In my last article entitle “Make Recovery Work” we looked at how we as instructors can efficiently use recovery time to our advantage.  Two of the main points were to use recovery as a time to provide instruction to prepare our riders for what is ahead and as a way to administer the “Recovery Litmus Test”.  The biggest question that was prompted by the article was “so how long should recovery be?”.

An Excellent Question!

Not only and excellent question, but the right question.  The subject of recovery ranks high on my “ticked off” list as an area needing much education and improvement.  This is not just an indoor cycling issue, it is a dilemma I”™ve seen in training as a whole.  We live in a world of the 1-hour training block.  To take it a step further, we are constantly asking (or being asked) “HOW MUCH can we jam into 60 minutes”.  Well, as depends.

You Can”™t Fake Reality

Many of us have experienced those indoor cycling classes where the instructor yells “GO!” within the first 2 minutes of the start of class and continues to pour on the intensity until the hour is up. down the bike time is also reduced to barely 2 minutes.  The goal is to “maximize” our class and our workout — squeeze the hour for what it”™s worth.  What an absolute waste of a class AND a bad sales practice (what?).

Instructors and riders alike often think that if you push hard through the entire class you will gain more fitness and lose more weight (the sales pitch).  Because many have bought into this misconception, insane indoor cycling classes are still the rage (pun intended).  Enter REALITY!  The (physiological) reality is that most riders are not going to be able to hold 80-90% for an entire hour. One to 3 minutes is more like it.  And then what happens?  Their intensity decreases and decreases as their muscles continue to fatigue while their mental toughness dwindles.  After 10 minutes of this insanity (being ridiculously generous), riders are reduced to 70% of their ability.  The real fake out here is that the rider “perceives” that they are still working at 90+%.  This is where having a power meter on your bike can sprinkle a does of the real world.

Top Performance Requires Adequate Recovery

Top performance is not just for the pros.  It simply means to work at the best level of intensity for the given drill or effort.  For example, if an interval requires that we maintain 80% of our ability for 5 minutes, maintaining only 70% will not provide the needed stress and will not yield the desired benefit.  The sad part is, without recovery, our riders will never know they are getting gypped out of fitness.  To them it stills feels like (is perceived as) a hard 80% effort.

Due to the time constraints (and lack of attention span of some riders), providing the same amount of recovery indoors, as we would when riding outdoors, may be unrealistic.  But that doesn”™t mean we throw out the baby with the bath water.  For example, it may be ideal to provide 5 minutes of recovery after a hard 2 minute interval. In an indoor class, recovering for that long may cause riders to mentally tune out.  Remember, we are trying to adhere to the best practices of exercise science, but not everyone in our classes are elite level athletes.  So what do we provide? Considering the indoor environment and our demographic, 3 minutes to recovery can work.  Let me provide some guidelines that may allow you to make better decisions.  Keep in mind these are just “guidelines” and there are numerous variables.

I”™ll break these down by using the common cycling zones 1 to 5:

This IS recovery so one should not need to recover from recovery 🙂

ZONE 2 — ENDURANCE (RPE 3-4 or Fairly Light):
Endurance efforts can generally be held for longer times (1 hour +).  In many cases, providing 1-2 minutes of recovery after an 8-20 minute steady-state endurance effort may provide more “mental” recovery than physical.

ZONE 3 — AEROBIC FITNESS (RPE 5-6 or Moderate):
Although aerobic fitness efforts can be sustained for 6 — 10 minutes by some, they can be considered very challenging for beginner and intermediate level riders.  Depending on your class demographic, I would provide 1 — 2+ minutes of recovery depending on the length of the effort.  If the duration of the effort is less than 3 minutes, 1 minute of recovery may be suitable.

ZONE 4 — SUB-THRESHOLD (RPE 7-8 or Hard):
Even though some fit outdoor riders can sustain this level of intensity for much longer, indoors these efforts are generally from 4 to 6 minutes in length and could require 2 — 4+ minutes of recovery respectively.

ZONE 5 — CAPACITY (RPE 9-10 or Extremely Hard):
These efforts can range from 30-second explosive sprints to 2+ minute anaerobic endurance efforts.  If a rider is “truly” working at capacity, 3-5+ minutes of recovery should be well received.

Like most things that involve both the human body and science, there are many variables and options.  One of them is Tabata training.  In general, Tabata training provides a shortening (starving) of recovery between high intensity efforts to increase aerobic fitness and stamina.  This type of training is best maximized by those with a higher level of fitness and should be “seasoned” into our training and not BE our training.  And DON”T use Tabata training as an excuse to provide inadequate recovery in all of your classes.  I WILL find you.

So as you can tell by my emotional state while writing this article, I”™ve got issues surrounding this topic.  Over the last 15+ years of coaching, I”™ve seen numerous riders put at risk from over-reaching and over-training, as well as, a general loss of fitness.  The biggest shame is that people don”™t get to the fitness level they could achieve because they are working to hard to much of the time.

Give your riders Quality Training!  Give your class the Real Thing!

Originally posted 2011-10-27 11:35:42.

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