You’ve put in the work, logged the miles and completed a great ride. Nice work. But your job’s not over just yet. Now, it’s time to undo some of that damage so you can hop back on your bike and do it all over again tomorrow. Or, maybe it’s so you can walk around your house without stiff legs.
Either way, these tips for post-cycling recovery go beyond stretching. Try some for yourself, and you’ll feel better in no time.
Many athletes swear by a good foam rolling session. Foam rolling is a type of myofascial release meant to reduce pain and improve mobility by relaxing tight muscles and improving circulation. According to a UK study: “Foam rolling has been shown to alleviate some symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage and has been suggested to increase range of motion without negatively impacting strength.” If you can stand the short-term discomfort, foam rolling might speed up your recovery.
TRY COMPRESSION SOCKS
“On multi-day rides especially, I’ll do anything I can to reduce inflammation and soreness,” says Matthew Martin, a personal trainer and avid cyclist who’s completed several multi-day rides across Texas. “Your calves take a beating during long rides, so I always slip on some compression socks at the end of the day when I’m resting. My legs feel better when I get up the next morning, which is important, because getting on the bike when sore is pretty demoralizing.”
An Australian study agrees, finding lower-body compression garments resulted in a “small but significant improvement” in reducing blood lactate, swelling and soreness. This translated to better recovery between cycling sessions and improved performance in subsequent rides.
OR TRY A COMPRESSION MASSAGER
If you’ve ever participated in a charity ride or other big cycling event with an attached expo, you’ll probably seen these contraptions. They’re basically like portable massage chairs for your legs. You slip into electronic sleeves from your upper thighs down to your feet. The sleeves then get to work, pulsing and contracting to rid your muscles of metabolic waste. Afterward, you should feel fresh and relaxed, almost like you got a real massage.
TAKE AN EPSOM SALT BATH
Epsom salts are a lot different than the stuff you put on your food. These salts contain magnesium sulfate, which is supposed to relieve muscle aches and pains. There’s not a lot of evidence to back up these claims, but anecdotally, many people find relief through Epsom salt baths. Of course, the relief might be due more to the hot water than the salt, but still, it’s a cheap-and-easy option if you’re up for a soak.
GIVE CRYO A WHIRL
If you’d rather be cold (like, really cold) than hot, cryotherapy might be for you. Rather than simply icing a sore muscle, it involves standing in a chamber for a few minutes and withstanding temperatures as low as minus 150ºF. This dry, extra-cold air feels like a shock to the system, but it can reduce muscle pain and inflammation after exercise.
A Frontiers in Physiology study into the effects of cryotherapy found that “the majority of evidence supports effectiveness of WBC [whole-body cryotherapy] in relieving symptomatology of the whole set of inflammatory conditions that could affect an athlete.” These symptoms include pain, soreness and muscle stress.
GET YOUR PROTIEN
During a strenuous ride, your body needs a steady supply of glycogen to keep going. That’s why on-the-bike nutrition is so important and usually includes easy-to-digest gels, blocks and electrolyte drinks. Once you’re off the bike, you want to replenish those glycogen stores, but you also need muscle-repairing protein.
“I try to get some quick protein within 30 minutes of finishing a ride,” says Martin. “I’ll eat a protein bar or drink a recovery shake or chocolate milk — something with a mix of protein and carbs. “Then I’ll eat a good meal an hour or two later with more protein.”
You might have received some electrical stimulation in a physical therapy session. If you liked it, consider getting a system for yourself. Because at-home TENS units and other electrical stimulation kits might be a key to quicker recovery. In a Journal of Strength and Conditioning study, researchers evaluated the effects of electrical myostimulation (EMS) on the muscles and work capacity of long-distance runners. The findings showed that “Mild EMS is an effective local method of restoring the work capacity of the muscles. It is greatly superior to passive rest, which is the traditional way of recovering from exercise.”