Which Recovery Strategy Works Best for Cyclists?

Cool Results

So what we have is a study that aimed to test the combined effects of both thigh compression and cooling, with the theory that the combination may work better than either independently. At least in theory, anyway, the compression is thought to increase the cooling capacity possible with the icing/coolant.

Did things play out? Did performance in the second TT improve, or at least not degrade as much, with one recovery modality? First off, remember that #4 and #5 conditions were in a separate study with different athletes so that, while the overall methodology remained similar, perfect cross-transfer of results isn't possible:

  • The initial TT was about 29:30 in Study #1 (Conditions 1-3) and just a shade over 29 minutes in Study #2 (Conditions 4-5).
  • In all of Conditions 1-4 (passive and all three conditions involving compression/cooling), the second TT was worse than the initial one. Comparing the first and second TTs, the time gaps were: 1) +52 seconds, 2) +22 seconds, 3) +42 seconds 4) +58 seconds
  • In contrast, with only active recovery of 80 W cycling (Condition 5), the second TT performance improved by 16 seconds.

Keeping in mind that the reliability of the 30 minute TT is pretty high and even small differences can be very significant in applied settings, and it is quite eye-catching that the only improvement was seen with active recovery alone. It is especially interesting that the second TT improved, rather than degrading as we'd expect.

Summary

This is one of the better cycling-specific studies that I have come across that focuses on recovery. It has cycling-relevant exercise, and also tested out a broad range of recovery methods encompassing the "traditional" methods of passive and active recovery.

From this study, anyway, the conclusion appears to be that active exercise at a very light intensity is the best method for recovery from hard efforts. Therefore, while compression and cooling strategies may have specific uses (e.g. after damaging your muscles or in very hot conditions), they are not necessarily a panacea for recovery from all types of training.

The good news is that recovery can actually be very simple, consisting of making sure you cool down properly after a hard workout. This can be done either on the road or on the trainer. However, the absolute key is to keep the intensity low and not make it a substitute workout.

Active logoPractice active recovery at a yoga class.

Stephen Cheung is a Canada Research Chair at Brock University, with a research specialization in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. He can be reached for comments at stephen@pezcyclingnews.com.

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References
De Pauw K, De Geus B, Roelands B, Lauwens F, Verschueren J, Heyman E, and Meeusen RR. Effect of five different recovery methods on repeated cycle performance. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2011;43(5):890-897.

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