10 best recovery strategies for cycling

Top tips for recovery and readying for your next ride.

Photo: Brad Kaminski | VeloNews.com

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It seems like recovery would be the easiest part of a training program. Yet, so many people struggle to allow adequate recovery. Recovery often gets overlooked, cut short, or completely ignored. Recovery isn’t glamorous. We praise hard work, idealize the grind, and constantly push for more. The need for recovery can sometimes be viewed as a weakness, but it’s not.

Recovery is just as important as the hard work itself. In fact, without the recovery, the hard work can’t be utilized to its fullest. When we train we break down our muscles with the intent of building them back stronger. When we fail to allow the rebuild process, we diminish the gains we can make. Recovering hard can actually allow us to train harder.

For many people, this is a learning curve. It can be hard enough to find the time to do a workout, so carving out extra time to recover feels like a luxury. Many of us won’t allow ourselves this “luxury” when there is so much to do. It’s time we stop viewing recovery as a luxury and start viewing it as a necessity. The best way that I’ve found to stick with a recovery plan is to make it a routine and program that time in as a part of the workout.

Here is a list of my 10 favorite recovery strategies. Pick and choose the ones that you like best, and when you start to see the result, you’ll never want to neglect recovery again!

1. Recovery Nutrition
With a little forethought, recovery nutrition can be one of the easiest ways to start your recovery routine. If you plan out your recovery nutrition ahead of time, you can even take your food on the go.

In order to maximize recovery, your nutritional needs start before you even finish your ride. Make sure that you are fueling throughout your ride so that you aren’t finishing on empty. This way you will better be able to refuel your body after the ride.

Everyone is different depending on nutritional needs, body size, and exercise intensity. As a general fuel of thumb, you should consume 15-40 grams of protein after your workout and 1-1.2 grams per kilogram that you weigh in carbohydrates in the first-hour post-exercise.1

A nap might be the number one recovery option. Photo: Jason Sumner | VeloNews.com

2. Nap
Naps can be one of the hardest recovery strategies to find time for, but they are like the superhero of recovery. Naps can help release hormones that work to repair and build muscles, reduce stress, and promote immune response. Your naps don’t have to be long; studies have shown that naps even 10 minutes in length can have benefits for your body.

3. Legs on the wall
You don’t need any fancy equipment to start the recovery process. Simply lay on your back, push your hips all the way up against the wall, make sure your back is flat on the floor, and put your legs straight up on the wall for 10 to 15 minutes. When you are done make sure you wait a couple of minutes before you stand back up. This simple recovery strategy can help to reduce swelling by using gravity to assist the body in venous return. In yoga, this pose is also known to help promote relaxation.

4. Compression boots
On the opposite end of the monetary spectrum, compression boots tend to be a very expensive piece of equipment. According to the Hyperice website, which sells recovery boots, the air compression technology mimics the muscle pump of the legs to help encourage fluid movement and help to move metabolites out of the limbs. The company claims these boots can help to flush out soreness and bring oxygenated blood to the legs.

5. Stretching
Stretching isn’t just important for recovery, it’s important for body maintenance in general. Stretching helps to maintain flexibility and range of motion which can help maintain proper body mechanics on the bike and limit injuries. When our body is healthy it recovers better. When our body is injured, it has to allocate more resources to healing those injuries and it has fewer resources to heal sore and tired muscles. Therefore, stretching can act as a proactive way to manage recovery.

6. Foam rolling
Foam rolling is a way to perform self-massage. Studies have shown that foam rolling can help reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness and therefore increase performance in the days after a hard workout. It is also possible that foam rolling can help to increase muscle flexibility and make you feel less tight. Similar to stretching, this can help reduce injury and create safer, more efficient posture during your workouts.

HyperIce Hypervolt Percussive Massager
HyperIce HyperVolt percussion massager. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com

7. Percussion devices
Handheld percussion devices have become widely popular because they are small and easy to travel with and they feel really good. According to the Hyperice website, which sells percussion devices, these devices can help to reduce muscle soreness and stiffness as well as improve range of motion and flexibility.

8. Mindfulness
During exercise, our sympathetic nervous system is activated in order to raise the heart rate and utilize adrenaline to help us perform better. The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, is in charge of the “rest and digest” system. It allows our heart rate and breathing to slow down which is optimal for recovery. When we finish our exercise it is ideal to switch from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system as soon as possible. Mindfullness, or meditation, can help send signals to the brain that the hard work is done and that it’s time to recover.

9. Ice bath
Ice decreases cell metabolism and therefore decreases swelling. Furthermore, the cold water constricts the blood vessels and when you begin to rewarm, the vessels dilate thus increasing circulation. Ice baths have been shown to decrease delayed onset muscle soreness and help athletes perform better in subsequent workouts. In general, try to ice bath with water that is about 55-59F degrees and sit in the water for 10-20 minutes.

10. Hydration
When on the bike, it can be difficult to maintain adequate levels of hydration and to replace all of the fluids that you are losing. That means that when we are off of the bike we have to be very diligent about fluid replacement. When you are dehydrated your plasma volume decreases and your blood effectively becomes thicker and more difficult to pump so the heart rate increase. An increase in heart rate will also increase your rate of perceived exertion. Focusing on hydration off of the bike can actually make your next workout more successful.

Listen to Your Body

Sometimes your body does know best. It gives us signs that we need recovery. It tells us when we need sleep and when our muscles are tired. Instead of being tough and pushing through try listening to your body and increasing your recovery strategies. Pick and choose from the strategies above and see which ones work the best for you. I bet your body will thank you for it and your performance will likely improve as well.

1. Burke, Louise, and Vicki Deakin. Clinical Sports Nutrition. McGraw Hill Education, 2015.

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