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Recovery sessions: what are they, how to do them and what are their benefits?

Recovery sessions: what are they, how to do them and what are their benefits?

A recovery bike session sounds simple, right? But you'll be surprised how many of us aren't doing them properly. Nik Cook explains… and provides the session breakdown you should be following

Man riding bike at home with interactive simulation trainor

A recovery session, as the name implies, should enhance or facilitate recovery. In doing so, it should not add any additional fatigue. But many people don’t stick to these simple rules, instead overdoing it and adding on pointless mileage.

As you’ll discover, we’re just focusing on bike sessions here. So here’s the how and why you should do a recovery session.

Is it worth doing a recovery run session?

It’s arguable that, unless you’re an extremely efficient runner, due to the impact associated even with very easy running, that a recovery run can’t meet these criteria. And, if recovery is the focus, then you’d be better spending the time doing some stretching, hitting the foam roller or simply putting your feet up.

How to do a recovery ride

A recovery ride is more doable and there’s no doubt that, after a long day’s travelling or the day after a big ride or run, a gentle spin can put a bit of life back in your legs.

To achieve this though without adding unnecessary fatigue and/or junk miles does take a surprising amount of discipline and often some ego management.

It should be 30-60 minutes long and has to be super-easy. That means pancake flat and strict zone 1 for both heart-rate and power.

You should be imagining that your cranks are made out of glass and, if you push them too hard, they’ll snap. Grannies on shopping bikes should be overtaking you and you should be spinning your legs in the small chainring.

Be honest, can you see your ego handling doing a ride like that? Judging by how many ‘Recovery Rides’ you see uploaded to Strava that are predominately zone 2 or even zone 3, I’d argue that for a lot of triathletes – not.

Such sessions definitely won’t be facilitating recovery and all you’ll be adding to your training are meaningless kilometres and unnecessary fatigue with practically zero training effect.

Where to do a recovery ride

The controlled environment of the indoor trainer can make achieving a genuine recovery ride more doable but again be wary of that ego creeping in.

Will you be able to resist chasing that virtual wheel or upping your pace for a sprint section or KOM? Using Erg Mode set to hold you in zone 1 is probably the best solution if you don’t think you can trust yourself.

Even with all the recovery ride boxes ticked, the niggling question does still remain, ‘Could I be doing something better with this time?’ Some drills in the pool? Maybe a bit of yoga or Pilates?

Training time for most triathletes is precious and, in most cases, the answer to this question is yes so, before taking the ‘recovery ride’ option, just check-in and maybe do something else instead.

Top image credit: Getty Images

Profile image of Nik Cook Nik Cook Freelance bike writer


Nikalas Cook is a writer, author, coach and athlete based in the Peak District. He specialises in health, fitness, endurance and adventure sports. Having studied a postgraduate degree in Health and Exercise Science, he worked for eight years as a top personal trainer in London. He was the editor of Totally Active magazine and writes for numerous specialist magazines and websites including 220 Triathlon, Outdoors Magic, Trail Running and Trek and Mountain. He has also edited the British Cycling member’s website, the Insight Zone. He’s written for national newspapers and magazines including The Times, The Financial Times, The Daily Mail, GQ, Men’s Fitness and Red Magazine. But he’s probably most proud of being Derbyshire Life’s beer correspondent. Nik has written two books (Marathon Training: Get to the Start Line Strong and Injury-free; Peak District Trail Running: 22 off-Road Routes for Trail & Fell Runners) and his third, entitled The Road Cycling Performance Manual, was published by Bloomsbury in June 2018. He has also worked with Nigel Mitchell on his book, Fuelling the Cycling Revolution, and with Martin Evans and Phil Burt on their book, Strength and Conditioning for Cyclists. He’s completed numerous cycling challenges including the Trans-Wales MTB stage race, the Fred Whitton, the Raid Pyrenees and both the Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders sportives. Competitively, he likes to combine his cycling with running and has previously won gold in his age-group at the ITU World Long Course Duathlon Championships at Powerman Zofingen.