Recover to race- Part 2

Michael Guilford Coaching, library

This second article in the series aims to look at how you can make sure you are getting the right recovery for your discipline.

One of the tendencies I have to watch out for in my training is sticking to one training goal or style for too long, in a repetitive fashion. It’s not surprising that endurance athletes particularly can be very dogged in sticking to a certain goal, in some ways this is a sign of a mental strength. However, repetitive training can lead to stagnation in progress and injury.

In this article I want to introduce three concepts:

  • polychromatic recovery
  • using variation to recover
  • discipline specific recovery

Progressing from Part 1 I will focus on the medium duration of recovery periods (Mesocycles):

  • Macrocycles –  scheduled over weeks, months and years
  • Mesocycles – scheduled over days
  • Microcycles – subtle periods of recovery, in minutes or seconds

Polychromatic recovery

Some people see recovery as the polar opposite of training, you train hard then put your feet up. To a limit, this might work for an elite athlete who can just put their feet up in between training sessions, however, this approach suggests that each session is at the same load.  Training stressors can have different demands: physical, psychological and neurological*, if you can see the levels between training and rest then you will have a chance to make improvements when you would otherwise have your feet up.

Variation for recovery

Careful variation of your training and competition schedule can increase the effective recovery time between sessions. Here’s an example for an MTB XC or cyclocross racer:

  • Day 1 – Maximum effort endurance session (e.g. chaingang group ride) – high physical, technical and psychological demand
  • Day 2 – Technical session – high neurological demand
  • Day 3 – Medium effort endurance session – medium physical demand
  • Day 4 – Strength Gym session – medium physical, high neurological demand
  • Day 5- Rest
  • Day 6 -Maximum Effort Power Session (e.g. sprint intervals) – high physical, neurological & psychological demand
  • Day 7 – Low-intensity group endurance ride  – low physical, neurological, psychological demand

You can see how the rider has avoided placing the same high demands on consecutive days. In effect, the rider will be recovering from one element while training another. I call the sessions with the highest demand pivot sessions, as they act as a pivot to structure mesocycles of training and recovery.

Discipline Specific Recovery

Click on the headings below to read more.

  • The key demand in progressing road racing is tactical competency. Races can be tactically complex, and therefore require riders to be in a fresh minded state in order to learn.
  • Gaining tactical ability requires a lot of race experience. The frequent racing means your physical freshness will fluctuate from race to race. You can structure your macro recovery plan to achieve certain tactical goals for races where you will be fresh and ones where you will be less fresh.
  • The energy load of each race can be very high. Road races are typically longer than 2.5hrs, so it can take a few days to recover from a particularly hard race. Circuit racing has similar demands but the races are likely to be more intense but shorter (~1hr).
  • Races are likely to be pivot sessions in Mesocycles, however, road racing is unpredictable so sometimes a race may be less hard than your hardest training session. Which requires adaptable mesocycle planning
  • The key demand for new MTB XC & Cyclocross riders is the ability to progress technically and physically. If a rider has mastered the finer details of technique and fitness then it will free up headroom to progress tactically. This means riders need to be utilising recovery time to progress technically.
  • The effort in each race is fairly predictable (flat out!) and can take several days to recover from, so long-term planning will be focused on working out which races to select for peak performance, in line with your race calendar.
  • As shown in the example above these disciplines allow plenty of scope for variation in weekly routines.
  • These disciplines can be psychologically demanding. The individual focus of the race and highly technical nature can be mentally draining. Slightest mistakes in preparation or during the race can lose a handful of positions in seconds.
  • Time trial & hill climbing is possibly the most straightforward discipline to plan recovery for. They don’t have a high level of tactical or technical demand.
  • These disciplines require a flat out but the steady effort, which means it doesn’t take as long to recover (particularly for less advanced riders). Races will be pivot sessions, as with road racing, however, the training load from the event is very predictable. The whole season can be planned in detail, allowing macro recovery periods before target events.
  • Hill climbing has a high physical and psychological demand, you need to fresh enough to push yourself to the limit of discomfort. The season is short, so you will want to make sure you taper and recover carefully before your first event and maintain freshness from race to race.

What about power data for managing recovery?

Training stress balance, chronic training load, power benchmark tests….these are all power-based metrics.

Power data has moved endurance cycling a long way. Using power meters, we can see exactly how much energy is being expended on the bike and we can monitor physical performance using benchmark tests. The whole concept seems very attractive, it’s so simple, yet seemingly exclusive to professional teams. My opinion is that the driving force behind this method is the data-driven management of teams and not long-term progress of individuals. For most intermediate cyclists who are not racing on professional teams, there are more helpful ways to monitor and plan recovery.

*What do I mean by neurological recovery?

When you are learning new techniques your nervous system must adapt, (not just your brain), (see Frans Bosch Strength and Coordination). Coordination patterns tend to be learnt in steps, so after a number of attempts at a technique, you will do it once correctly. Recovery in between these attempts will help you to learn faster.


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