Get faster with better recovery. You can get more out of your recovery week by adding practices to your routine that assist your body’s recovery process.
For more information on training and recovery check out Ask a Cycling Coach Ep 256.
Ways to Improve Recovery
Recovery weeks give your body a chance to recover from weeks of hard training. A well-structured training plan has a recovery week at the end of every training block. These weeks parallel the structure of regular training weeks but have shorter workouts with little to no intensity.
If you’re resting, eating well, and refraining from unnecessary training stress, you’re already doing a great job at aiding the recovery process. If you want to assist your recovery further you can make the most of your recovery by focusing on activities that support recovery. Quality sleep, mental rest, and injury prevention can all have a big impact on your recovery.
Sleep and Recovery
High quality sleep makes for high-quality recovery. Recovery weeks are a good time to reflect on your sleep habits and look for ways to improve sleep quality. Improving sleep quality can help you feel more rested and assist your body’s mending process. Here are some tips that might help you improve your sleep quality.
Focus on Timing
Activities that affect changes in body temperature, like drinking, eating, and exercise can interfere with your sleep cycle if you do them too close to your bedtime. This, in turn, can interfere with REM and deep sleep patterns.
Adjusting the timing of these activities so that they’re a few hours before bed can prevent dramatic changes in body temperature from interfering with your sleep cycle. The timing of media and screen time can also affect your sleep cycle. If screen time affects your sleep negatively, try avoiding blue light in the half-hour before bed.
Don’t Change Your Sleep Schedule
A regular sleep schedule makes for a good sleep cycle. Try to maintain the best version of your regular sleep schedule during your recovery week. Going to bed at a regular time and waking up at a regular time can make it easier for your body to establish a deep sleep cycle.
This helps maintain your sleep hours too. You might be training less, but you shouldn’t be sleeping less. Sleeping less would be shortchanging your recovery process. In a similar sense, unless your body is telling you it needs more sleep, you don’t need to add a ton of sleep to your night either.
Track Your Sleep
If you want to improve sleep quality but you aren’t sure what affects your sleep use a sleep journal to keep track of your sleeping habits. A paper journal, an app on your phone, or the annotations in your Calendar are all places you can keep track of sleep. Note when you went to bed, when you woke up, what you did before bed, and the quality of your sleep. Athletes can also use sleep tracking devices if they really want to get into the data of their sleep, but they aren’t absolutely necessary for improving sleep.
Tools to Aid Recovery
If you want to work on muscle tightness or range of motion as a recovery exercise you can use tools and bodyweight exercises to assist your body’s recovery process. Propping your legs up, foam rolling, and muscle flossing are a few ways you can give your legs some care.
Propping Your Legs Up
Propping your legs up on a wall is a great way to alleviate pressure from your legs and trigger the parasympathetic response associated with recovery. It’s important to note that there isn’t much research to support the effectiveness of this practice as far as muscular benefits. There is evidence that would suggest that it might facilitate lymph circulation, which can be beneficial on numerous levels, but outside of this, the evidence is limited.
Despite the lack of data, there’s something to be said for doing things that simply feel good or bring you some mental relaxation. Propping your legs up on a wall after a workout feels good which in turn offers a psychological benefit. At the very least it gives you an opportunity to unwind and take the pressure off of your legs. The less time on the legs, the better!
Additionally, you can use foam rollers to massage tight joints and muscles. Effective foam rolling can release fascial tension and alleviate tightness in your joints and muscles. You can also use a “muscle roller stick” for a similar self-massaging effect or an exercise ball to focus on a smaller surface area. Some athletes find that doing this frequently helps with mobility, and eases tension in tight muscles. And like propping your legs up it has the benefit of feeling good too!
Cyclists can use foam rollers to target muscle groups and tendons that get tight because they get a lot of use on the bike. Your hip flexors, your quads, your hamstrings, and your IT bands are a few areas that tend to get a lot of use. Your back and your neck can also get tight when you spend a lot of time on the bike.
Muscle flossing is a mobility exercise where you put a joint into a position of emphasis and bias the joint through movements and stretches that gently challenge that range of motion. Research suggests that this type of muscle flossing can improve mobility.
The second type of muscle flossing is called Compression Band Therapy, popularly known as “Voodoo” flossing. This type of flossing, performed with bands, involves tightly wrapping a joint or muscle with an elastic band and moving through different motions while wrapped up. Research suggests that the compression of fascial tissue during exercises like these could address problems in a range of motion, help with pain mitigation, improve circulation, and reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness.
Muscle flossing can be a dynamic exercise with the potential for injury. For tips on how to safely approach muscle flossing to talk to an expert or use the tutorial of a professional you trust.
Recovery weeks can be tough. By the time you reach the final week in a training block, your body is fatigued from the training stress it’s incurred. This can make “easy” workouts difficult to complete, and simple training tasks hard to manage. If there’s anything you can do to make this week a little easier, boost your sense of well being, and stoke your passion for cycling make it apart of your week.
Make Your Recovery Week Fun
Try incorporating practices that stoke your enthusiasm for riding, and increase your sense of joy. This could be making some of your favorite meals, taking your recovery spin onto your favorite mellow trail or practicing a recovery exercise that boosts your sense of well being (maybe that’s muscle flossing or propping your legs up!) Try not to add anything to your week that might interfere with your recovery or add additional stress onto your body or your mind. Your goal is to feel prepared, if not excited, to take on the next block of training. Anything that is beneficial and makes you feel good, is worth your time.
Create an Individual Process
Recovery is surprisingly individual. What works well for one athlete might not work well for another. If these practices don’t work well for you, don’t worry! You can pick and choose what works best to create your own recovery routine. Anything that makes you feel good while helping your mental and physical recovery is a good addition to your week.
For more cycling training knowledge, listen to Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.