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A Beginner’s Guide to Recovery, Part 1: The Need for Recovery, Establishing a Baseline

August 9, 2018

This (above) is me on a recovery ride. Look how damn happy I am. How did I get here, and why am I bothering to recover?  


Someone once wrote that “cyclists (athletes) need to recover as intensely as they train.” I think this motto has a lot of merit for athletes at all levels. Simply put, training is a cycle of tearing down our bodies and then rebuilding them stronger with rest and recovery.


Think of any classic workout image in your head, and all you ever see is pushing, pushing, pushing. You never see the elite runner, cyclist, boxer, or weightlifter sleeping. You are programmed to think that all they do is work out and work out hard. We never visualize Peter Sagan asleep for 8 hours a night, we only see him crushing the Roubaix cobbles or sweating on the trainer.




The cycle that many athletes fall into is training hard on a constant basis. When fatigue sets in, and it always does, the athlete sees a drop off in performance. So, what happens? He or she trains harder. I have personally seen several people start to fall into this cycle of under-recovery. They get sick. They get sinus infections. They feel like crap. When it sets in, it might be a little late, and boom… they have undone the hard work that they expected would help them.  More intense recovery is the antidote.


You’re Not Over-trained, You’re Under-recovered


I am not advocating that you should take it easy with your training, but I am saying that you should try to focus more on recovery. The human body can take on huge loads of effort, and if they are built up slowly, you can safely train hard. Really hard.  Just make sure that you recover equally hard.


Performance gains come in three stages: First you do a long or intense ride that shocks your system. Second, your body attempts to respond to the shock it was recently confronted with. Changes in hormones, muscle fibers, and all sorts of responses take place. Lastly, recovery allows your body to heal and make the new levels of adaptation more permanent.


Joe Friel wrote a great explanation of this cycle in his blog. “A hard workout only creates the potential for fitness. It’s realized when you recover afterwards. When you take it easy after a hard workout the body’s adaptive process kicks in and you become more fit. During recovery the body restores itself by rebuilding damaged cells, creating new neural pathways, expanding capillary beds, rebalancing its chemistry, developing muscles, and much more. During this physiological renovation it makes all of the body’s systems affected by the workout slightly better able handle the stress that produced the need for rest in the first place.”


Getting a Baseline

I think the first step in training and recovery is to really know your numbers and start to track training stress for individual sessions. To do this, you need to have a heart rate monitor, power meter, or bot