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Cobbled Coaching: Let's talk about recovery

Everyone knows that recovery is key, and we emphasise this a lot to our athletes, but why? The obvious answer to this is to recover for the next training session but is there more to that?

To understand recovery, we first need to understand how the body adapts to training. The thing that most people don’t understand is that you don’t get fitter from training… you get fitter from the recovery after training.

To progress, we must present a stimulus to the body (the training session) that causes the body to fatigue. Then, we need time to recover so the body can adapt and come back stronger, fitter and therefore concludes in an enhanced performance. Recovery is the most important thing in an athletes preparation and training plan, and it is often overlooked.

DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is commonly experienced following intensive exercise and is a symptom of exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD). This is reduced muscle strength, reduced range of motion and swelling (Hill et al. 2014). These are all temporary but require a period of recovery to repair. At ‘Cobbled Coaching’ we like to work in 4 to 6-week blocks. We have 2 to 3 weeks of a ‘average’ training week, where we tend to work in 3 – 4-day blocks and then have a recovery day to allow the adaptations to take place. After this we would do a specific overload where the training load/intensity increased to put more strain on the body. Following this week, we would finish with a recovery week and then start the process again.

By working this way, it allows fatigue, recovery, and overall adaptations to be consistently monitored and the prescribed training can then be modified accordingly. We can control the overload and recovery by speaking to our athletes everyday and seeing when pain, tiredness or more stressful days take place as well as looking at the statistics such as power:hr, resting heart rate and other things that can indicate fatigue before the athlete realises it.

Overtraining and burnout can occur when an individual repeatedly trains when the body is fatigued and not recovered so this is something we monitor very closely.

What is the best way to recover? Sports and exercises scientists have now said that is it no longer a matter of just resting and that there are a wide range of strategies to enhance recovery. These include things such as ice baths, cryotherapy, heat, massage, compression, nutrition, hydration, sleep, stretching, electro-muscular stimulation and analgesics (e.g. ibuprofen) and it is personal preference over what you want to use.

Active recovery? This is a very 50/50 debate in the sport and exercise science world as well as in the pro peloton. Many claims that a short ride will get increase the blood flow meaning more blood going to the muscles and therefore more recovery. But others would say that getting in kit, on your bike, going to a café, going home, showering, and taking a few hours out of your day to do this is using more energy and restricting recovery. We tend to use 1 full rest day and one active recovery session each week as we support both these theories.

The overall aim is to recover as quick as possible so that you can train harder sooner. Faster recovery means that you can train more often, and training more often would mean that you would make more improvements and therefore an enhanced performance. If you have a double day on your training plan, the most beneficial way of doing this would be to leave as much time as possible in-between each session so that you are fully recovered and getting maximum gains from each workout.

A good friend of mine told me a metaphor that I would like to share with you to finish of this post… Training improvements are like painting a fence (or wall). You paint a layer and then you wait for it to dry and repeat. Although the waiting period can be boring and annoying, it is quite important for the final product.

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