Active recovery (AC) rides aren’t about training, they’re about recovering. How do you ensure you’re recovering on an AC ride? Here are a few basics.
- Don’t ride hard. Typically this means riding with no pressure on the pedals. Remember we’re not trying to introduce a training stimulus, we’re aiming to promote recovery.
- Don’t ride for long. Active recovery rides shouldn’t generate any fatigue. For most people, this means keeping them short, around one hour max.
Less is more
The higher percentage of your ride you’re able to accumulate in the “Recovery” bin, the better.
Realy easy, really short. These two guidelines define our active recovery rides. Usually about 45 minutes total, while keeping power output on the bike firmly in the Zone 1 range. If you’re riding so slowly, for such a short amount of time, does it even matter if you ride or not?
Zone 1 Rides
Active recovery rides should be really, really easy, and short.
The short answer is we don’t really know  . Active recovery may offer a benefit by reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) but beyond that, it’s up for debate.
What that means in a practical sense is that doing an easy ride, or taking the day completely off the bike are both probably fine choices.
Do you enjoy easy recovery day rides? Do these types of rides leave you feeling refreshed and reenergized after hard blocks of training? Then head out for a light spin.
On the other hand, there’s a strong case to be made that if you would prefer to sit around on the couch, or invest in the various training systems in your life (organization, bike maintenance, extra family support, etc), then skipping the recovery ride altogether might have a larger benefit on your overall cycling progress.
In short, active recovery rides aren’t critical by any means. If you’ve found them to be helpful, go for it. If you prefer to spend the day completely off the bike, investing in another area of life then do that.
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Energy System Target
While active recovery rides utilize the oxidative energy system, we wouldn’t expect them to offer any meaningful training stimulus.
Active recovery days are the best days to restrict calories/carbohydrate. If your training plan includes trying to improve your body composition, the surest way to continue to make gains in your cycling fitness, while simultaneously improving your body composition, is to use active recovery days to turn the screws on your overall caloric intake, more specifically your carbohydrate intake.
Screen for Active Recovery rides
Pacing on a recovery ride is generally pretty strait forward. Don’t ride hard. If you find yourself constantly pushing the pace on a recovery ride you might be best served by placing an alarm on your cycling computer to beep when you go above your Active Recovery training zone.
If you still can’t rein in your pace, you might be best served by not doing recovery rides at all, and using some discipline to stay home rather than get wrapped up in riding too hard when you’re supposed to be recovering.
Chose the recovery day strategy that most reduces overall life RPE. Do you have other details to attend to that will help reduce overall stress? Skip the bike. Does a light spin on the bike help to destress your overall day? Make that choice.
- Richard, N.A. and M.S. Koehle, Optimizing recovery to support multi-evening cycling competition performance. Eur J Sport Sci, 2019. 19(6): p. 811-823.
- Dupuy, O., et al., An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis. Front Physiol, 2018. 9.