The Dos and Don’ts of Coping With Soreness From Cycling

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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The Dos and Don’ts of Coping With Soreness From Cycling

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced cyclist who has recently started to log more miles, soreness is a common side effect of hard training. While not all soreness is bad, it’s usually an indication of needing time to recover and let your muscles and joints heal to prevent any unnecessary injuries.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to minimize muscle soreness and prevent the pain from lingering. Use this advice for what you should and shouldn’t do following a ride so you can move onto your next workout as soon as possible.

THINGS TO FOCUS ON

In addition to exercise, hydration and eating nutrient-rich foods, there are a few other things you can do to decrease muscle soreness and minimize the effects of extreme soreness from occurring in the future.

Riding easy is the key following a hard workout. Whether it’s the indoor trainer, spin class or another ride outside, aim for a cadence above 90 revolutions per minute, a low heart rate and a pace that’s conversational. Anything above zone 2 should be avoided.

After you ride, get into the habit of stretching immediately, which can help ease tension and reduce soreness. The quads, hamstrings, glutes and lower back should be areas of concentration, as these muscle groups commonly get tighter the longer you’re on the bike. Here are a few stretches you can try to get started.

Alternatively, foam rolling can also help break up muscle adhesions and scar tissue the same way a post-ride massage would. Foam rolling also increases blood flow and helps heal any nagging injuries.

Most of the time, extreme soreness is a result of doing too much too soon. Whether it’s increasing the distance of your long ride or introducing hard intervals into your routine, you’ll need to increase the duration and intensity of your rides gradually to avoid injury.

A good rule of thumb is to increase your total weekly mileage by no more than 10% each week. When you begin intervals, try no more than one session per week and keep your total interval time to about 15 minutes for your first few sessions. Once your body adapts to the increase in intensity, you can increase the interval duration and include these sessions 2–3 times per week with one or two easy days in between.

Most cyclists have an area of weakness. The lower back, hamstrings, neck or calves are all common problem areas that may need to be addressed. If you have one area that commonly tightens up or that’s sore after a ride, make it a point to work on strengthening this muscle group.

While cross-training isn’t recommended for recovery, including 1–2 sessions per week when you’re not sore can help build strength where you’re weak and prevent soreness from occurring. Swimming, weight training, running and yoga are all good options that will help you become a stronger cyclist and boost your performance on the bike.

THINGS TO AVOID

When you’re sore, there are a few things you could be doing that makes it even more difficult for your muscles to recover. Instead of making things worse, here are a few things you should avoid doing in the days that follow.

Even though you might not feel like it, when you’re sore it’s important to get the body moving instead of hanging out on the couch after a tough workout. While this doesn’t mean heading out for another session of intervals, light exercise gets your blood circulating, helps make your joints feel better and reduces the stiff, achy feeling that’s usually accompanied by soreness.

A light ride around the neighborhood in the small chainring for 20 minutes or even a leisurely walk is usually enough to boost blood flow and make your body feel better.

If cycling made you sore, common sense might tell you to try a different exercise the following day. Cross-training with an exercise that you aren’t used to, however, can make you even more sore. In addition to the soreness from cycling, your body will now also be forced to adapt to this new exercise, creating more stress on your muscles and joints.

Before you include a new exercise or workout, make sure your body has adapted to your current routine. Once cycling isn’t making you sore anymore, you can begin introducing more variety (like yoga, weights or running) a few times per week in between rides.

You worked out hard and deserve to indulge a little, right? Foods like processed red meat, white bread, pasta, refined sugars, alcohol and dairy products can actually cause more inflammation in the body and make your muscles and joints feel worse instead of better.

Instead, aim to stick to a strict diet plan. Fish, eggs, avocados, green leafy vegetables and foods high in antioxidants like cherries and acai help you recover quicker and feel less sore after hard workouts.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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