A recovery process can be defined; when related to sports, as steps taken to improve mental and physical well being after activity. The process helps rejuvenate muscles, improve brain function, build the immune system, strengthen the cardiovascular system, improve your metabolic functions, and help sleep pattern. The process can include everything from cleaning up, to eating, and sleeping. Sometimes the recovery process even includes more light exercise.
I would like to discuss some good practices, for recovery, as a cyclist or an endurance athlete. Some of these are just facts about any kind of exercise. We are cyclist, so I am going to break it down to post ride recovery, post race recoveries, and post resistance training recovery. All of the processes are similar in nature, but will also have some distinct differences.
I will start with what to do after a nice hard work out in the gym. Depending on your time and level of activity, I believe the recovery process always starts with stretching. The time period can be short or long, because this is all relative to what you did in the gym. For some this could mean something as elaborate as a light yoga class. I would recommend following this immediately with hydration and a shower. It is important to not spend a ton of time in a hot shower, a steam room, or hot tub. These activities will dehydrate you and make you feel pretty bad later on. Limit your time in saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, etc… after working out or riding. During or after the shower always get recovery foods and drinks. This varies for people and for what happened in the gym. Sometimes it is a couple bottles of water. Sometimes it is water and protein shakes. Sometimes this may include a meal, water, and protein. The last thing a person needs is sleep. I know sometimes it is time to start your day, or you can’t take a short nap after working out, but here is a fact that may have you rethinking when you workout. Sleep helps growth hormones replenish and we need that to come back and work out again. You may even have a massage and sleep while they “work” on you. In the real world most of us can’t have all of this after every workout, but take time to make a process out of it and it will become natural.
So you’ve just finished a nice hard training ride and it is now time to recover. I would keep all the same factors in mind for my post workout routine, but I would omit yoga classes. I would only do some light stretching designed for a cyclist. I would include maybe taking a 2 mile spin around the block at the end of the ride. A zone 1 flush out is what I like to call it. Sometimes this happens naturally as the ride comes to an end. To spend 5 minutes in a recovery zone, promotes all functions back into normal behaviors.
After a race most all of the processes explained above are the same, but some factors I take in mind are what kind of race did we just race, and when will I need to use these functions again. For instance, if you are racing a bike series or a stage race, the next race may be the next day, later in the day, or directly after the race you just finished. The recovery process may be getting off your feet, replacing your kit, eating, and then hitting it again. All I am saying is don’t stand there talking to your buddies if you’re racing later in the day. If it is stage racing, I would also recommend getting off your feet and not spending a whole lot of time socializing. For an athlete it should all be about being prepared for what they need to do next. In my opinion rest is the number one factor of recovery. Total rest from all factors of the sport is essential. This may mean reading a book or watching TV to relax between races.
Finally, my main point is to spend time making a process. Sticking to your process, but if you don’t have one factor of your process letting it make or break you mentally. If you forget your banana, maybe just eat an apple or find something else. People sometimes get so caught up in the processes that they let a small mishap mess them up. Maybe create a post race check list, just like some athletes have a pre race check. You just tell yourself, I just want to have fun and do my thing. Most folks can respect that, but are you really having fun in competition if you aren’t competing to the best of your ability? Are you really having fun on that century ride knowing you could have spent a little extra time? Sometimes the difference between the 5 hour century finisher and the 6 hours century finisher is how they recovered during training and what they had in the tank before they started.
The Lead Pack Cycling Group