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Recovery Sessions

Photo Credit: NAZ Elite via Instagram

I recently had a discussion with an athlete regarding their effort levels for a recovery run session. As an athlete who’s goal is to go fast, it can be difficult to grasp the notion that sometimes you need to go slow to go fast. We all have egos! Take a step back and look at the ultimate goal: go as fast as humanly possible on race day. In order to achieve this goal we need to get the most out of our key sessions. To do that we need to recovery properly and that means going easy when you’re supposed to. So, how easy should a prescribed recovery session be?

When and Why?

Recovery sessions are strategically placed within a microcycle and typically follow a high intensity or key session(s). Training easier on your recovery days will allow for better/stronger key sessions, promote soft tissue durability and of course recover for what’s to come. The unnecessary training stress caused by going too hard during recovery sessions decreases your adaptation during the micro, meso and ultimately macrocycle. If you can’t tap into your true potential in training because you’re more fatigued than planned, you’re limiting yourself on race day. Remember, we need to exceed the demands of racing in training.


Don’t necessarily just aim to run slow. Slow is a relative term and it can still be hard if you’re very fatigued. Run easy. If running slow doesn’t feel easy, you’re going too fast. Keep in mind that there’s a clear distinction between slow and easy. You need to be sure it feels easy. If you can’t speak complete paragraphs while you’re running, you need to slow down.


If you’re on the bike, aim for 90-95 RPM for your recovery sessions. If it’s a recovery run, count your left foot strikes for 15 seconds. Your goal is 22 or higher.


From an RPE-perspective, start a recovery session @ 1/10 and increase the effort as you feel. Do not exceed a 5/10 effort. If you go harder than that, you’ll probably be floating up into the Gray Zone (just under Z1). Gray Zone training is worthless because it isn’t easy enough to get the benefits of a recovery session and you aren’t going hard enough to elicit solid aerobic/anaerobic adaptation.

Wait, what zone?

Take a look back at your training log or TrainingPeaks account and ask yourself if you truly went easy during your recovery sessions. If you struggled, try simplifying your HR training zones. Having only four distinct HR zones makes it easier to stay on target. I prescribe my athletes just four HR training zones:

ZR (easy)

Z1 (aerobic/ironman effort)

Z2 (tempo/70.3 effort)

Z3 (time trial/best effort)


If you have a planned key session and you wake up feeling like you just don’t have it and need a day to recover, you need to ask yourself what you did wrong in the days or hours leading up to that session. What caused you to feel lethargic? Listening to your body is a good thing, but so is accountability. Did you get poor sleep the night before a key training session or big training weekend? Did you get sloppy with your fueling or daily nutrition? Did you chase a Strava segment during your recovery run or ride? Fix it. I understand that we have lives outside of sport and we all get sick. It happens. But, don’t reward yourself with an off day because you’re listening to your body when it says that you don’t have the energy to train due to your poor choices.

Adhere to your plan and keep it simple. Be honest with yourself, communicate with your coach and fix the problem while you’re still injury-free because consistency is king!

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