A Lesson Re-Learned

Recovery is a term used in exercise parlance to describe the process of taking a break from training to allow the body to rebuild tissues torn down during exercise. From Wikipedia:

Proper rest and recovery are as important to health as exercise; otherwise the body exists in a permanently injured state and will not improve or adapt adequately to the exercise. Hence, it is important to remember to allow adequate recovery between exercise sessions. It is necessary to refill the glycogen stores in the skeletal muscles and liver.

As transportational bicyclists, it’s easy to forget that we’re also exercising, sometimes to fairly high levels, over long periods, and with little to no recovery time. Back in the summer of 2008, I made the mistake of riding nearly every day for 4 months straight, the result of which was a bad case of tendonitis in my left knee and a 3-month stint off the bike to nurse the injury. The knee eventually healed, but more importantly, I learned a lesson: when those little aches and pains from riding everyday start up, it’s important to take a rest break to let the body heal before they turn into something major.

For various reasons, all unrelated to recovery, I was off the bike most of this week. Prior to this unplanned break, I had been riding nearly every day for a fairly long stretch. Yesterday, after being off the bike for the fourth day in a row, I noticed something; I was suddenly pain free. Pretty much all of my little aches and sore spots were gone. Prior to this epiphany, I wasn’t consciously aware of being in pain, but in retrospect, I was experiencing chronic, low grade soreness and discomfort resulting from riding many days in a row without a sustained break. How quickly we forget those hard-earned lessons!

Somehow I feel as if I dodged a bullet here. My aches, pains, and general fatigue could have very easily turned into a more serious injury if not for this week’s serendipitous break. The lesson re-learned is that our bodies don’t know the difference between riding a bike for training or riding a bike for transportation. Either way, we need to occasionally take a break to heal up and fully recharge our batteries.

12 Responses to “A Lesson Re-Learned”

  • bongobike says:

    That is so common in our “go, go, go” society. A product of the American Puritan work ethic perhaps? Anyhow, the same thing happens in gyms, where people workout excessively, even when they are sick. They spread their germs and make others sick. I stopped going to the gym because of that.

  • Randy says:

    Good reminder here, but I think there are some issues left out. First is proper bike fit, which many commuters don’t think is necessary because the are not racing. I see tons of cyclist riding around with their seat to low and to fear forward (which can cause knee problems) and with handle bars way to wide (which can cause neck and shoulder problems)
    In addition to bike fit, there is the use of the gears (or lack of). pushing to hard of a gear will definitely cause knee pain. I find that a surprising number of riders don’t understand how to use their gears to get the most out of their bike. there is a lot of information on the web that explains the use of gears, and that would make a great article for this site.
    Lastly, as you mentioned, you are still exercising, so don’t forget to warm up and warm down. Since you mentioned knee pain, one of the primary culprits is the IT bands. The IT’s get tight easy and are hard to stretch one they get bound up for a prolonged period of time. Tight IT bands cause the knee cap to track improperly (among other things) and this is one of the primary causes of knee pain and cartilage issues.

  • AJ says:

    One will always experience some level of pain during exercise; and when walking up stairs at work, occasionally, after a hard commute. Although some may disagree, taking too much time off will result in injury when firing-up again. I will take a day off from running and cycling about once every two weeks, and I run ~every other day. A day or two off is great, but too many people take too many days off resulting in injuries. Integrate exercise (e.g., human powered commuting, running, cycling) in to your lifestyle and the injuries seem to disappear. or, at least, are minimized.

    aj
    http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=289538783666

  • D'Arcy says:

    Riding every day I used to get stiffness in my knees and sore calves. My brother (an avid road bike rider) suggested I lighten up a bit and not be so aggressive. His quote: “you are only riding to work after all, not an olympic race.” I started using lower gears and I also had my local bike shop adjust my seating. The faster easier peddling with proper posture really helped my tired strained legs.

