How do you feel today? …tired, or rearing to go? On a level of 1 to 10, how do you feel?
A common mistake I often see is riders not respecting enough cycling recovery time during their training. For example, repeated days of training, specially in groups where you are pushed to your physical limits, requires quality recovery.
The reason being is you want your body to adapt from all training before you can ride a cycle event or achieve a higher level of fitness. Train every day, or with not enough easier days to fully recover and you are going to suffer – badly.
Don’t let this be you this spring! Train smarter!
Cycling Recovery - Build it In Weekly, Monthly and Yearly
Remember and etch this on your brain: recovery and training go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. For this reason, if you are riding regularly each week, recovery MUST be built into your training on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis. Time off the bike is part of your training because it’s the only time the body can adapt and get stronger.
Yet, how much emphasis have you honestly put on recovery weekly, let alone monthly or yearly? This is where a simple diary or journal becomes invaluable in teaching you about ‘adaptation’ from training.
Training AND Recovery go hand-in-hand - you cannot have one without the other!
Use a Diary to Track Training & Monitor Cycling Recovery
A diary (digital or manual) is indispensable to seeing your training progress; if used each day, it shows you ‘how’ training loads are affecting your body, heart rate, mood and power output over time.
Here's some ways you can self-monitor whether a cycling recovery or rest day is well advised:
8 Ways to Tell If You Need a Recovery Day:
1. Rate how well you slept the night before on a scale to (1-10) - 10 being GREAT, 1 being AWFUL. Sleeping badly due to tough rides, usually means you'll need a little longer recovery next day.
2. Rate how your legs feel walking about or simply climbing some stairs (1-10). Clearly if your legs are heavy walking about and heavy walking up stairs, you may need a day off biking to recover.
3. Rate how your mood or concentration is doing basic tasks (1-10). A big cue to how tired you are physically, is how tired you are mentally and emotionally. Grumpy and intolerance can be a sign of tiredness from training.
4. Check your morning pulse - usually 5 to 10 beats above resting pulse is a clear sign to rest up! Heart rate will tell you if your load needs more recovery. Morning pulse rate taken regularly will show patterns. Beware of morning dehydration which can also lead to a higher than normal morning pulse.
5. Are you rearing to train today? Ready to hit some hills and feel GREAT? Or, is their a tiny voice saying...umm, I'm tired...? You know the answer...learn to be honest with yourself! :). If you are tired you'll may be not have the same motivation to jump to it...!
6. Note in your diary the days you felt GREAT training. What training or recovery did you take the few days before?
7. Note the number of days you need off from particular rides: hilly, much longer, short, flat, intervals...multi-days, races etc. Races or events will need 2-3 days to fully recover. A 5 day training camp will likely reflect a 5 day recovery period.
8. Test with a power meter: if using a power meter, try to measure the difference between when you're tired riding and when you are fresh, - up the same hill! You may indeed find that doing 3-4 rides a week instead of 5-7 increases power output - you go faster!
As a beginner rider or one that really wants to improve, you will find that it takes trial and error to find what cycling recovery works for you...
Soon enough, a pattern will emerge and you’ll be able to clearly see how long it takes for your body to ‘feel fresh’ again. When you ‘feel fresh and rearing to go’ that’s your cue, or signal to get out there and start training again.
Cut the cycling recovery short and ignore how you feel "just to hit weekly hours", and your body will have the final say. Shortly you’ll have to ‘pay back’ the recovery it has been so long ‘in debt’ with!
So the bottom line is: listen to your body. In fact, I go one step further and say, ‘be guided ONLY by your body and what it is telling you’!
"If in DOUBT, leave it OUT..."
If you are unsure how tired you really are, usually that in itself is a cue to leave it out. There is a saying in cycling: "If in doubt, leave it OUT!" I've applied this saying many times in training and it usually is the truth to actually stay back and recover a day.
Otherwise, you can also go ride and if the first mile or hill is rubbish – turn around, ride home and put your feet up. The turning around and riding home bit takes a lot of courage specially as a beginner - well done - as most folk ignore how they feel. In fact, this courage to know to stay off the bike to recover, ironically, is the hardest part of bike training for ALL levels of riders.
Avoid The Classic Diary Syndrome...
This is especially true if your ego is shouting loudly, “train, train, train" because that’s how "so and so" trains and my diary says I must hit x amount of miles or hours this week.” But in actual fact, your body is telling you something entirely different…
This is called "Diary Syndrome". The classic mistake is in believing: "the more I do, the faster I'll be".
Recovery takes a back seat, perhaps for many weeks, or even months - training every single day to hit those arbitrary numbers. They usually call a 1 hr 30 ride, "recovery", when in actual fact it's digging that rider further and further into a black overtraining hole that will likely take months to reverse....
LESS is Usually MORE When It Comes to Improving Cycling Fitness
More training is never the solution. Quality training IS: in fact, if these riders did LESS training hours and recovered MORE, it would be interesting to see the improved ride speed / power output!
For beginners and time pressed cyclists, the good news is, it means you do NOT have to ride every single day to get fit for cycling! You just need to be consistent from week to week. Riding 3-4 times a week with 3 days off the bike, is going to be far FAR better for your fitness than attempting to ride every day and wind up tired, sore or worse, overtrained. (As I've mentioned above).
Build in "Break Weeks" Periodically
Not only do you need to build in recovery from every workout you do, but you should schedule a "break recovery week" where you ride much easier. This will ensure you rid any accumulative fatigue built up over the last months. Yes, even if you schedule good weekly recovery, you may also need to think about an easier break week every six weeks for beginner riders riding 3-4 times a week, every week.
Recovery rides do not mean long endurance rides or climbing of any sort - it means 20-30 minutes "very easy" cycling.
Listen To Your Body and Rest When Your Body Says It's Tired
Additionally, you need flexibility in how you schedule recovery. Flexibility is based on listening to how YOU feel – nothing or no-one else matters. If you feel heavy legged and tired today as you read this post, back-off the workout... you'll ride that much stronger tomorrow!
You see, successful cycling is built upon the fundamentals of weekly, monthly and inter-seasonal recovery to get you fit for the the right events at the right time of year. And if you do not do sportives (or race), it ensures progress in your ride fitness and total enjoyment longevity!
A great read I highly recommend next is "10 Steps to Recover FAST After Every Ride". This should ensure you're doing the right things to help or speed up your recovery after every bike workout.
There is much more to recovery than what I’ve overviewed above. However, if you adhere to these simple recovery guidelines, I can almost guarantee your results and "feel good factor" will blossom when it counts most...roll on summer!