Recovery for Cycling
Sleeping, eating and following a well designed training plan are the three best recovery techniques for cyclists. From beginners to pros, sleeping longer, following a plan and eating better will improve your overall training and racing. These three recovery activities make up 80-90% of your recovery. The next 10-20% won't matter one bit if you aren't getting 8 hours or more of sleep each night with proper nutrition and taking regular rest days including rest weeks.
Sleep is the #1 way to recover. Studies have shown, the more you get, the better you'll recover (2) and consequently, perform. Life stress of a job, family, etc often leads to a lack of sleep. All athletes should strive for eight hours of sleep or more a night. Unwinding by putting away technology in the hour or two prior to bed will also help get to sleep faster. On the weekends, when you aren't working, try to get in a mid-afternoon recovery nap after your long ride for 20-60 minutes.
I like to have athletes track their sleep with a FitBit, Garmin Apple Watch, Whoop or similar device to become more aware of the amount and quality of sleep.
Proper nutrition is paramount when you are training and racing hard day to day and week to week. Now contrary to what you might think, recovery nutrition starts long before you even hop on the bike. Thats right, if you want to nail your recovery, you have to eat well before and during you ride too! For a full breakdown on nutrition for endurance athletes, check out our training tips on what to eat Before, During and Post Ride Nutrition from our Dietitian, Lacey Rivette.
If you have time, an active recovery ride in zone 1 for 30-45 minutes will bring oxygenated blood to muscles and help them recover more . "Coffee Shop Rides" are only beneficial if they do not take the place of sleep or the rest of your life's responsibilities. After your short active recovery ride use a foam roller to 'roll out' your glutes, quads, calves, and hamstrings. An epsom salt or ice bath is 'next level' and will do wonders. I also like the Normatec or the compression boots for 30-60 minutes.
Here is a good post race or ride recovery routine, in this order: Recovery Snack > Normatecs > Ice or Epsom Salt Bath or CryoTherapy > 20-60 minute Nap > Nutritious Meal > 8-10 hours of sleep.
Here in Boulder, CO in the summer, I like to end rides with a 10 minute dip into the Boulder Creek, which rushes by at a therapeutic 65 degrees. Once home, I grab my recovery snack and get horizontal on the couch either in Normatecs or compression tights like RecoFit. This usually leads to a short 20 - 30 minute nap (that's all I can nap for). After that I just try to chill on the couch and plan for a healthy nutritious dinner followed by 8-10 hours of sleep.
One of the biggest mistakes I see athletes make is they do all that but then get up an go Go GO whether its yard work or errands or standing up or walking around. I can't emphasize enough the recovery value of chilling out on the couch.
Next Level Recovery
If you have the means, sports massage is the #1 rated recovery technique in the scientific literature (4) after 8 hours of sleep and rest days. Once a week, a month of whatever you can afford, massage is money well spent. Yoga is a recovery technique that I can't advocate enough. Its stretching, core, relaxation, meditation all wrapped up in one. Try it on your next recovery day!
To truly chill out a sensory deprivation tank will take your recovery day to the next level. I find my Heart Rate Variability goes up nicely following a 90 minute float, not to mention I feel great.
Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) is terrific for reducing muscle inflammation (3). There's considerable research in the field of WBC but so far concrete data proving WBC 'works' is inconclusive. However, as an athlete I do find cryotherapy beneficial to my recovery and I think the difficulty of measuring WBC's benefits is part of why the scientific literature is on the fence.
The best way to measure recovery is to take a rest day and see how you feel the next day! If you have a great ride, your power output is on the high side then its safe to say you recovered well. Conversely if you are on day 3 or 4 of a training block and your legs feel like garbage plus your wattage is low, the suffice it to say you need a rest day. I design rest days and rest weeks in my athletes' training plans and measure recovery (& how good their training has been) with a 20 minute field test at the end of a rest week.
In addition to 'feel' and power output, I use a Whoop and its "Recovery Score" to measure recovery. The Whoop measures one's sleep, their daily strain and the all important recovery metric: heart rate variability (HRV). The Whoop uses these three variables to calculate a recovery score. I usually see higher recovery scores following a float tank session or a yoga class. Those recovery scores also correlate with good feelings on the bike both in terms of 'feel' and power output.
Training hard on the bike to get faster is the easy part for athletes, but implementing these recovery techniques are where next level performances come from. Start with sleep, nutrition and taking rest days plus regular rest weeks prescribed in a training plan. Once you have the three fundamentals of recovery going for you, dive into the final 10-20%. In a 2018 meta-analysis (4). researchers concluded that massage is the most effective recovery technique for reducing muscle soreness and fatigue.
1 "Recovery Techniques for Athletes", Dr. Shona Halson, Ph.D, Australian Institute of Sport, Aspetar Sports Medicine Journal
2 "Sleep, Recovery, and Performance": The New Frontier in High-Performance Athletics", Dr. Charles Samuels, MD, CCFP, DABSM, Centre for Sleep and Human Performance
3 "Whole Body Cryotherapy as a Recovery Technique after Exercise: A Review of the Literature", Catriona Rose et al, Int J Sports Med 2017; 38(14): 1049-1060
4 "An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis", Dupuy O et al, Front Physiol 2018; Apr 26;9:403. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2018.00403. eCollection 2018.
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To talk with a FasCat Coach about incorporating the recovery techniques described above into your training, please fill out a New Athlete Questionnaire or call 720.406.744 to set up a Coaching Consultation. Additionally all of our $49 Training Plans have the rest days and weeks mentioned above prescribed in an easy to follow day by day format.