So you’re a triathlete who occasionally does 2 hard workouts in a day, or you’re a cyclist doing a stage race with 2 races in a single day. What should you do after the first workout or race to make sure you’re ready for a good performance in the second? Well, you came to the right place. I just read a brand-new study that answers this question.
In this Vrije University (Brussels) research a group of well-trained cyclists (average VO2max of 56.9 +/-3.8 ml/kg/min) did 2 maximum-effort time trials separated by 2 hours on different occasions . During the 2 hours of recovery, for the first 20 minutes, they did one of the following and then rested passively for 100 minutes before getting back on the bike for the second time trial:
- Passive recovery,
- Combined leg compression and cooling (0⁰ C),
- Combined leg compression and cooling that wasn’t quite as cold (10⁰ C),
- Cycled at 80 watts with combined compression and cooling (0⁰ C),
- Cycled at 80 watts (active recovery).
Performance in the second time trial decreased from that of the first in each of the initial 4 recovery methods above. Only the last method – active recovery – resulted in a better performance in the second test. (I should point out that I am aware of one other study that found no difference in 20-minute cycling performance tests separated by 15 minutes of either passive rest or active recovery . But the duration of the recovery may have been too short to be effective regardless of the recovery method.)
What this means is that probably the best thing you can do immediately following the first hard effort of the day is to cool down at a very low intensity and then rest prior to doing the second. Note that 80w is a very low power output for cyclists with a VO2max of about 60. This is undoubtedly less than 50% of VO2max which probably puts it at less than 60% of max heart rate. (Please note that max heart rate is specific to the sport. MHR is typically higher for running than for cycling which is generally higher than the MHR for swimming.)
It also raises questions about compression clothing and icing for recovery. Of course, it may be that had compression garments and/or icing been done for longer than 20 minutes there may have been a benefit resulting in a better performance. And it’s strange that active recovery with compression and cooling (“d” above) was not as effective as active recovery alone (“e”). So there are several issues that stand out as needing follow up.
Nevertheless, it appears that finishing the first workout with a very easy cool down may well be the best thing you can do to be prepared for going hard again later in the day.
- DE Pauw K, DE Geus B, Roelands B, Lauwens F, Verschueren J, Heyman E, Meeusen RR. 2011. Effect of five different recovery methods on repeated cycle performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 43(5):890-7.
- McAinch AJ, Febbraio MA, Parkin JM, Zhao S, Tangalakis K, Stojanovska L, Carey MF. 2004. Effect of active versus passive recovery on metabolism and performance during subsequent exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 14(2):185-96.