Whether training or stage racing, recovery is the name of the game. Many tools and tricks have been used to maximize recovery, including the chilly prospect of cold-water immersion. But does a post-ride dip really help with cycling recovery?
Those Who Recover Fastest, Ride the Fastest
One of the fascinations with stage racing is the riders' ability to hammer themselves into the ground, then wake up and do it all over again the next day. Of course, recovery back to 100-percent is almost impossible (except during the darkest days of the doping era), and the signs of weakness and lack of recovery in this year's Tour has been suggested as evidence of a cleaner sport.
When it comes to training, the hard-efforts on the bike are only half of the equation. Without adequate recovery, fitness will never be achieved. Putting in more hard efforts before your body has had time to recover from the previous training session can be detrimental and lead to training stress. Even worse, a continued lack of recovery will either stagnate your training or degenerate into non-functional over-reaching (NFOR) or full-blown overtraining syndrome (OTS).
One of the fashionable recovery methods among professional athletes is that of cold-water immersion (CWI). The basic premise is that like icing an injury, CWI will minimize swelling and inflammation in the muscles post-exercise, along with providing an analgesic (painkilling) effect.
The use of CWI first became popular with impact sport athletes such as football, rugby and soccer. But it has become increasingly common in cycling, with teams like Omega-Pharma Quick-Step adopting the practice years ago. The big scientific question is whether there is actual ergogenic benefit for cyclists.
The evidence to date is equivocal about any benefit for cyclists. Most studies rely on employing plyometric jumping, high-impact sports (e.g. downhill running), or heavy weight lifting (e.g. eccentric contractions such as lowering a very heavy weight) to test the effects of heavy muscle damage. Not only is this unrealistic when compared to the action of pedaling a bike, but the damage is generally way beyond anything that would be experienced by cyclists.