The duration of the recovery following a high-intensity interval or effort can be a confusing topic. You’ll often read that the recovery ratio must be at least 1:1 or 1:2, and this is what most indoor cycling programs teach. There is nothing wrong with that but it doesn’t paint the entire picture. There are several scenarios where this recovery ratio might not be valid.
ICA member Tracy specifically asks if recoveries that are not long enough are OK to do in a Spinning class:
I’ve been to classes by an instructor who I am pretty sure teaches correctly…or at least I thought so! She’s an outside rider. But sometimes she doesn’t give the class a lot of recovery in between efforts. Some are intervals, some are in a hilly ride, but sometimes it seems like it’s not enough time to recover before she pushes everyone to go hard again. She calls them “incomplete recoveries.” Are these safe? I thought the recovery was supposed to be long enough so you can go hard again? Am I missing something?
This fabulous question makes me realize that it’s time we give ICA members some more information on recommended recovery durations between intervals and their purpose. You can expect that article in the next few weeks, but we do have several articles in our archives that tackle recovery, including this very informative article by Tom Scotto that explains why sufficient recovery is necessary if you want to improve performance.
One thing Tom’s article doesn’t cover, however, is the exceptions…because as with almost everything in life, sport, and exercise, there are exceptions!
As for Tracy’s specific question, the short answer is—and forgive me for this—it depends!
Yes, it depends on so many factors, which I’ll discuss below. However, without knowing more about this specific class she was describing, or about how often this instructor uses incomplete recoveries, I can’t properly critique the class or her coaching. It all depends on the objective she had for that particular class, and most importantly, how often she does this. If she teaches like this all the time, then her riders are missing out on opportunities to improve their performance. Don’t let the word “performance” scare you away if you don’t have any cyclists in your class…performance isn’t just for “serious” cyclists…it also translates to improved fitness for the general population who want to burn more calories.
But if this class is a simulation of a race or other outdoor scenario, or she coaches likes this just a few times a month, then I would probably really enjoy her classes!
Let’s talk about when and why incomplete recoveries might be warranted.