Recovery rides: Are they useful?

author : Troy Jacobson
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by Coach Troy Jacobson
www.CoachTroy.com

Triathletes talk about recovery rides but many endurance athletes have never thought about exactly what "recovery ride"  means. Does "recovery" refer to something that actually enhances recovery? Or is it just an easy ride that doesn't do any damage?

In order to get faster and stronger, the endurance athlete requires a combination of work days (training) and rest days (recovery).  Training stress can also be described as controlled injury, because it breaks down the muscle and other tissues. Training days must be followed by rest days and sound nutrition, allowing the body to compensate and rebuild to get stronger.  This cycle of work – rest – compensation is repeated over and over again, and the cycle results in improved performance in one’s chosen sport, including triathlon.  

Recovery and training plans

For years, coaches and athletes have incorporated active recovery workouts into their weekly training programs.  Active recovery refers to days containing short, easy workouts that occur after more intense bouts of training. Active recovery should be done at  roughly 60 to 70 percent of maximum heart rate, or in the case of cycling, less than 60 percent of one’s functional threshold power (FTP).  Active recovery days are different compared to complete or “passive” recovery days, where the athlete does practically no metabolism boosting activity beyond stretching or a light walk.  Both protocols deserve a place in a systematic training program.

Active recovery days on the bike are beneficial in that they enhance blood flow and nutrient delivery to muscles broken down by an intense training session. They also serve to maintain (or enhance) body composition by burning calories as well as keep the athlete “in the groove” in terms of muscle coordination and technique.  Most endurance athletes will confirm that short “easy does it” workouts help them maintain momentum and allow them to feel stronger for future intense training days.   As a case in point, it’s noted that riders in multi-day stage races, like the Tour De France, will ride easy for one to three hours on a rest day in order to feel strong for an ensuing mountain stage.

For the age-group triathlete who typically trains on the bike three or four days per week (including a long aerobic endurance day, a lactate threshold focused day and a brick workout day), it might be advised to add a 30-to-60-minute easy spin to their weekly ride after a hard day or a race day.  This ride can be done on the roads or the trainer and consist of a 60-to-70 percent effort (i.e. low intensity), with light gearing focused on a cadence range of 90-to-100 rpms to “shake the legs out.”  

Word of caution

The danger in adding recovery rides is that some athletes will tend to overdo it and misuse the ride, therefore just adding “junk miles.”  This usually occurs when the intended low intensity recovery effort becomes a full-blown ride at a higher heart rate, sabotaging the benefits of the recovery ride and possible contributing to a state of over-reaching or over-training.  

As a practical matter, when used for their intended purpose, recovery rides can benefit the age-group triathlete by helping him or her bounce back from hard training sessions, manage body weight and maintain their training momentum.



A former pro triathlete in the 1990s and now a Masters triathlete, Troy Jacobson is the Official Coach of Ironman, Head Tri Coach of Life Time Fitness and the creator of the Spinervals Cycling Video series.  For more information, visit www.CoachTroy.com

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date: April 14, 2011

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Troy Jacobson

Since he started coaching endurance athletes back in 1992, Troy Jacobson has been widely considered one of the top coaches in the United States for single sport and multisport athletes alike. His success has helped to revolutionize multisport coaching and has brought the profession of 'online coaching' to an unprecedented level of acceptance.

Author

avatarTroy Jacobson

Since he started coaching endurance athletes back in 1992, Troy Jacobson has been widely considered one of the top coaches in the United States for single sport and multisport athletes alike. His success has helped to revolutionize multisport coaching and has brought the profession of 'online coaching' to an unprecedented level of acceptance.

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