Rest and recovery are just as important as all of those hard workouts we labor over. In fact, without the proper rest all of those hard workouts can almost be for naught. It’s during the rest and recovery that our bodies can really ‘soak’ in all of the gains that we have worked so hard for. Most of us already know these things, or at least have heard someone say them at some point or another.
In the busy and goal-driven society we live in, rest isn’t often celebrated the way it should be. Sometimes we feel guilty for taking a day off. Sometimes we feel concern we are falling behind. Sometimes we just have too much fun riding our bikes to ever want to take a day off! Recovery is definitely not my favorite part of the job, but I’m learning to be more patient.
Let’s take a moment to dive into the different types of recovery, when to implement recovery into our training plan, and what it’s actually doing.
What Happens When We Recover?
When we recover our body has time to adapt to the stresses that we have placed on it. Recovery allows us to replace fluids lost during exercise, repair muscle tissue breakdown, and replenish energy stores such as glycogen.
To elaborate, when we exercise we break down our muscles with the goal of them responding to the adaptations and building back stronger. When our muscles are at a decreased capacity (fatigued), the ability of the muscle to transport blood glucose into the muscle is also diminished and because of that, further workouts would suffer. At that point, it may be best to wait until the muscles recover to really optimize your training. Additionally, your body needs a chance to rebuild substrates, and recover from cellular acidosis. Not to mention neuromuscular fatigue or psychological fatigue.
For these reasons and more we need an opportunity to allow our bodies to recover. Sometimes, we just need a couple of minutes of soft pedaling between intervals, sometimes we need a recovery day, and sometimes we need a recovery week. Whatever duration recovery you take should reflect the work that you put in, and all recovery has one thing in common, to allow you to come back faster.
After a very challenging workout or string of workouts, you may need a recovery day. The goal of this day is to help you rebuild your muscles so that you can train harder and better in the days to come.
One mistake that people make is thinking that a recovery day has to also be a day off. Many recovery days can actually be active recovery. That means that you should move your body in a way that feels good. Light movement helps to increase blood flow which can help to heal the body. Additionally, the body can use lactic acid as energy during easier exercise and you will likely finish an easy workout with less lactic acid in your body than when you started.
Recovery weeks may be necessary during longer training blocks of high volume or intensity. Recovery weeks may be necessary when you are overreaching for fitness gains and you build from week to week.
Often times athletes will follow a 3-4 week build and a 1 week recovery cycle. The recovery week is not an ‘off-week’ by any stretch of the imagination. A recovery week is usually about 60% of the training volume you have been putting in and may still even involve some intervals. The point is that this week should de-load from your normal training stress.
Recovery weeks help to hold up the structure of your build. If you are constantly building, eventually you will reach a plateau. At a certain point it becomes impossible to train more hours. Instead of becoming stale at a constant volume and intensity, you may take a recovery week, allow your body to recover, and then build up again. This allows you to make adaptations between training cycles in order to be able to train harder and longer from one training cycle to the next. In fact, if you find yourself not in need of a recovery week once in a while that may mean that you are not quite tapping into your full ability to challenge yourself during your build phases.
When to do What?
People often ask how long they should recover after a certain workout, race, or training cycle. This answer is always a hodgepodge of qualifications and considerations and the reason for that is because everyone is different. The general idea is the longer and the higher intensity, the more recovery that you will need. If you do high intensity intervals you may need longer rest than an aerobic ride. Likely, you will only need a recovery week after an intense training cycling spanning multiple weeks and probably not after a singular hard workout or race. Unless, say, that race is a 200 mile effort (but that’s an outlier).
The Bottom Line
You really need to listen to your body, your mind, and if you have them, your training or recovery metrics. Nowadays, systems such as Whoop offer recovery stats and HRV analysis to let you know how your body is responding. Do not underestimate the power of recovery.