10 Cycling recovery tips: How to make the most of your rest days
So you’ve gone to the effort of scheduling a training plan as you’ve entered a Velo, or there’s a big club ride coming up or you just want to get that bit quicker! When you’ve put your mind to it and committed your body to training for that big event, it’s tempting to cram as many miles (or km’s if you follow ‘The Rules’) as possible into the schedule and go harder than you should, even on the down day rides.
But while we all know swapping a recovery ride for a climbing/sprint session probably isn’t the best idea, it can be harder than it sounds to take your foot off the gas. And there lies the problem.
One of the common mistakes made by anyone undertaking a training programme is ‘under recovery’ and therefore not giving their body time to repair and recover from previous exertions. Training means putting your body under stress, including the breaking down muscles and it is during the recovery period that these muscles repair, adapt and get stronger helping you get stronger and faster. Not giving your body time to rest, recover and repair post-ride runs the risk of illness, injury and over-training. As such rest days should be made an essential part of any training plan.
So how many rest days should you incorporate into your training plan? We’re afraid that’s a “How longs a piece of string” question! Everyone is different so it will take a bit of personal figuring out, as too many and you won’t progress and too few and you could be over-training. Most off the peg training programmes (Zwift etc) have these built in, but it comes down to listening to your body. You should also factor in your age, cycling experience, work and family time/stress, health and time horizon before your end goal to help create a picture of what your training plan should look like. Getting to know your own body can take years and requires you to really listen to it. Some potential signs that you may need MORE rest are elevated heart rate, feeling mentally tired and not being able to hit your training goals.
With rest days in mind we’ve pulled together 10 recovery tips to help you make the most of this important element of your training plan.
1. Cool down properly
A cool-down may take extra time but ending each bike ride with at least 10 minutes of easy cycling helps the body return to its pre-exercise state. Spinning the legs gets blood flowing around the body and helps remove metabolic waste products from the muscles, aiding the recovery process. So no more jumping off the turbo the minute the training session finishes.
2. Elevate your legs
If you’ve just done a hard training ride, lying down with your legs against a wall can help drain fluids that may be pooling in the legs, reduce swelling and also gently stretch your hamstrings, all helping with recovery. If you’re feeling faint or dizzy, it will also get blood flow back to the brain. British Cycling recommends aiming to stay there for five minutes for every hour ridden.
3. Hydrate with cycling recovery drinks
While most of us drink little and often on the bike (if you don’t, you should!), after a hard or long training session and in warmer weather, dehydration is likely. That makes it harder for your heart to pump blood and oxygen around your body, slowing the recovery process.
When you get back from a shorter, easy ride drinking water should be enough but if it’s been a tough day in the saddle, you’ll want to replace some of the electrolytes – such as sodium – which you’ve lost too. That’s where a good sports recovery sachet into water can be beneficial.
4. Fuel up on carbs and protein
Nutrition is a key weapon in your recovery arsenal. After a long or tough session, taking on carbs to replace the energy lost during exercise will boost your glycogen stores, while protein will help repair muscles and muscle soreness. Try to avoid fat after exercise as this slows down the transition of carbohydrates through the stomach, with the best time to start refuelling is within 30 minutes of finishing exercise and with an optimal 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate:protein.
5. Try a bit of self-massage
While it’d be great to schedule in a sports massage each week, not all of us have the time or the money. Luckily self-massage tools such as foam rollers, massage balls and sticks offer similar benefits, helping remove waste products, reduce inflammation and encourage blood flow to promote good recovery. Just remember to go easy as too much and you can end up damaging your muscles (we know from personal experience)!
6. Include some mobility work – Pilates, yoga, stretching etc
Keeping muscles supple and in good condition with mobility work will reduce your chance of injury. It also allows your muscles to work to their full range of motion during exercise, which can improve your performance. In addition, it may also help relieve symptoms of muscle stiffness and soreness after exercise.
7. Try compression clothing
While more evidence is needed to prove its efficacy, compression clothing is designed to increase blood flow and reduce swelling and post-exercise soreness and many cyclists are fans. Manufacturers recommend wearing compression clothing (like compression tights) for periods of two-to-four hours after.
8. Try active recovery
Rest and recovery usually means putting your feet up and doing very little. However, in certain circumstances, such as the days following a big race/ride, you may find active recovery beneficial. Active recovery consists of doing some form of exercise, such as a very easy spin on the bike to get the blood moving, playing with the kids, a light jog or even a long walk to that lovely country gastro-pub you know!
9. Get some quality sleep
During deep sleep your body produces the human growth hormone, which stimulates muscle growth and repair. A lack of sleep can make you moody, unfocused, increases production of the stress hormone cortisol and ups your rate of perceived exertion – so training feels like much harder work. In short, if you want to recover and train at your best, you need some decent shut eye (8-10 hours).
10. Let your mind rest too
As well as giving your body time to rest and recover, you need to give your mind some downtime too, particularly if you’re trying to train alongside other demands such as work and family. Try some meditation, mindfulness, have a chat with friends whatever helps you manage and nourish your mental wellbeing.
Happy (recovery from) cycling