soothing massage

What’s the most important part of any training plan? The recovery periods.

For a training plan to be worthwhile, it needs to allow time for recovery. Otherwise all your hard work won’t matter.

Typically, training will be done in four-week cycles where there are three weeks of hard riding (with 3-4 hard days per week,) followed by a recovery week, where training volume and/or intensity are reduced.

But aside from less riding, how do you get the most out of your recovery week?

Here are 10 ideas:

1. Massage

There’s nothing better for sore, aching muscles than a professional massage. (Beer is a close second, though.)

Massage provides tons of recovery benefits. It will increase blood flow to your muscles, giving them fresh oxygen and flushing out any byproducts of exercise. It will relieve muscle cramps and spasms, not to mention stress and tension.

Massage is also good for treating any nagging injuries, as it reduces the build-up of scar tissue inside your body.

A professional massage could easily cost $50-90 per hour, and although it’s worth it, there are a couple budget options: a hand-held massager like the Moji 360 Mini, or a roller like the TriggerPoint Grid or MuscleTrac. (You have to hold/move them yourself, and it’s not very fun or luxurious, but your muscles will still feel better afterward.)

2. Soothing Creams and Gels

tiger balm

If you can’t afford a professional massage every day, and you don’t feel like doing self-massage, here’s an idea – spread some gel on your legs and let it do the work for you!

You can get some pain-relieving gel and rub that into your legs, which should provide a nice warming or tingling sensation.

I use Topricin if I’m injured, and RockSauce if I want a hot, tingly sensation, but there are a number of other products such as Tiger Balm and Flex All and Salonpas, plus specialty products for cyclists from companies such as Freddy’s Choice, Elite Ozone, and Qoleum.

3. Hydration

This is free and easy – keep yourself hydrated! Keeping your body properly hydrated ensures that your body can perform all the tasks necessary to help you recovery, as well as flush out any build-up of toxins from intense riding.

I personally try to drink three cups of green or white tea per day during recovery periods, along with plenty of water. You won’t need sports drinks packed with sugar and electrolytes, but you do want nutrients, which is why I favor home-brewed tea.

4. Sleep

Duh! Sleep is the ultimate recovery tool. Getting enough sleep every night is a good idea, but it’s especially important during recovery weeks.

While you sleep, your body restores itself and performs vital actions that don’t happen when you’re awake, so don’t skip sleep. That means going to bed early enough that you can sleep until you are ready to get up (as opposed to getting up when the alarm clock says to.)

5. Stretching and Flexibility

relaxing yoga

Since your riding time is cut back, now is a good time to work on your flexibility. Enhanced flexibility means less pain and a more aerodynamic position on the bike. Just two or three 20-minute yoga practices or stretching sessions this week will really improve your riding.

I do yoga and stretching routines (such as those in Element’s Hatha and Flow Yoga) every week, but I like to focus on them even more during recovery weeks so that my body stays loose and supple and my mind stays relaxed.

6. Relaxation

Speaking of relaxing… extra sleep, massages, and green tea only go so far – if your recovery week is full of stress, it’s not a recovery week!

This is one week where you really want to avoid stressful situations and “go with the flow.”

7. Recovery Rides

Yes, you still have to ride during recovery weeks! (You could do a “rest week” on occasion, with no riding, but that’s not what we’re talking about today…)

You’ll want to go out and spin on a flat road or on your rollers, keeping your cadence high and your heart rate low. The length of the ride could range from 15 minutes on the rollers to an hour outside on flat roads.

The point is to get your blood flowing and circulating through your body. You don’t want your legs to get stale!

8. Proper Nutrition

While it might be OK to sneak in a little junk food, you should load up on healthy foods during a recovery week. You want a variety of nutrients, so eat a variety of healthy foods to give your body what it needs to rebuild itself.

Obviously, start with plenty of fruits and vegetables (which you could get from Greens Plus powder, or as pizza toppings, even.) Then throw in some whole grains, perhaps from oatmeal or a quinoa-based salad. And top it off with some quality proteins and healthy fats; I’m a big fan of natural peanut butter and chia seeds for this.

9. A Good Book

If you get sick of planning race strategies and dealing with travel logistics, relax your mind by taking a little mental break from the bike.

To do this, I like to read an enjoyable book. It could be anything that interests you (lately I’ve become a huge fan of Michael Connelly’s novels,) just NOT something about setting up a training plan or interval workouts!

10. An Action/Adventure Movie

After you finish the book, get back into gear by capping off the recovery week with an intense, action-packed movie. This will get your mind back in the game and get you motivated!

You could try a classic cycling flick like RAD or Breaking Away for the emotion and triumph, or something more adventurous, with more fight scenes, like Blade: Trinity.


Just don’t pamper yourself too much, because the hard riding will be back on your schedule before you know it!


Photo credits: frankh and austinevan

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1 Comment
  1. Thank you for this post! I didn’t reallize just how much thought goes into recovery time when you aren’t exercising!

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