The Recovery Ride: How slow can you go

Not a particularly good recovery technique
This morning I awoke with very heavy, sore, tired legs, my body’s way of not so gently reminding me to get more rest, not train harder. Training on tired legs is frankly a waste of time. You won’t get as much out of a workout on tired legs, and riding on them will only prolong your recovery.

After any training session your body and muscles will require some period of recovery as exercise causes damage to the muscle in the form of microtears. During the post ride recovery period they heal and grow back larger and stronger. Initial symptoms may be as obvious as being out of breath, or after a few hours having stiff or heavy legs. If you do not allow sufficient recovery between sessions over a period of time you will develop a general feeling of fatigue accompanied by a decline in your performances on the bike. This is a sure sign of over training and is often refereed to as chronic over training…something all cyclists are guilty of.

For this reason, it’s important to focus on giving the body enough recovery time. The most obvious form of recovery is to skip a day of riding and rest, something avid cyclists detest. Fortunately this recovery time can take place on the bike performing a “recovery ride.”

The goal of the recovery ride is to enable you to get out on the bike, burn a few calories and reduce any stiffness or heavy legged feelings you have from previous hard rides, without creating further muscle damage by training too hard or too long. The key element is to ride very slowly, maintaining a low gear spin of about 80-90 rpm while keeping your heart rate under 70% of your maximum. Think of it as a day off the bike without being off the bike. The ride should last around 60-90 minutes, or 10% of your weeks total ride time. This light exercise will allow you get the blood flowing through your legs flushing out lactic acid and other waste products and promote muscle healing.

Your recovery ride should feel ridiculously easy, which goes against every fiber of the competitive and endurance cyclist, making it surprisingly difficult to do. I know I spend most of my recovery ride time staring at my cycling computer instead of just relaxing and enjoying the ride, but I’d still rather recover on the bike than off it.

If you opt for a day off the bike, stretching for 10-20 minutes after a ride, as well later in the day, is a great way to reduce any potential stiffness. In general a good stretching routine will help you develop healthy supple muscles and to some extent may help you develop some extra core strength. A good massage can also help you recover quicker as it stimulates blood flow in your legs helping speed up the recovery process in your muscles. Don’t have a good masseuse, get some foam rollers and roll them over your legs…it works great.

Rest, be it on the bike or off, is an essential element of recovery, but don’t forget nutritional and hydration requirements.

As soon as you stop pedaling you should be thinking about how you can optimize your nutritional intake to help speed up your recovery. While cycling at high intensities or for long periods you’ll most likely have used much of your body’s carbohydrate stores or glycogen. Scientists have discovered there is a glycogen repletion window that last for 4 hours after a ride where you body can convert carbohydrates from food into glycogen at a much quicker rate than normal. Therefore by eating the right food straight after a ride you can help your body recover quicker. In addition a small amount of protein will help your muscles repair themselves from the stress of your ride.

A great post ride snack should contain about 1 quarter protein and 3 quarters carbohydrate. Chocolate milk has long been used by riders as an initial snack. Not only does it contain the right blend or carbs and protein but because it is liquid the body will absorb it quicker. Chocolate milk will also help stave off any hunger while you take a shower and prepare a more substantial meal.

Be sure to replace any fluids you have lost during you rides. Hopefully you’ll have avoided dehydration by drinking while riding. If you’ve been sweating heavily you may consider an electrolyte drink to help replace some of the fluids you have lost. A good way to work out how much fluid you have lost is to weigh yourself before and after rides. Any weight lost will be almost all fluid so aim to drink the difference over the hours after your ride. Remember drinking too much can be just as bad as drinking to little.

So, just how much time should you spend on recovery? The answer to this will depend entirely on how hard you have been training. If you have completed a hard interval workout you may just need a day off the bike or day with just a short recovery ride before you are fully recovered and ready to work hard again. On the other hand if you are severely over trained you may need to take a couple days off the bike to recover both physically and mentally.

A good precaution is to set aside one day each week for recovery where you reduce your daily mileage and intensity. This will allow your body to recover and train at the same time, not to mention keep you out on the bike. Remember to listen to your body and give your body the recovery time it needs.

Route: Coconut-40
Ride Time: 2:40:46
Stopped Time: 1:02:20
Distance: 40.01 miles
Average: 14.93 mph
Fastest Speed: 23.36 mph
Ascent: 651 feet
Descent: 614 feet
Calories: 2376

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