While the "work hard, play hard" philosophy may be a great approach to striking a work-life balance, the motto cyclists and all athletes should subscribe to leans more towards a "work hard, rest harder" philosophy. Many recovery strategies have been suggested and adopted, but how well do they work for recovering between hard training bouts?
Take it Easy
It's one of the most basic principle in the entire wide world of training, but also the one that is most often broken by athletes. While it's the easiest thing in the world to train hard, resting adequately is possibly the most difficult and challenging obstacle for athletes to overcome.
Most of us ride our bikes because we love to ride our bikes, and a lot of that love comes from riding hard and feeling that effort soak into our bodies. In some ways, the highs from cycling come not just from the act of bicycling, but from the act of pushing ourselves. Therefore, one of the hardest things for "serious" cyclists to do is to rest and recover adequately. Going easy just seems like the complete antithesis of cycling, and we often go too hard on our easy days to make them true recovery days.
Why go for easy rides at all or focus on recovery strategies? Training is all about stressing your body with hard workouts, and then letting your body adapt to that load. If you do not allow your body to recover and adapt to the training load you've imposed on it, you simply will not be able to train and stress your body as hard the next workout. Do that over the course of a season, and it should be obvious that lack of proper recovery is often what sets many of us back from our potential.
I have been quite guilty of this myself through the years. So now, when I schedule easy days during my 17K commute to university, I'll often play a game of trying to keep the average wattage under a certain threshold. Or alternately, I'll make a game of trying to get the ride done with as few kilojoules of work as possible.
OK, so it's important to recover from our training. But that doesn't mean just putting our feet up on the couch and letting nature do its thing or else noodling around on the bike, right? Surely there must be some way to accelerate the process?
The idea of accelerating recovery has obsessed athletes and sport scientists through the ages. The traditional methods have revolved around either passive rest, or else to do light exercise as a form of active recovery. The idea behind active recovery is generally to keep blood flowing through the muscles in order to flush out metabolic waste products.