The importance of recovery
You can train as much as you like, you can pile all your investment into your goal and you will certainly have gains (especially early on in your training). Over time however, the growth plateaus, gains are replaced with fatigue and you might even start to burn out as your body adapts (the Principle of Adaptation).
To protect the investment of your time and efforts, it’s essential to include time for recovery. It is the one sure way you can make big gains, even when it seems counter intuitive.
The equation is simple
- Training = Investment/Savings
- Time = Growth
- Recovery = Interest on your investment
- Goal Events/Racing = Withdrawal on your investment
What does recovery do for you?
Rest is critical to performance for a variety of reasons – some are psychological and some are physical. Rest is necessary so the muscles can repair, rebuild and strengthen. Building in rest days can also help maintain a better balance between work, home and goals.
Training causes a stress response, creating a hormone flurry that supports your mind and body to work hard and do amazing things under pressure. The big ticket hormone responsible for this is cortisol.
When training over period of time (without ample ‘downtime and recovery’), this stress response fatigues our hormonal system and can disrupt our normal functions.
What can this include?
- Repair and regenerative process
- Overall sense of wellbeing
- Ability to train and improve results
- Physical health
- Mental health
It’s not just hormones either, there is muscle and cell repair that needs to take place. Each time you load your body up, it adapts and changes, attempting to grow and help you manage future training sessions. This growth requires time and cells don’t just repair and build overnight. Well in some instances they can, which is mostly where illegal and banned substances come in. They allow for a quicker recovery so you can get out there tomorrow and train harder again.
In the short term, we are quite capable of “cramming” our training to get a good result in a four week lead up to a big event. It’s not quite long enough to create an ingrained pattern, as long as we have a recovery plan on the other side.
However, it’s important to add recovery time to any training program by looking at our schedules on a weekly, monthly and even yearly basis. Long-term recovery techniques refer to those that are built into a seasonal training program.
The 2 steps forward – 1 step back approach.
It’s not really taking a step back, but rather consolidating your investment by being patient and not trying to gamble it away on the next big thing.
You might have to deal with a bit of FOMO on what the crew is doing when it’s your day off the bike!
Training x Time = Fitness & Growth + Recovery = Interest on your return.
The perfect equation for being ready to withdraw on this for your goal event.
How you fit in recovery is up to you, based on: how stressful your life is, what kind of response you have to training, susceptibility to injury/illness and the lead time you have to your key event.
Here are three really simple and easy ways to ensure you can balance load and recovery over time:
- 2 days load and 1 day easy
- Add progressive load for 2 days in a row and have the third day off or very very easy.
Example 2 (Build on the above 2 on-1 easy/off)
- 2 weeks building on growth
- 1 week easy/recovery style week
Example 3 (Build on above 2 examples to a longer build)
- 2 weeks on/1 week easy x 4
- 12th Week – Event week (an easy week that’s good for taper)
- 13th Week – 100% off, just active recovery or nothing. Rest the mind and body.
The longer your lead up to your event, the more you can look at opportunities to rest and recover.
I have a coaching client who wanted to improve her 180km cycling leg for an Ironman Triathlon with an 11 month lead up. She is a mum and spends a lot of time with her school-aged children on their holidays.
We integrated this two week period each time as a chance to “reset” and have some fun with the kids.
By the time the two weeks is nearly over she is ready to get back and often does smaller runs and other activity with her children but with no structure.
The big gains happen here as she has spent 10 weeks of the school term “training hard”, so mentally and physically it is a welcome break in the plan.
No matter how you choose to schedule your training to allow for recovery it’s important to be realistic and be creative to make this work for you.
What can recovery look like?
1. A day off the bike
It’s tough. The sun is shining. Your mates are out riding, and you are tired but feeling the FOMO vibe. Tough it out. Part of your mileage plan is not getting this weeks 400km target, its about listening to your body so you can go hard next week.
- Step 1 – Leave the bike in its position. Maybe wash it instead to have a connection with it still.
- Step 2 – Sleep in or have a lazy breakfast or even better do an online Yoga session or a stretch.
- Step 3 – Remind yourself that just like a 40km ride with the crew this morning is training – so is a day off the bike when it is needed.
2. Massage – improving mobility and blood flow in muscles
When was the last time you had a massage? A good solid thumbs in the calves one? I love a massage where I get the hurt early finished with a bit of relaxation. My quads, ITB, calves, shoulders, glutes & hips are always tight and sore.Yes, it costs $$$ but I like the fact that its passive. I lay there, cringe a little from time to time, but it’s easy to do.
Once a month is ideal, twice a month is brilliant. Book a massage now. Get it done early in the week before a big training ride or event because you might get some soreness from it.
3. Epsom salt bath – a hot bath is always relaxing
Some people think that the salt does nothing in the bath, and that you might be better off just taking magnesium orally, but try it out for yourself and make your own judgement.
