The Purpose of Recovery Rides
Is there a really a good reason to ride easy? The answer is absolutely, yes!
Your hard training sessions result in muscle damage. The rest and repair that occurs after this damage is the time for adaptation to occur and for you to get stronger. You can’t get stronger if recovery does not occur. Active recovery or recovery rides aid the recovery process by stimulating blood flow that carries the nutrients to help heal damaged muscles and tissue. This light pedaling also flushes your legs of metabolic waste that is the by-product of your harder sessions.
Most athletes do well with four hard days of training per week. Few can tolerate (and adapt to) more, and many athletes actually experience better adaptation with fewer hard days per week. If you train hard for four days, that leaves three days for light riding or off. For most of the riders I coach, that means two days of light riding and one day completely off.
If you are a very time-crunched athlete, take the three days off the bike and just do your four hard days of training. If you can prioritize riding time a little more, the two days of lighter riding will aid your recovery and adaptation. Usually one of those days will be a dedicated ‘Recovery Ride’. The other easy day should still be a lighter ride, with a slightly different goal (be that skills work or neuromuscular in nature), but still a shorter duration and lighter intensity than the dedicated hard training days.
The wording I use when I prescribe recovery rides is as follows; “Little to no resistance on the pedals, the only goal is to spin your legs out. Make an effort to breathe only through your nose. This ensures that you keep the effort low enough and it also elicits a lower stress hormonal response to the activity.”
These rides should be anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes and should leave you feeling refreshed. When in doubt, less is more with recovery rides. In cased you are wondering if your ride is too easy, it isn’t. If you are wondering if your ride is too hard, it probably is. Choose a flat route and keep it in a gear that allows you to lightly spin. You should stay below about 50% of your threshold power and about 70% of your threshold heart rate.
Recovery rides should be both a mental and physical break from training. If the weather is crummy or riding sounds like a chore, just take the day off. Recovery rides should not be an additional source of stress. Spin to the coffee shop, ride in jeans, or ride your beater bike. Add whatever outside cues you can to keep yourself from digging deep or trying to go fast. If you are eyeing a segment on STRAVA, turn STRAVA off that day, no PR’s on recovery rides.
Let recovery rides be your mental and physical reward for the work you put in during your hard sessions. Instead of dreading them as wasted time, appreciate the benefit you get from active recovery and soak up the lightness.
Sarah Kaufmann is the owner of K Cycling Coaching. She is an elite level XC and CX racer for the DNA Pro Cycling Team. She is based in Salt Lake City, UT and can be reached at [email protected] or 413.522.3180.