I use short songs in my profiles all the time, especially shorter songs that are good for recovery or easier segments between hard efforts. Every instructor should have a large pool of short recovery songs. There doesn’t exist (correction: there shouldn’t exist!) a profile that doesn’t have a need for a mental and physical break somewhere in the profile—except perhaps a steady-state, endurance-intensity training session.
Over the years I’ve noticed that I tend to gravitate to the same couple of short songs again and again. One song I’ve used way more than any other is “Intro” by The xx. It’s an instrumental that is 2:07. It’s perfect for recovery, with an energy that makes you want to breathe and relax, but not so low energy that you want to shut down.
I’m always on the search for more great recovery songs and have been collecting them for a long time. I’ve got almost 3,000 (and I add more weekly), and now it’s time to share them with all my ICA members.
What makes a good recovery song (besides the length)? Here are some of the characteristics I look for. Keep in mind that my profile objective determines what kind of song I’ll end up using.
- Low to moderate energy. This is profile-dependent. There are times when you really want riders to chill and completely recover in Zone 1 (easy), and other times when a little pep to the song is OK as they recover a bit more actively in Zone 2 (somewhat easy). You can accomplish this with the song you select. For any recovery, avoid high-energy songs that keep heart rates elevated.
- Even when I ride to the beat during the work portion of the profile, I allow riders to find whatever cadence they prefer during recovery that allows them to lower their heart rates. Nevertheless, I still usually prefer to find songs that encourage a cadence of mid-70s to about 90 rpm. This would include songs above 140-ish bpm.
- However, there are some great songs that have a bpm of 95–115 that I don’t hesitate to use for recovery. The song “Intro” by The xx that I mentioned above is 101 bpm. I don’t want my riders to try to pedal that fast if the goal is to bring the heart rate down, but the energy of the song is such that it’s easy to dissociate from the beat. On the other end of the beat spectrum, there is the occasional song with a bpm in the 120–140 range that still works for recovery.
- I avoid songs with a heavy beat, especially if it’s a beat that encourages a slower cadence (Remember, though, the first goal of recovery its to drop the heart rate and lower the breathing rate. If a rider must pedal slow to do that—then that’s fine. Once they get their intensity down and breathing under control, I encourage them to raise their cadence above 70–75 rpm.)
During a recovery your focus is not on how much work you can put out and instead is on lowering your heart rate and getting your breath under control; often riders are not quite as focused on how the music motivates them to pedal. For this reason, recovery is a good time to experiment with different tracks or genres you might not normally use. Sometimes I like to do a theme for my recovery songs. Some examples of themes are all female singers, songs from a decade (like ’70s or ’80s), a genre I might not typically use (like country or classical), funny songs (hey—you want to get their minds off the effort anyway, right?!), songs from TV shows or movies, global music or international songs, or all songs from one group or album. For example, I’ve used all recovery songs in one profile from The Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elvis Costello, The Beatles, Daft Punk from the Tron Legacy album (trust me on this one—these are great recovery tracks!), and more.
There are even times when you can use the same song for recovery within one profile. This works especially well if it’s an instrumental. I’ve done that with “Intro” by The xx. I promise you, no one will complain if it’s a good track. It’s like Pavlov’s dog; when they hear that song, they know it’s time to ease up and prepare for the next effort.
I have broken these two bucket playlists into short recovery songs less than 3:15 and songs that are 3:16 and longer. For most interval classes, you’ll want recovery songs that are around 2–3 minutes. But there are definitely times where you want a longer recovery, especially between sets. For example, you may do three sets of three 2-minute high-intensity intervals in Zone 5 with a 2-minute RBI (recovery between interval) in Zone 1, but between each set, you recover for 4 minutes. Between longer threshold intervals, your recovery may be 5 minutes long.
When you have a large bucket list for your recovery tracks, it makes selecting tracks so much easier. My two bucket playlists are currently over 3,000 songs and growing. Here is how you use these playlists for your profiles…
When it’s time to select a recovery song for your profile, go into one of these bucket playlists and sort them by length (by clicking on the column header for length). Then start searching for a song around the length you need that feels like it goes with the profile and other songs in the playlist. If you need a song that is about 3 minutes, it’s OK to check the songs that are around 2:45 to about 3:15 or so.
Typically, I allow my recovery songs to get a little bit longer toward the end of my interval sets. They may start at 2:30, but for the recovery before the final hard interval, it maybe be up to 3:00 or a bit longer. If your interval profile is well-planned at the right intensity, and you coach your riders to achieve that desired intensity, you should never hear anyone complain about recoveries that are too long again. If they do, it means they didn’t go hard enough. If this is the case, then stand next to them and have them work harder for your next interval.
ICA Bucket Playlists for Recovery (~5,000 songs)
We have 3 large playlists below provided in both Spotify and Apple Music. One is short songs ranging from 30 seconds to 3:15, the second is longer recovery songs over 3:15, and the third is a collection of albums (mostly instrumental) with shorter songs. I include the albums because sometimes I want all of my recovery songs to come from the same artist or at least sound similar.
A note about our Apple Music playlists: I use the program Soundiiz.com to convert my playlists from Spotify to Apple Music. Without this software, I couldn’t imagine transferring thousands of songs to a new playlist manually—yay for technology! Yay for you Apple Music users! But there are two problems… First, not all the songs are available in Apple Music—the playlists below range from 93–97% available. Second, the Apple playlists won’t be automatically updated when I add new songs to my Spotify playlists (which I do frequently). Instead, I have to manually add the songs or reconvert the Spotify playlist to Apple Music every now and then. I’ve noted the date of the last conversion next to the Apple Music playlists below, but if you see the date and it hasn’t been done in awhile and you want the most recent version, please email me at email@example.com and remind me!
Learn more about recovery: the why and the when.
I have two live training sessions I did on Facebook Live on the topic of recovery. I hope you’ll watch them. The first one is on the importance of recovery in a training session. The second one is on music and cadence choices during recovery and includes a 12-page handbook on recovery. This post introduces two of the playlists posted below, but back when I only had 500 songs in them; now there are about ten times that amount!