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A Noob’s Guide to Cycling: Speed and Active Recovery

October 2013
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I’ve got a friend on Endomondo who reminds me a lot of me when I first started cycling – hard at it every day, no time off, and looking for a new personal best almost every day of the week.

Like him, I am an everyday cyclist.  The difference between he and I is that I’ve long since given up on daily hard efforts.  I learned early on that no down time comes with a heavy penalty in the form of dead legs and even injuries.  This year has been much better for me in terms of overall speed and fitness compared with last year.  This partially has to do with actually taking more days off the bike – last year I’d go two weeks on one day off while this year I’ve taken every Monday off and if we get rain during the week I’ve even taken a second day.  However, that’s not the end of the story by a long shot.  This year I’ve had a set schedule for hard, steady and easy efforts that has really worked wonders (with the exception of three weeks after picking up a new bike – during that period it was pretty much Katie bar the door, and I paid for it).

Hard effort days have been Tuesday and Saturday.  Steady efforts on Thursday and Sunday.  My easy, or active recovery days have been on Wednesday and Friday.  This schedule gets me out on my bike six days a week and allows for ample recovery time.

This is my happy medium where one is sorely needed.  I often hate taking every Monday off, especially if the weather is nice, and it doesn’t matter how tired my legs are.  I love riding that much.  Enter the “easy ride” day off… I stumbled onto active recovery by accident.  I was training for an Olympic Triathlon so I’d ride my bike down to the running club, run and then ride home.  Much to my shock, I found that the time it took to recover from a run was cut from days to hours.  After my last Tri I switched almost exclusively to cycling and found that my legs are much more fresh throughout the week if I apply the same principle.  Also, by this time I’d been writing about injuries and overuse pains I was riding myself into.  Others and much of what I read on the subject suggested alternating days to get the most out of the hard efforts.  This has worked exceptionally well.  The only time I end up tired out anymore is when I’m near or above 200 miles in a week – after three weeks of that, it catches up.

Other than alternating days, as detailed above, my best active recovery rides end up like this:  17.5-18 mph average (which is about 2-1/2 to 3 mph slower than my best solo effort) in an easy gear at a very high cadence (100+).  If I stick to this, my legs loosen right up and I end up feeling quite amazing afterwards, even refreshed.  I’ve been at this for more than a year now, averaging anywhere from 100-200 miles a week and haven’t had to take more than an extra day off in a week for tired or sore legs (I put as much time as I can afford into cycling, it’s not as much as some, but it’s the best I can reasonably do and maintain balance).  More importantly, I haven’t had one injury.  If you’re an every day cycling enthusiast or a runner, active recovery rides are the way to go.

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2 Comments

  1. Chatter says:

    I started to apply your active recovery rides to a spin bike and it seems to work really well and can be done in an hour when time crunched. Basically I put the bike on a low gear (way low almost too easy) then I get myself up to 100-120 rpms and try and hold that for the hour. Works great. Thanks for the suggestion.

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