Active Recovery has been a part of cycling culture for decades, with many cyclists routinely performing ‘easy spins’ or coffee rides intended to flush the lactic acid from tired legs.
Interestingly, more mainstream 'stick and ball' sports have only recently begun to embrace the notion of Active Recovery. What’s more, the term “recovery” has even become something of a buzz-word/marketing tool, spawning a whole industry of products intended to help Athlete’s ‘hack’ their recovery.
However, despite the increased awareness regarding the benefits of Active Recovery, time (mainly the lack thereof), remains the major barrier keeping most Endurance Athletes from implementing quality recovery techniques into their routines.
It is with this in mind that we have assembled the following Active Recovery techniques that every Athlete, even those grappling with the time-constraints of a demanding job and family commitments can fit into their training.
Active recovery comes in many forms, but each shares the same intensity, the minimum possible. Photo Credit: Brian McCulloch
Active Recovery Defined:
Active Recovery is performing very lightexercise that stimulates blood flow to damaged muscle tissues within the body, thus delivering nutrient-rich/oxygenated blood to these areas enabling the body to repair itself more quickly.
In short, Active Recovery speeds the bodies natural rejuvenation process and primes muscles for the next workout.
Active Recovery In Practice:
Since the purpose of Active Recovery is to stimulate blood flow to damaged muscle tissues, it is important that Active Recovery not be thought of as a ‘workout’.
Instead, Active Recovery techniques should be viewed as the minimal amount of movement necessary to stimulate muscle repair. In the world of recovery, over-achieving relies on embracing the “less is more” concept.
Below we have identified four common types of Active Recovery that can, and should, be incorporated into your weekly routine in order to help speed your bodies adaptation to training stress.
Note: There is no single ‘holy-grail’ of Active Recovery. We encourage you to test each technique and see what activity best fits into your weekly training.
Four Common Active Recovery Techniques
#1- The Recovery Spin Or Coffee Ride:
Recovery spins and “coffee rides” are a staple in cycling culture. Most often they consist of a very light ride, restricting gear selection to just the small/inner front chainring to keep effort light and leg speed up.
Coach Says - Make Your Recovery Spin Count:
We suggest flat routes and high cadences for recovery rides, but the real killer of an easy ride is a lack of discipline.
Sprinting up a hill to hold a higher speed, increasing your speed to hold the wheel of someone who passes you, or joining a group that has no intention of "going easy" are all ways to sabotage a recovery ride.
Keep in mind that only with adequate recovery do our bodies get stronger and adapt to training, not during the training itself. That means, if you never slow down, you will severely limit your bodies ability to get stronger!
Hints For A Successful Recovery Ride:
-Consider riding with your spouse or kids.
-Connect with a friend that is also in need of a recovery ride.
-Slow down, enjoy the scenery, and explore different routes for future interval sessions.
Recovery rides can be a social affair! Adding a few friends can make it easier to ride easy and more fun too! Photo Credit: Joy McCulloch
You can perform light stretching after a workout or recovery spin, you could even do it while you are watching TV!
It is important to have warm muscles when you begin stretching and to ease into each movement. Also, be sure not to strain your muscles by pulling them too hard.
10-15 minutes is all you need to perform a quality stretching session.
Coach Says - Make Your Stretching Session Count:
Select stretches that counter-act the regular position of cycling. You should also target any areas of tightness that cause you pain or discomfort.
Normal stretching routines should include the following stretches:
-A hamstring stretch
-A hip-flexor stretch
-An IT band stretch
-A calf stretch
-A quadricep stretch
As a bonus, add stretches that twist your body (gently) as cycling is a two-dimensional sport, which reduces our bodies dynamic flexibility.
Hints For A Successful Stretching Session:
-Try stretching right after a training ride, workout, or even just before bed.
-Breathe deep to and take long exhales to allow your body to relax into each stretch.
#3- Foam Rolling
A foam roller is a very effective recovery tool that is becoming more and more common.
Essentially it is a self-massager that uses body-weight to loosen damaged muscles.
Using a foam roller is fairly simple, it requires an Athlete place tender muscles or areas of tightness, such as hamstrings, glutes, calves, quadriceps, lower-back, etc. on the roller, then move back and forth to ‘roll out’ the area being targeted.
It should be said that foam rollers can be purchased in varying densities for different applications. Think of the densities as akin to massage, in that, harder foam rollers mimic deep tissue massage, while softer foam-rollers mimic more of a Swedish massage.
As with stretching, 10-15 minutes of foam-rolling while watching your favorite TV show is enough to receive a benefit.
Coach Says - Make Your Foam-Rolling Count:
Begin with a softer roller, as the pain created from dense rollers can be very uncomfortable and reduce the 'rejuvenative' component of this practice.
Foam rolling is not something where the “no pain, no gain” mentality is beneficial. Ease into the practice and pay close attention to your individual trouble areas.
Hints For A Successful Foam Rolling Session:
-The “go-to” areas for foam-rolling include the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and IT bands.
-Watch a few ‘YouTube’ videos on foam-rolling techniques to understand the best-practices of foam-rolling.
Foam rolling at the conclusion of an easy-spin is an easy way to squeeze-in this Active Recovery practice. If pressed for time, you could even cut your ride short to add in some time on the roller. Photo Credit: Joy McCulloch
There are numerous styles of Yoga from Flow Yoga to Hot Yoga to Restorative yoga, and everything in between.
For the purposes of Active Recovery, we recommend the Yin or Restorative yoga practice where the intensity and heat is minimal.
This type of yoga practice focuses on deep-stretching, aligning the body, and quieting the mind. Most often there is a pronounced meditative or zen emphasis in Yin Yoga routines.
For the Endurance Athlete, yoga is a great activity that allows an escape form digital-distractions in an effort to better understand what's going on in our own bodies.
Coach Says - Make Your Yoga Practice Count:
Regular yoga practitioners develop the ability to breathe more deeply and rhythmically than even the most experienced Athletes. This focus on breath work brings mental clarity and helps ease tension in the body, even under stressful situations, which carries over nicely to racing and training.
Hints For A Successful Stretching Session:
-Embrace the tenant of yoga that diminishes competition. Within yoga, there is no demand to push yourself, achieve specific goals, or out-stretch the person next to you, which can be a welcome respite from the focus and data of training.
To get the most out of ourselves on event-day an Athlete must train hard, that goes without saying, but they must also rest 'hard', which is often more difficult to find time for each week. Photo Credit: Danny Munson, DMunsonPhoto.com
In closing, it is important for Athletes to keep in mind that hard training is only half the equation necessary for optimal performance. Proper recovery is the important 'missing link' that allows our bodies rebuild, get stronger, and make the gains we seek through training.
As Coaches we should mention that we generally encounter Athletes that train hard and are willing to do all the intervals or long-rides necessary to achieve their best fitness.
But what is less common, yet just as important, is finding the time to incorporate and embrace Active Recovery.
That is why we tell our Athletes to train hard AND recover hard! It takes both to be your very best.
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian and Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching