Are Recovery Rides just as Important as Regular Training?

Many riders spend too much time on recovery training because they keep telling themselves (and everyone else) how important their recovery training is. They believe that recovery rides are just as important as regular training. I don’t agree. These riders are not aware of the difference between recovery rides and plain recovery.

Recovery rides are not as important as regular training. Recovery rides don’t improve your endurance significantly and they only slightly accelerate the recovery process. Regular training has a much higher, positive impact on your cycling performance.

What do you think will have the greatest impact on your performance: adding one hour of extra recovery training or one hour of extra endurance training?

If you had to reduce your training time by one hour per week, which training session would be the most critical to miss? Probably not the recovery ride…

So my conclusion is that recovery rides are NOT as important as regular training, although I must emphasize that the recovery process (not recovery rides) is a cornerstone of high quality training principles.

How can you optimize your recovery rides?

Reduce training time
Most cyclists spend too much time on their recovery rides. I believe a single recovery ride should never last more than 10% of your total weekly training amount. Thus if you train about for about 10 hours per week, your recovery rides should never last longer than one hour. It does not make sense to spend more time on recovery rides since these rides reflect the previous training you are recovering from.

If you want to get the most out of the time you train, you should consider eliminating your recovery rides. It will be much better for you to ride for an extra hour another day.

As previously mentioned, one of my riders made it to the national team with only nine hours’ super-effective training per week. He would never have been able to that if he did recovery rides of 1-2hrs. Due to limited time, we decided to skip every single recovery ride. Instead, he had two or three days per week without training. These days without training were spent recovering from highly effective interval training (and had plenty of time for his education).

That is just one example and proof that even elite athletes can perform great without recovery training. If your time is limited, it’s worthwhile considering whether you should change your strategy.

Wear a heart rate monitor
The best way to make sure the intensity does not get too high is to wear a heart rate monitor. Keep your target heart rate at around 60% of your maximum heart rate. That should do the job. Light exercise increases circulation and helps you to speed up the recovery process. There will not be a miracle overnight but it’s better than nothing. I know that many of you already use a heart rate monitor, so take this tip as a reminder.

Train other skills
When training time and intensity are reduced, it gives you an opportunity to use recovery training to learn other skills. You could easily add some technical training to your recovery ride without reducing the quality of your recovery training. It is free, fun and is the type of extra training that will boost your overall performance. If you have a mountain bike, you can learn several technical tricks while you are performing your recovery training.

7 comments… add one
  • Fredrik Nystedt Link

    I also believe that recovery rides are quite pointless for the “recreational” cyclist, training 6-9 h a week. It is much better to recover by doing e.g. core work or flexibility training. Junk miles are not time effective when balancing work, family and training…

  • michael byrnes Link

    When looking at power zones and time spent in each zone during a ride, is it important to look at the total ride in average watts or percentage of time in each zone, recovery, endurance, threshold, race pace, max and supra max?

  • Jim Scott Link

    @Michael: It all depends on what your goals for the certain workout was. If you wanted a recovery ride, you would look at the overall average for the ride. If you wanted a Threshold ride, you would look at only the specific intervals during that ride.


  • Michael Byrnes Link

    It is my belief, at least for myself only, that I need a balance of training and a good mix of techniques, riding envirnoments, styles, terrain and so forth for this time of year. Dec-March.
    Training on a trainer is great for awhile, but as we all know, it is hard to stay focused after awhile, so , with that said, spin class, computrain( which is the absolute best, in my opinion keep in mind), cross trail riding, single track, and road all provide various beneficial cardiovascular responses and improvements.
    As long as you set aside at least 2 days a week that for more than lame efforts, in other words, pushing yourself into a Zone 3 with some time spent in Zone 4. Personally, I get lazy and my body likes the
    easy spin, recovery rides, but I am not riding for a living every day, so the changes of me overtraining in 10 hours a week are less than the guy putting 6 hours a day in the saddle.
    The zone 2 rides are important and there are days I just want to do the easy ones, but in racing, you push past the limits, so you need to spend some time there as the season approaches, and after, you feel great. Lets ride!

  • Nick Link

    You are completely wrong

    Recovery rides are better than adding an hour

    quality not quantity my friend

  • Steven Link

    You are wrong. Recovery rides are an important aspect of cycle training.

    HRM is not the ‘best’ way to monitor intesity. It is one way and power meters for example offer many advantages over HRM (they come with disadvantages also including cost.

    A poor article with errors and alot of opinion instead of facts.

  • @Steven – I’m afraid you didn’t get the main point with this article. Maybe I wasn’t clear enough. You should read this article from a point of time effectiveness.
    If you had to reduce your training time by one hour per week, which training session would be the most critical to miss? Your recovery session or your interval session?

    If you have plenty of time and do all other aspects of your training right, you’ll clearly benefit from recovery training.

    For recovery training wearing a heart rate monitor is more than enough. I agree that a power meter is a great training tool and if you take a look around on this website, you’ll see that I recommend training based on power output again and again.


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