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Cycling Recovery Strategies: All You Need to Know as a Cyclist

Ever wondered about the secret of elite cycling athletes? How are they able to push their body to the limit and perform at such high levels every other day without succumbing to serious injuries?

Cyclist athletes striving to perform at high levels must push their bodies to the limit. As such they put their bodies through sessions of strength and conditioning, skills training almost every day. Such strenuous training and sometimes gruelling competition schedules impose a tremendous amount of physical and mental stress to the athletes.  If they cannot cope with the demand, fatigue and physical breakdown occur, leading to poor performance and often, cycling injuries.

The key to allowing a cyclist to push their body to the limit without breaking down lies in a simple yet often neglected part of the training program – CYCLING RECOVERY.

The Importance of Recovery

The Head Coach of Australian Men’s Basketball said “If there was one single factor that helped this team perform at the level they did, it was the recovery program”. Tour de France Legend Lance Armstrong also remarked “Recovery is the name of the game.. whoever recovers the fastest does the best.

Cycling recovery is often mistaken as just rest – but it is so much more than that. Cycling recovery is a very crucial part of training strategy that many amateur athletes are unaware of. Athletes are always looking to train and to find new training methods to make themselves faster, stronger and better. Yet, in order for the body to adapt to the training at the high intensity, there must be appropriate recovery strategies in place.

In this article, we will explore a number of recovery strategies that have been used widely by elite athletes and their coaches successfully.  These strategies are vital to aid the athlete to optimise their training and reduce the risk of illness and injury. They include the use of compression garments, contrast baths, appropriate nutrition, passive and active recovery, sports massage and flotation tanks.

Cycling Recovery

There are two types of cycling recovery strategies, fundamental and advanced strategies. Fundamental strategies would include passive rest, cool down and nutritional recovery. Advanced strategies comprise of self massage, active recovery, contrast bath, sports massage and the use of flotation tanks.

Fundamental Cycling Recovery Strategies

Passive Rest

Passive rest, particularly sleeping, is a key and vital component of recovery. An athlete must have sufficient sleep to allow the body to repair and adapt to the physiological and psychological demands. Continuous training over the days without sufficient rest will put the body at risk of injury and illness. It is recommended that adults should have 7-9 hours of sleep and adolescents up to 10 hours if possible.

Cool down

Another under-utilised type of cycling recovery is the cool down after a major race or intense training. It involves light exercises such as stretches that slows down the cardiovascular system. It is common to see athletes hitting the shower or resting immediately after a major workout. Many do not recognise the value of a proper cool down session in their training regimen. A serious cyclist looking to maximise each training session should treat cooling down as importantly as the training itself. There are many benefits such as muscular relaxation, improved removal of lactate waste material and reduction of muscle soreness. A proper cool down session also allows your body to recover faster from the strenuous bout of training or competition.

Nutritional Recovery

Fuel and fluid replacement are the two most important components of nutrition recovery. The body needs adequate fuel and fluid to meet the high energy demands during the training session.

While Cycling

Athletes should start off each training session with adequate fuel and replenish during the rest intervals. This can be in the form of sports drinks and other foods that can quickly deliver glycogen to our muscles. Examples of such supplements include the simple banana, chocolate milk or the more sophisticated supplements as the SIS energy drink or bar. It is also essential to continually replenish the body fluid during training to prevent the body from being excessively dehydrated, which can be potentially dangerous as the body can overheat. Dehydration can also significantly reduce the aerobic capacity of the body and hence affect sports performance.

After Cycling Recovery

Adequate nutrition after training is equally important as it speeds up your body’s recovery and hence reduces fatigue and down time, thus improving performance. It has been found that the best way to speed up recovery is to take adequate supplements within 45mins after the training session ends. The recommended recovery food should contain sufficient fluid and carbohydrate to protein ratio of approximately 4:1. Carbohydrates replenish our muscle glycogen stores while protein aids in the repair of our muscles that break down during training. The above fundamental strategies are simple, easily implementable but are essential to maintaining a healthy and injury free body for training and competition. They help an athlete recover quickly from strenuous training and thus are the keys to improving sports performance.

Advanced Cycling Recovery Strategies

In this series of the Sports Recovery Strategies, we will talk about three types of Advance Strategies which will enhance your Sports Performance.
They are as follow.

  1. Active Recovery
  2. Self Massage
  3. Sports Massage

Active Recovery

Active recovery is to engage the athletes in light aerobic forms of exercises such as cycling, jogging or swimming after the training session. These exercises should be different from those normally performed during cycling training. Pool work involving swimming or exercises such as running in water is an excellent form of active recovery. The water provides a good buoyant medium to relax the muscles and joints. Research has shown that active recovery is very beneficial as it can help the athlete to recover efficiently from physical and mental fatigue.

Self Massage

It is important to loosen up the soft tissues after training such as muscles and fascia as they tend to get tight and stiff. This ensures that adaptive shortening of the soft tissues does not occur as it may result in reduced range of motion, potentially affecting sports performance. Stretching is a simple and effective way of loosening up tight surface muscles and fascia. However, one is unable to reach the deeper muscles or trigger point areas simply by stretching. In order to loosen up these deeper soft tissues, the athlete can go for a sports massage or alternatively, self massage with the use of trigger balls or foam rollers. The beauty about using trigger ball or foam roller (though not as effective as sports massage) is that you can do them daily in conjunction to stretches.

Sports Massage

During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps is reputed to have 2 massages a day to maintain his body in tip top condition. Many serious athletes engage in sports massage regularly as a form of recovery. There are many benefits of sports massage, including:

  • Improved blood flow and circulation leading to better delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the muscles and joints, as well as more effective removal of lactic acid
  • Loosening up tight muscles, fascia and trigger points thus improving muscle flexibility and joint range of motion
  • Relaxation of the body

Looking at such reported benefits, sports massage is a good way for athletes to recover quickly physically and physiologically. If you are training 3 to 4 times a week, it is recommended that you get a good sports massage at least once a week or 2 weeks.

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