Active Recovery Workout

Active Recovery Workout

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by Melanie McQuaid, professional triathlete

This active recovery workout is one of my favorites. I like to use this protocol on an easy day or after a hard run workout to find my legs again on the bike. I find that the technique drills are key to reminding my body to recruit the right muscles for cycling, especially when I am switching from running to cycling constantly.

I like doing this particular workout on the rollers or on a PowerBeam. For beginners, the PowerBeam makes the one leg drills a lot less sketchy and for those who don't have a road bike, riding the rollers on a time trial bike is much less comfortable than it would be more upright on a road bike. Use the training equipment you prefer as the idea is to do this comfortably, at fairly low watts and focus instead on your pedaling technique and body position.

The first drills are one-leg drills where you clip out on one side and pedal with one leg. These help you feel the dead spots in your pedal stroke.  Focusing on smoothing out your pedaling - particularly at the bottom of your pedal stroke - will make you more efficient and ultimately stronger. Time trialing can create inefficient pedal stroke mechanics so these recovery workouts are a good time to address that weakness.

Cadence drills also improve pedaling efficiency but also allow you to flush the legs after a hard workout. The high cadence will get your heart rate up but if you do it under a very small load you will find you can recover faster. There should not be added fatigue from this workout if you do it under a very small load and at a cadence that is comfortably challenging. Working on riding at higher cadences makes lower cadences feel much easier and that skill can make you faster. Ensuring your upper body stays loose and still for even the highest cadences is your challenge for this part of the workout.

Mel's Recovery Spin

10 minutes easy pedaling

2x 5 minutes as (30 seconds right leg/30 seconds both legs/30 second left leg/30 both legs/1 minute big gear, low cadence, smooth pedaling)

Pyramid of:

  • 1min 100 rpm
  • 1min 110rpm
  • 1min 120 rpm
  • 2min 130 rpm
  • 1 min 120 rpm
  • 1min 110 rpm
  • 1 min 100 rpm
  • (Repeat 1-3 times depending on how long you want the workout)

5 minutes easy

Go give this a try and see if it helps you recover between workouts. I know I find it quite helpful in transitioning between run workouts and bike workouts and would help you find your legs after a tough bike session as well. Happy training!

About the Author

Melanie McQuaid is the first person to have won the XTERRA Triathlon World Championships three times. Along with three World Championships titles, Melanie has three second place performances at the World Championships, two overall series titles, seven national titles from the US and Canada and four five runner up titles for the overall series. In addition to her own training, Melanie is a personal coach and an experienced public speaker. Read more and check out photos from Melanie at her website,