Nick Anderson is the founder of Running With Us and a vastly experienced England Athletics endurance coach with over 25 years of coaching and personal training experience, working with runners, cyclists and triathletes across the UK. We asked him to tell us why recovery is just as important as training.
When training for an event most keen cyclists will work to a weekly training structure with a clear focus for each ride, but when it comes to an understanding on how we ensure we have good recovery strategies, this can often be where all the hard work is undone.
Recovery is key to allow our bodies to adapt to the training stimulus. Our fitness gains happen when we are recovering from a training ride…not during it. But how do we know if we are fully recovered and what else should we be doing to ensure our body is replenished and raring to go on the next ride?
Keeping alert to signs of overtraining and poor recovery is a good starting place. Some of the main warning signs of poor recovery are:
- Lack of progression
- Injuries and illness
- Mood swings and sensitivity
- Loss of motivation
- Weight loss or gain
So if you are regularly experiencing a number of these warning signs its time to review your recovery strategies and make some changes to both your training and wider lifestyle.
Increasingly we understand more about the power of sleep and how essential quality sleep is to our bodies’ ability to recover and our wider mental and physical health.
Anabolic hormones are released during your deep sleep cycles and there’s a direct link between endurance athletes and cyclists not getting regular quality sleep and increased risk of poor recovery and declining performances.
The Polar Ignite GPS Watch offers the ability to track sleep and review this through Polar Flow. It's easy to believe you are getting 7 or 8 hours good quality sleep every night but sleep tracking can indicate much more about what is happening during the night.
- Sleep Plus Stages gives insights into the amount and quality of your sleep based on an automatic measurement.
- It measures multiple sleep metrics reflecting the quality of your sleep. These parameters together with sleep duration are summarized into a Sleep Score.
- Sleep Plus Stages shows detailed information on how your sleep cycled through awake and different sleep stages: Light sleep, Deep sleep and REM sleep.
Frequently having nights without adequate deep sleep period with a higher resting heart rate is an indicator that your body is not fully recovering and leaving you tired and lethargic the next day. The deep sleep stage restores your body and supports your immune system.
The Polar Ignite also offers a Nightly Recharge feature.
- Your nightly recharge status reflects how your body was able to recover from training and stress.
- It combines information on how well your autonomic nervous system (ANS) calmed down during the early hours of your sleep and how you slept.
Banishing phones, tablets, laptops and TVs from the bedroom, and avoiding caffeine, sugar and alcohol late at night can increase the level of continuous sleep and significantly reduce your heart rate during sleep.
Monitoring your resting heart rate upon waking in the morning can also be a key indicator of your overall health and recovery. Polar Ignite offers continuous heart rate monitoring.
Similarly, changes in heart rate levels during easy rides (zone 2) and threshold sessions (zone 4) can also indicate something is amiss in your recovery strategies and training. Tracking heart rate and reviewing your training sessions through polar flow is a great way of monitoring for any significant changes.
By monitoring your resting and training heart rate on a regular basis you can build a baseline and notice any increase in the rate, which might indicate you are becoming unwell, overtraining or not fully recovering from sessions.
Nutrition and Hydration
Paying attention to what you eat after a training ride or a sportive is vital in staving off muscle soreness and improving your performance and aiding recovery.
The recovery period begins as soon as your session ends as in this key window of up to an hour muscle cells are more permeable to glucose and all the right hormones and enzymes are active in order to re-energize your muscle. Your body needs essential nutrients to kick start the growth and repair process after a hard training ride.
Look to combine protein and carbohydrate in this recovery window. Protein, in particular, helps the absorption of carbohydrate and muscle- tissue repair – it basically repairs your muscles more quickly!
Pro cyclists have been using power meters for many years and even for the recreational / club cyclist, this is more commonplace. We now have more understanding about muscle load and fatigue and now we can monitor training load through the Polar Ignite range of watches. Mixing up our usual training week when we feel tired or sore with a swim or rowing machine can be a great way of helping our muscles and body recover but maintaining our baseline cardiovascular fitness. Leave the bike in the shed and swim or use an elliptical cardio machine and you can still replicate the zone 4 threshold session, easy or long rides but give your soft tissues that extra day or recovery.
Whilst a full day of no riding can often be the best option, active recovery rides can help with clearing legs of fatigue and waste products after a harder session.
But one of the most common mistakes cyclists make is with their easy and recovery rides. Too often these are done at a steady zone 3 effort and serve little benefit in recovery and are more likely to reduce the quality of the next hard session. By cycling to heart rate during these sessions and keeping in zone 2 on your HR display, you can ensure the ride is actually aiding the recovery process and not just draining the tank.
Race Fatigue and Periodisation
Having a packed diary of forthcoming sportive and cycling events keeps us focused and motivated as cyclists. But it does come with a constant mental pressure of seeking improved times and performances. After a period of time every training ride being dedicated towards the next event, the basic joy of cycling can become lost. Ensure your race calendar and training periods allow regular lighter / lower volume weeks and have times through the year when you can just go for a ride with no pressure or particular focus. Taking a few weeks out after a big event can help reset the body and mind so you'll fall in love with cycling again.
Sports Massage and Self-Maintenance
As cyclists, we ask so much of our bodies and especially our soft tissues. Sports massage should play a part in your monthly plans to ensure your muscles and tendons remain supple and clear of waste products and fatigue. Regular foam rolling and post-training stretching is also vital.
If we want to progress as cyclists then we need to take recovery as seriously as we do the actual training rides and events. The development of GPS devices has given us access to so much useful data feedback about our training, but the development of heart rate, power and sleep tracking through Polar Ignite offers equally vital information to monitor our recovery. By listening to your body and keeping a check on some of these key metrics we can feel fresher and ready to hit the next ride hard!