Effect of recovery interventions on cycling performance and pacing strategy in the heat. Recovery in cyclists

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SøernesFysioterapi.dk. 2. Physioblog Andreas Bjerregaard 3.Søernesfysioterapi

Effect of recovery interventions on cycling performance and pacing strategy in the heat. Recovery in cyclists


The purpose with this study was to determine the effect of active recovery (AR), passive rest (PR) and cold water immersion (CWI) after 90 min intensive cycling on a subsequent 12 min time-trial (TT2) and the applied pacing strategy in TT2.

9 trained male performed 3 experimental trials in the heat (30°C).
Each trial consisted of two exercise tasks separated by 1h.

  • The first was a 60min constant load trial at 55% of the maximal power output (Wmax) followed by a 30 min time trial (TT1).
  • The second comprised a 12 min simulated time trial (TT2). After TT1 AR, PR or CWI was applied for 15min.

The results are twofold. First, no significant differences in TT1 and TT2 performance were found between interventions. Second, a one sample t test revealed an altered pacing strategy during TT2 after the three different post-exercise recovery interventions. Overall performance times and average power outputs during TT1 and TT2 no significant differences were observed.

  • Cold water immersion showed an even pacing strategy, whereas AR and PR showed significantly lower power outputs in the middle part of exercise compared to the starting resistance.
  • After AR subjects significantly decreased the power output in segments. Passive rest showed significantly lower power outputs in segments.
Skærmbillede 2015-12-06 kl. 12.33.24
Figure 1 – The average power output during the self-paced TT2 (AR: active recovery, CWI: cold water immersion, PR: passive rest, *, #: significant difference between the 5 percent segments and the starting resistance of the AR and PR group respectively)

It is noteworthy that CWI and AR tended to accelerate [BLa] removal during recovery, but during TT2 significantly higher blood lactate were only observed after CWI compared to passive recovery. After 5 min of CWI and AR [BLa] decreased by 20% and 16% respectively compared to 6% during PR.

Skærmbillede 2015-12-06 kl. 12.39.56Further results showed that:

Heart Rate HR: During active recovery, heart rate HR significantly increased compared with CWI and PR at 5, 10 and 15 min of recovery. During CWI there was a tendency towards lower HR compared with AR and PR, but only one significant difference was observed compared with PR at 10 min. It seems that HR rapidly decreased after AR, although there was still a significant difference between AR and CWI at the 10 min of the rest period. Additionally a significantly higher HR after PR compared with CWI at the 20 min of rest was observed. The CWI group sustained lower HR at the start of TT2 compared with AR and PR and at the 3 min of TT2 compared with AR.

Thermal Stress: Thermal stress significantly reduced during CWI compared with AR and PR. No significant differences were observed regarding fluid intake, but the loss of body mass during the entire protocol, corrected for fluid intake, was significantly lower in the CWI group  compared to AR and PR.

The rectal temperature decreased during 15 min of PR, AR and CWI.


In conclusion, the results of the present study showed no significant performance difference during a 12 minute time trial after CWI, AR or PR. On the other hand the pacing strategy during TT2 differed. CWI resulted in an even pacing strategy, whereas after AR and PR subjects immediately decreased the power output. This indicates that after CWI, subjects appear able to resist decreasing the power output. Presumably the decreased thermal strain observed after CWI is responsible for this finding.

When translating the results of the current study to the field of cycling subtle differences between laboratory and outdoor cycling must be considered. Outdoor cycling causes increased air movement around the athlete which results in faster heat dissipation by evaporation and convection.

Therefore it is advised to pretest recovery interventions prior to competition. CWI is an effective method to rapidly reduce core temperature, but due to logistical limitations ice baths are less implemented in the field. Less logistically challenging cooling methods, such as cooled towels, cooling garments and vests, and ice-slush beverages are more suitable in competition or field settings.


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