Add the Epsom salt to hot bath (even adding some oil such as lavender is really good for relaxing and prepping for bedtime). Personally, it has helped me with swelling and joint pain after long and hard rides – especially helpful after a cold winter’s day out on the bike.
4. Napping – sleep is one way to produce human growth hormone to aid in recovery.
Sleep is essential to recharge your central nervous system. Your hormones get a chance to work properly in an unstressed state and aid in recovery. Blood flow, heart pumps without any other activity, the body gets a chance to recover.
5. Active Recovery – keep moving on “simmer”
Take the dog for a walk. Ride the bike ‘easy’ (small chain ring 22 kmph to the shop kind of ride). Recovery ride on the indoor trainer listening to some good podcasts. Moving instead of doing nothing could mean riding bikes with the kids.
Recovery means that your heart rate is well below anything considered work. You can have a fully fledged conversation whilst doing it.
Why do this? Active recovery is also linked to performance benefits and is best done straight after a hard workout or in the days following.
6. Swimming – increase your lung capacity and become more balanced.
Some days the legs say no. If you have the ability to either take up swimming, it’s a great option to use for recovery (cross training is also a good alternative). By using different muscles it will enable your body to stretch out. You’ll find that you use your glutes and stretch out your hip flexors, while also opening up some flexibility in your shoulders and chest too.
Without a doubt, the weightlessness of the water aids in allowing you to do a bit more for less soreness too. But more than anything the improvement in your lung capacity and your cardiovascular fitness will be noticeable over time when swimming regularly.
Your lungs will love you, you will lengthen out your body and open all the joints up. Certainly a “go to” when you want to mix things up.
7. Food/Nutrition – eat to fuel your recovery
By learning how to eat for not only training and events, but also for recovery, we keep the machine ticking along nicely.
During the recovery process – vitamins and minerals are required to repair cells, protein repairs muscles, carbohydrates replenish energy stores and fats absorb fat soluble vitamins and aid in the anti inflammatory process.
Eat well for recovery, even after a one hour training session. What do you need to get on with your day – it just a protein shake, a smoothie, or a pre-prepared snack? You sleep better, work better and be ready to hit the bike the next day.
8. Supplements – do you need them?
Supplements are often referred to as a crutch and not to be relied upon forever. However, it all depends what kind of supplements you’re using.
What has worked for me?
- L-Glutamine – an amino acid that is used in times of stress (exercise) and helps keep the immune system functioning.
- Protein powders in smoothies and shakes help with the repair of muscle tissue which breakdown after exercise. They also fill you up, so you don’t over eat post ride.
- Caffeine is good for recovery as studies show that it can fuel tired muscles better by assisting with carbohydrate absorption as well as mobilise fat stores. So a post race coffee is in order!
- Turmeric tablets – tumeric is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and you can get it in tablet form. It’s just a regime I follow to ensure I cover all the 1%’ers to improve my recovery.
There are many more supplements out there, just depends on how much you want to spend and what you believe to work. Just be very aware of banned substances when you are racing.
9. Compression – The luxury 1%er in recovery
You have your compression garments and then there is the “recovery boots” style motorised compression legs. I have both – my legs “feel” better and after a long day in the saddle the post ride/race puffiness in the legs and knees definitely disappears.
The Recovery Boots work the best, and really simulate a massage as well as compression tights. Encouraging blood flow and muscle repair rather than the swelling and inflammation that occurs with the blood pooling in the muscles and not moving. Even just simple stretching and walking will assist as well.
10. Cold Water and Hot/Cold therapy
There are a few options here.
A dip in the pool, ice bath or ocean post race is bliss. The numbness that the cold water provides is therapeutic, even if it is just mental. But the best part is the minimizing of the inflammatory response on your joints and muscles, so that you don’t get the blood and fluids pooling up in your knees and legs.
Combining this with a hot cold session and you can open up your blood flow with warm water, shut it down again, and alternate. This is best done in the shower or a facility with a hot pool/cold pool but is probably the best thing you could do for recovery with your protein shake in hand with a shot of espresso.
11. Meditation and yoga
This gives you the chance to wind down, recover and have no more cortisol running around. Instead your body finds space to heal and slow down.
Even hot yoga is a way to shut off stress and focus on movement and breathing. If you have never tried either or these methods of recovery, there are a range of 10 minute daily apps available on your phone.
I do a 30 minute yoga session online via YouTube every second day and it feels amazing to stretch but also to get in tune with how I am feeling and think of nothing else. You do not need $100’s of dollars and a membership. You can do this stuff at home.
Now you have a few ideas on how to recover and what it might look like, I challenge you to integrate one way to recover per week.
Think about your one recovery session as the interest on your fitness investment. If you don’t let the interest grow from time to time, you are missing out on the big gains.
One of the most untapped ways to become a better cyclist is to become better at your recovery game plan. We are all guilty of over training but just give it the next four weeks and see how you go with your progression.
Remember, your recovery will help you to:
- Get fitter
- Get stronger
- Get faster