  • John_in_NH says:

    I was having a real problem with my previous bicycle using it to go to school and back 11mi round trip +4 more during the day. Every day for the fall semester, I was aching, and not just my back from carrying the backpack. My knees were feeling it quite a bit. I did ~1100 miles September through December and I knew right then and there my older mountain bike I had outfitted for commuting was not going to cut it.

    I got a Breezer Uptown 8 in January for many reasons, partially your review helped cement the choice but also because it had a better riding posture and enclosed chain case and internal hub…(and the list goes on). I started riding that for another ~700mi so far and I am still going strong, yes hills are still a workout but I take it easy and it’s usually ok. I was doing 75-85+ miles a week and so I was resting (or tried to) on the weekend, even if the weather was nice I didn’t go out. That helped a whole lot for sure. This summer I do about 25-35mi a week as my commute to the train station is a lot less, no problems at all!

    I think going slower and not rushing is the key, especially with heavier transport bicycles that really like going 10-13mph and not much faster. (although in fairness I got mine up to 38mph on a long downhill, man that was fun!!!)

  • Brian says:

    I have a job where I have to be in a different city on Wednesdays, and I always notice that I feel much more refreshed when I get back on the bike Thursday morning. As you said, commuting is like any other form of exercise, and you have to recover.

  • Billi says:

    I get my day off most sundays, after a week of commuting and a 40 mile ride on satuday. I agree rest is important, but if I’m off the bike for more than two days, it’s a struggle when I get back on. Everyone bodies and levels of exertion are different, so there’s no one right recovery thing for everyone. I have had weeks where I was riding multiple long rides during the week and had to take a rest day, due to fatigue and pain. Listen to your body. It’s hard for me sometimes, since When I don’t ride i get all antsy, and can’t sit still. I forget too, that I’m not 20 anymore (42) and I have some aches and pains and may not be able to push myself as hard as I did as a younger man. Gotta ride.

  • peteathome says:

    I use to commute 18 miles a day, and try to do it at a rapid pace. In addition to 35 mile recreational rides on the weekend with my bike club, tours, etc. I was averaging about 120 miles a week – year round. My calves and thighs were always sore and I often had other aches. I also think I did some neck damage by bad ergonomics.

    In recent years my job has gotten a lot closer and I now ride in a more “European” style, i.e., a lot slower. I also ride an upright bike. Now I’m only do 10 miles a day, 7 days a week, year round. But these are almost all transportational rides – going to work, picking up groceries, etc. And as I said, done slowly. No more aches or pains or anything else.

  • sb mike says:

    This is a great post and the great discussion is yet another reason why I love this blog. Great point by John_in_NH. A properly fit bike with the right carriers, NOT a backpack, can make a huge difference in not just riding comfort but also injury prevention. I was commuting with a backpack for about two weeks and couldn’t figure out why i was getting neck pains and head aches (i’m not too smart). All that changed once i got the proper gear. To restate the obvious, if you are going to commute often, then using the right gear is key.

    One more point I would add is good hydration. This might be obvious for summer riding but it is also important for winter riding as well. I find I have to drink about twice as much water to stay properly hydrated. When I don’t drink enough I feel tired and my muscles get sore.

  • Steve Butcher says:

    I echo your findings. I am a physician and realize the body has a remarkable ability to heal if only allowed the right opportunity. A good cyclist will properly maintain their vehicle to keep it running well and trouble free. The human body is no different. I saw a saying at a bed and breakfast we stayed at in Minnesota on vacation. It went something like this: “A field that is allowed to rest will yield a good crop”. Listening to those warning signs of pain should encourage one to take some time off and, in the long run, be a more efficient and sustainable cyclist.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Last spring I hurt my knees as a result of going on a 50mile ride on a “comfort bike,” and had to stop cycling completely for 3 weeks. The fact that such a thing could happen was a complete shock to me, as a then-beginner cyclst. But having gone through the experience, I will never ride an ill-fitting bike again or push myself beyond my limits again. 3 weeks off the bike is just not worht it.

  • Alan says:

    @LB!

    I hear you! Injuries can come right out of the blue and surprise you. I was out for three months with tendonitis, so be careful!

    Alan

 
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