Don't Be a Middle Man

Easy days should feel nothing like your hard days. Here's how to do each one right.

Dec 3, 2010
Outside Magazine
Mountain Biking

"The black hole is poison," says exercise scientist Carl Foster.    Photo: Uli Wiesmeier/Corbis

It's easy to unconsciously pick up the pace on recovery days, especially if you're a time-crunched athlete. But if the pace feels boring and uselessly slow, it's probably perfect. "It's almost physically impossible, unless you're a world-class marathoner, to run your long runs or recovery runs too slow," says Mikael Hanson, president of Enhance Sports, a multisport coaching outfit in New York City.

The pace for your long runs should be 1:30 to 2 minutes per mile slower than your 10K race pace, and your recovery runs should be even slower than that. Pick up the pace, even for a brief period, and you're just logging junk miles. One way to stay honest: Wear a warm-up suit—if you sweat, you're pushing too hard. You should finish feeling refreshed, not winded.
CYCLISTS: Do your 60-to-90-minute recovery rides in the small chainring, at 100-plus RPM. Don't worry about speed. Take in the view. If you're highly competitive, don't train with faster athletes on your recovery days.

If you don't push it hard enough during high-intensity training, you're probably going to hit a plateau. "You have to go into the uncomfortable zone," Hanson says.

RUNNERS: Do your high-intensity training and intervals at or over your 5K or 10K race pace. It should feel intensely hard, not "comfortably hard," in order to trigger your body to grow stronger. Follow up these killer workouts with a rest day or recovery day.
CYCLISTS: Do your intervals and loops at a higher intensity than your 40K race pace. You should feel worked. Take it really easy the next day.