty of fruit and veg.
A recovery drink and a glass of water to rehydrate directly after exercise is a solid start.
2 – Stretch
Stretching is not commonly regarded as a recovery technique – it’s more to keep your muscles in good condition and to prevent injury. Through cycling, certain muscles become shortened, i.e. hamstrings. It is important to keep your muscles supple – some stretching will help achieve this. We recommend you stretch.
3 – Compression
A pair of compression tights can help your legs recover, where research has found that they; remove lactic acid faster, accelerate the recovery process and increase venous return (rate at which blood flows back to the heart).
4 – Massage
Massage is a great recovery aid. During a stage race, Luke will get a massage every night – roughly an hour long, covering his legs, back, neck and shoulders.
After intense track sessions, where significant muscle damage is done, Dani often gets a massage to give her legs the best chance possible of being able to train hard again the next day.
Massage increases the blood flow, helps to align your muscle fibers and reduces knots and tight spots.
If you can’t get a professional massage, then self-massage on a Foam Roller is hugely beneficial.
5 – Sleep
Sleep is the body’s prime time to undergo protein synthesis – the process that makes your muscles stronger! Aim for 8 hours of sleep at night as a minimum – if you can get 9 or 10 hours, fantastic.
This is easier done for a pro, away on a camp or at a race wit little distractions, but more difficult at home with a family!
A nap is a good idea if you have the time for it, but be careful not to nap for too long and hinder your night’s sleep.
6 – Active Recovery
Recovering is not all about doing nothing. At certain times, a recovery ride is better than a day off. Many factors go in to determining whether a 60-90 minute easy ride is better or not than a complete day off – both have their own benefits.
Do not confuse a recovery ride with a short training ride – it is not only the length that must be reduced, but critically the intensity too. Stick to zone 1 and 2 during recovery rides and make sure you stop for coffee!
7 – Switch Off
There are two sides to recovery; physiological and psychological – both of which are important. All of the above points have taken care of the physiological aspects, but you must switch off mentally too.
For the professional cyclist – cycling dominates their lives. They literally eat, sleep and breathe cycling.
For amateurs, it is likely that your life is much more hectic, where family, work and other commitments fill your day (and more).
Either way, it is important to ensure you have time away from training and cycling to keep your mind fresh for when you have to focus on the task at hand, which is often very demanding mentally.
Check out Rowe & King’s Training Packages!
Additionally, follow the Rowe & King approach to bike riding, and Ride Out!
At the start of each ride, the first 10/15 minutes should be spent stress free, in a light gear, riding out of town (maybe through the traffic), warming your muscles up and shaking any stiffness out from the day before. Ride Out.
Similarly, at the end of every ride – you should ride out the day’s effort. Spend the last 10/15 minutes in a light gear, giving your body a chance to flush out some of the lactic acid build up from your system. Psychologically, this is also an important part of your ride – let your mind relax and take time to appreciate all that enjoyment that a bike gives us. Ride Out.