Cyclists have a tendency to focus on the hard work. We'll plan our workouts, train hard and eat right, but we often overlook a vital component: recovery.
As a cyclist, you know it's essential to work the vital power muscle groups to improve your performance on the bike.
It can take a while to find the right training plan for you, your lifestyle and ability. You might also complement your riding with strength training - whether it's yoga, pilates or muscle conditioning. All of that is good and will take you closer to your goals, if you recover properly between sessions. Without recovery, the body can't adapt following testing workouts - and therefore you'll never see the benefit of all the effort you've put in.
Here's some top recovery tips to ensure your efforts aren't going to waste.
Active Warm Down
Recovering from a workout isn't a simple case of jumping in a hot shower before curling up on the couch for the evening.
Recovery starts with an active warm-down session. Even if you didn't feel the burn during your training, it's still advisable to warm down your muscles by stretching.
Foam rollers are perfect for the post-workout to loosen up and stretch out those worked muscles so they don't seize up. You'd be surprised at how much of a negative impact tight muscles can have on your training.
Admittedly, foam rolling can be painful - but it's rarely 'bad pain' - so push through it and think how lovely those muscles will feel tomorrow.
Sometimes you just need a total day off the bike - but more often than not you're best off following hard sessions with an 'easy' ride the following day. Recovery rides keep your legs moving, increasing circulation which therefore promotes faster recovery.
A recovery ride should generally be between 20 minutes and an hour, you should keep your heart rate super low, and avoid hills. Stay in a low gear, and ideally just ride out to your local coffee shop. If you've got rollers, they're perfect as you won't encounter any hills indoors - avoid the turbo trainer though, where you'll probably use higher resistance.
It's advisable to take a complete day off the bike every 7 to 10 days, your recovery rides simply sit in your training plan between the days when you're really pushing yourself.
Don't Push Through All Pain
Some of us believe the age old phrase: "No pain, no gain". Whilst that works for feeling the burn during a workout or cycling session, it's most definitely not the case with injuries.
There's a difference between the burn of lactic acid build up, and pain caused by an injury. It's usually pretty clear, and you'll often know deep down if you're really struggling with an injury. If you have pain when you're pedalling lightly, you see any swelling, or you've got a niggle that simply isn't going away, rest. Some niggles are caused by incorrect bike fit and could be resolved with some set-up tweaks, take a look at these or see a professional.
Watch the IT Band
Your IT band is the iliotibial band, which is a ligament that runs the length of your thigh from your hip to your knee.
It's common for this to feel a little tight when you've been working out, and even with a foam roller, it will feel uncomfortable. However, it's a ligament and not a muscle.
The best thing you can do for your IT band is focus on softening and strengthening the surrounding muscles: the hamstrings, quads, glutes and hip flexors. Often these being tight, or overworked, can cause the pain in the IT band.
Some of these deep muscles aren't suitable for a foam roller, so you may need to dig a little deeper with a tennis ball instead.
Don't Copy Training Buddies
It goes without saying that we're all different. What training plan and diet combo may work for your bestie, may not be suitable for you, and visa versa.
It doesn't matter if you're both training for the same event, or even if you have a similar level of experience - there's a whole host of variables that separate the two of you: lifestyle and genetics for example.
So while you can train together, you don't have to copy one another and expect the same results, or the same recovery time. Train to your ability, and if you need more down-time after, then take it otherwise you may end up struggling through the next sessions.
Sports Massages are not Spa Massages
It's common to think that a massage is just a massage - designed to relax the muscles, soften and soothe your body and mind. But you couldn't be more wrong.
There's a whole variety of massage techniques which all have very specific roles for the body.
Whilst many believe that a massage at your local spa will help with muscle recovery, that's not always the case. Sports massages and deep tissue methods are practised by qualified professionals who have experience working with athletes, so if you need a good rub down, make sure you're seeing the right person. Oh, and be prepared for it to hurt a bit (or a lot).
Ice, Ice, Baby
Ice packs, cold compresses and even frozen peas should be in the homes of all cyclists.
When you have a muscular ache or pain, it's best to pack the area with ice to help reduce inflammation soon after exertion. If the pain is ongoing, you can alternate 20 minutes heat using a hot water bottle, with 20 minutes ice.
If you're feeling really brave, you could really take the plunge and opt for an ice bath. A quick ten minutes in a tub of cold water can work wonders on muscle recovery. The best way to go about this is to sit in the bath, and turn on the cold taps - let the water rise so its just above your thighs, and wait for ten minutes before adding hot water and transforming the frosty hell into a lovely long soak.
After a heavy workout, or cycle session, all we want to do it re-fuel and replenish our depleted energy levels. Whilst attacking everything in the fridge is tempting, we need to make sure we're feeding our muscles and minds the correct vitamins and minerals to repair and recover.
Protein and carbohydrates are what you need. We are fanatic about their importance in our training and we've got some recipes for you to try here. They work hand-in-hand to repair muscles, help reduce inflammation and assist with that all important energy boost.
Whilst the workout is essential to build fitness, improve performance and get in shape, the recovery is equally important to ensure your hard efforts haven't gone to waste.
It's important to get into the routine of warming down after training, and taking care of those tight muscles to help prevent further injury or long term problems.
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