During periods of good weather, the motivation to ride can be high. But your capacity to ride is not unlimited and the need to recover effectively is a vital part of your quest for better riding in the future. Getting the balance right between using energy for riding and other things in life is a juggling act we all find hard. It’s pointless doing a great 50 with your mates if you fall asleep at Sunday lunch with the family.
Recovery time is just as vital to progressing in riding for commuters as it is for recreational riders or occasional time trialist. Be it from lots of extra miles with a few mates or a tough series of rides in high winds, it can all make the legs tired and the desire wane.
The first trick to recovery is acknowledging when you are tired and not being a hero. Riding despite illness or fatigue, or ignoring clearly dangerous weather conditions or body signals, is not smart. If you are very tired, consider reducing the ride duration, making the route less hilly or opting for an indoor spin on the rollers. It’s wrong to assume that you must train tired and that if you do it enough, one day you will magically be good. Wrong.
Once you acknowledge that you have good and bad days you can vary your efforts to ensure you are fresh at the right time. It sounds obvious but we all know people that try to cram a quart into a pint pot, only to end up injured or ill. And these are the people that frown upon the whole idea of a recovery ride (see below).
However, turning your legs over on flat terrain at a modest rate allows blood to circulate around the tired muscles. It uses low amounts of the precious glycogen (carbohydrate) but will encourage more to be stored afterwards. Tight muscles also loosen off when repeatedly made to tense then relax. Psychologically, you also get to enjoy riding because you are taking it easy. It is also a great time to introduce others to riding because you can go at their pace and both still get benefits.
A much overlooked recovery method is that of bodywork. It could be sports massage, chiropractic, reflexology, Bowen technique or another alternative therapy. If it works for you, eases aches and pains, or just chills you out, then it is worthwhile. To balance the efforts of riding you do need something that presses your body’s reboot button.
Keeping yourself free of injury niggles and full of energy is vital to enjoy riding. We all want that, right? Obey these rules and enjoy a fine summer of cycling…
1. When you are actually tired and feel miserable about the ride you had planned, alter or abandon it – 24 hours of rest and a good night’s sleep will work wonders.
2. Low-effort rides over flat terrain (or indoors) allow you to train the nervous system and still aid recovery from harder riding or energy-sapping life stresses.
3. Invest some time and money in some bodywork sessions using word-of-mouth recommendations. Consider the rest of the day a recovery period and drink plenty of fluids.
Food for thought
The biggest cause of slow recovery is insufficient carbohydrate and fluid intake during and after riding. Some water-only rides are okay but when it’s hot, hilly or hard riding, you need a sports drink with carbohydrates and electrolytes. These products are not just for the professionals.
After riding, be sure to eat a high-carbohydrate meal or snack that is easy to digest and includes plenty of antioxidant fruit, veg or vitamins. You don’t need to cram it in straight away. Within an hour of riding is quick enough.
Much of the time professionals ride at low heart rates and power outputs. At a low rate of effort you are training the nervous system how to take muscles round in circles in a relaxed, coordinated manner. You are not looking to get your heart rate or breathing rate up. Junk mileage occurs when you are exhausted and drag yourself round with a group or through a lacklustre interval session.
Some say you cannot overtrain when you are doing low volumes of training compared to the professionals – this is not true. The demands of life impose energy and stress requirements that can leave fitness riders exhausted at the end of the day. Unlike the professionals, you don’t get time to chill after sessions. You have to rush to work or pick up the kids.
Riding too hard too often can cause anaerobic overload – a situation where you train, but fail to improve the aerobic system due to over-exertion too often. So, to stop any junk miles, be sure to listen to your body, ride hard when you feel good and take time for relaxed rides at least half of your riding time.
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