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Recovery is the Key to Success

A field that has rested gives a bountiful crop (Ovid)

Recovery in cycling training is talked about a lot. You all know that having a break from training allows your body and mind to relax, recover and rejuvenate. You don’t get fitter when you are training hard. You get tired both mentally and physically because training is stressful, causes physical damage to your muscles, and disrupts your body’s homeostasis.

Through training you are creating the environment and opportunity to become fitter but that is only realised if you rest and allow your body to adapt to the previous training load you have subjected it to.

We all know this so the question I want to explore today is how to plan and execute these recovery periods.

The generalised recommendation is to train progressively for 3 weeks and then rest for 1 week. As a general rule this is OK but it really is not good enough if you are aiming for very high performance. Why?

Does everybody become fatigued enough during 3 weeks training? It depends.

Can everybody train effectively for 3 solid weeks? It depends.

Is there any magic in 3 weeks? No.

The build up of fatigue will depend on the volume and intensity of the training you are doing. It will depend heavily on your quality of recovery while you are training. Are you sleeping enough? Are you eating and drinking enough?

It will also depend on the other things in your life that affect recovery and fatigue. Do you have a young baby that keeps you up at night? Do you have a stressful job with long hours? Do you have a very physical job? Are you on the road a lot, snacking on poor quality food?

There is so much that goes into how we feel and our energy levels, that it is impossible to come up with a one size fits all rule for recovery.

As with everything, recovery is highly individual. Because of this we plan recovery on a case by case basis with all of our level 2&3 coaching clients.

We call this ‘recovery on demand’. It takes time to understand how people are different and this is yet another reason why a long standing relationship with your coach is important. Often as a coach we can read the tea leaves and spot when people are becoming too fatigued. Metrics such as Training Stress Balance (TSB) help us quantify training load, but as importantly we look at individual workout quality as this is often the ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to fatigue.

This type of approach also relies on two way trust and feedback. Trust that our athletes will provide honest feedback about how they feel, especially mentally as this mental fatigue can be hard to spot in the data. Trust that your coach has your back and is looking closely at the workout data, reading and listening to your feedback for signs of fatigue.

Assuming that all of this works well and both coach and athlete have the recovery on demand process nailed down, how do you execute an effective recovery period?

This is an area where we have refined our approach and continue to refine it. But the bottom line is it involves total rest days, followed by some easy days. This process might last 3-6 days and be followed by some performance testing, an activation ride or just endurance riding, depending on where we are in the training cycle.

At the end of your recovery period your legs should feel good (but maybe not amazing) again and you should be chomping at the bit to get back to training. It often takes a couple of harder training sessions for the legs to feel really good again but this is just a natural response given the rest you have given them.

If you want to improve you have to rest and recover. If you don’t your performance will plateau and go backwards. Remember that REST means REST. On the days we assign complete rest days we want you to do zero sport/activity of any description and that includes long walks, gardening, cutting logs, building, decorating……you get the picture. Take these days to catch up on admin, paperwork, sport on TV, tax returns, banking or any other boring desk job you have been putting off for ages, we all have them!

Train progressively, match your training to your desired outcome, recover and get stronger. It is not rocket science and yet so many people get it wrong and grind themselves into the tarmac!