PBP Training: Recovery

In the past, we’ve discussed hill intervals and how they make you stronger. They’ve certainly worked for me this spring, as I achieved one of my big goals this year: I completed my Cyclos Montagnards R60 Honors.

You get faster and stronger through overload and recovery. This means not only that you have to work hard enough during your intervals to overload your body, but also that you need to rest long enough to give your body time to adapt to the new demands that you place on it. How do you know whether you have recovered enough to do another set of intervals? How long after a big event should you rest before you start training seriously again?

The amount of recovery needed varies with a number of factors. How you feel on the bike indicates whether you have recovered or not. I find that I need 24-48 hours to recover from a hard training session, and as much as 5-6 days to recover from a long brevet.

How do I know whether I have recovered enough when I head out for another session of intervals? I start the ride as usual. If the first two intervals are sluggish, I am not concerned; my muscles have to flush out the left-over lactic acid or whatever it is that makes your legs sluggish after a hard effort. However, by the third time up the hill, my legs usually feel better. If my legs still don’t have much power, and I bog down where I usually soar, I know I have not recovered enough. I go for an easy spin, and try again a day or two later.

It helps to ride a favorite bike on days when your motivation is flagging a bit. If I am on a bike that does not work well with my pedal stroke, staying motivated is a lot harder.

Beyond the recovery from my training sessions, I also need a week-long period of recovery from time to time to recharge my body. After three weeks of training with increasing intensity, I take a whole week of rest.

I increase the intensity throughout the three weeks of training. During the third week, I train more often and with the most intensity. I may even do intensive workouts on consecutive days toward the end of that week (assuming I can find the time!). By the end of that third training week, I feel less eager to ride, and it is getting harder to keep up with friends who are training less. This is a clear sign that I am on the verge of overtraining – as I should be before taking a rest week. It is clear that overload alone does not make me faster, and that is why the rest week is important.

I schedule my rest weeks so that they fall before big events in which I hope to do a personal best. After the rest week, I feel eager to ride. I may take a few miles until my legs spin smoothly again, but then they feel stronger than ever before.

Everybody is different, and our bodies change as we train. With some experience, you can tell whether you are training too much. If you are not having fun even mid-way through a ride, it’s probably a good idea to increase your rest periods.

I ride my bike fast because I enjoy it. For that, I need what the French call “the taste for the effort” (le gout de l’effort). If that “appetite” is not present any longer, I know I need to change my training.

The photo is from the Summer 2011 Bicycle Quarterly. It shows the fastest riders in Paris-Brest-Paris 1956 a day after the ride, as they wait to do a “lap of honor” in the Parc des Princes velodrome.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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4 Responses to PBP Training: Recovery

  1. Melinda says:

    Interesting! I tried doing some intervals your way (a few weeks ago), and my friends and I had a great time; it was much more fun than we expected intervals to be. We went up through Colman Park, which only took 2 minutes to climb, but I think it was a good place for a first try.

    I was talking to the fastest of the three of us a few days later, and he mentioned that he already felt faster. However, it took me almost a week to feel really good! Perhaps a hard yoga class that I had just started was to blame, but I was surprised at the amount of time that I took to feel like myself again.

    Perhaps it makes a difference that he is the kind of person who likes to race up hills and always wants to see how fast he can get up them, while I am significantly less likely to do that.

  2. Ben says:

    Other life/lifestyle factors come into play in recovery. It’s not just how about much time you spend not training. How well do you eat? How many hours sleep do you get? Do you have children? How demanding is your job? Many of these factors are personal and so you can’t necessarily compare yourself with your training partners as you don’t know how these factors impinge on their recovery. Understanding and monitoring how they impinge on your own is sometimes difficult enough. b

  3. tim says:

    I’ve been a hill interval rider for the last several years. I find hill repeats an efficient way to get a good workout in 45 minutes or so, as I don’t have a lot of time for training. I do less warm-up than you describe and ride a circuit which is right in my neighborhood. The hill is about 4:30 minutes (it actually has a slight downhill in the middle, so I get practice at changing gears and speeds). I start with two and add one per week until I reach 4-5, then take a rest week. The mix of power and stamina helps me on fast group rides and the occasional race. Now in my 40′s with kids and busy job, I have to take two days a week off the bike and two days a week of easy riding. That leaves three days to do hard work. I have to make the most of those.

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