The importance of rest and recovery in cycling

For anyone new to cycling, it is easy to slip into the mindset that if you’re not riding, you’re not developing. Stop it right now as it simply isn’t true. Look at any professional cyclist. They ride hard and rest hard too. They know that the riding sets the scene but rest is where the gains are made.

Your body needs to rest and relax in order to make the repairs and improvements demanded by your cycling. Muscle needs time and nutrients to rebuild and as long as you provide both, you should see a steady improvement in your ability. It’s called muscular adaptation and only occurs when the body is at rest. Ignore it at your peril!

Why do we need rest?

Your body needs rest for two primary reasons, to refuel and to repair. Burning calories uses up glycogen, our fast-access energy store. Your body needs time to replenish those stores. That’s why your diet is so important in your performance.

Secondly, your body needs time to perform that muscular adaptation. As you put increased demands onto your legs, the muscles develop micro tears. Tiny rips in the muscle fibre caused by stress. Muscular adaptation is where your body repairs those tears and makes the muscle a little stronger in order to cope with that stress better next time. That’s how we make physical gains.

Two types of rest

For a cyclist there are two types of rest, actual rest and active rest. Actual rest is the feet up in front of the TV kind, eating tuna salad and drinking plenty of milkshake or water. Active rest is where you go for an easy spin or recovery ride without adding any extra physical stress.

Pros sleep anything up to 70 hours a week during the season because they know it is when the body can do most of its work. So while you may consider sleep a waste of time, I certainly do, it is essential in your recovery. Ask any coach, anywhere and they will tell you the same.

Recovery rides or active rest can be very effective as long as you have the terrain and self-control to keep yourself in check. Down here in Cornwall, we don’t have the terrain for recovery rides so I do mine on the turbo. It is simply too hilly here to be able to just spin the wheels without having to give it the beans.

Half an hour to an hour of easy pedalling and not exceeding zone 2 makes a good recovery ride. Factor it into your routine between big rides and see how it helps.


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