Everybody’s heard it said that recovery is as important as training — Peter Stuart looks at what you could be doing to optimise the adaptation process while you’re off the bike
There’s no denying it — the time spent off the bike recovering is as vital to an athlete as the time spent training. If you miss the opportunity to repair muscle damage, you can be left with more than just aching legs.
So it is no surprise that scientists have been trying for decades to improve the process of recovery and reduce the soreness, injury and fatigue that result from training. Yet wading through the different research that has been produced can be baffling, contradictory and can lead to you making wrong decisions about your own training and recovery.
It is with good reason that recovery has increasingly been the focus of science in sport. Professional cyclist Liam Holohan explains: “It’s the most important bit of training. So many guys go over the top with the training and just don’t recover from it — their form gets worse and it’s a vicious circle. They think they’re doing badly so they train harder and it only makes it worse.”
Worse still, failing to recover can cause and aggravate injury. Ken Matheson, former national road coach for the British team, explains that “muscles don’t behave normally when they’re tired; it’s not just the muscles themselves but fatigue in the central nervous system and the necessary neural responses. If you’re tired you’re maybe not controlling your knee so well, or the location of your foot. Things are not quite working and you end up with an injury because of it.”
Overtraining and injury aren’t just limited to the elite either. The reality is that those fitting training around an ordinary lifestyle are most susceptible. “Some people feel compelled to just train and train and train and they just become more and more ill. A lot of people underestimate the need for recovery and the power of recovery,” says Matheson. Chances are, if you are a competitive cyclist and a busy professional, you’ve already experienced more than one symptom of overtraining.