After cycling long and/or hard you have metabolic byproducts in your muscles. You may also have sore muscles the day after cycling, which is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). While cycling the stress on the muscles results in deep tissue fatigue and micro-tears of the muscle fibers. To speed healing your body increases the blood flow to the muscles and releases chemical irritants. You feel these chemical irritants as pain, i.e., DOMS. Continued less intense movement will speed recovery, hence the importance of cycling and other activities for active recovery. Many pro and other riders get a regular sports massage, which also helps with recovery for cycling the next day. If you dont have access to a massage therapist you can do it yourself:
Homemade massage lotion. Mix:
- 8 ounces (250 ml) of rubbing alcohol
- 8 ounces of witch hazel
- 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of wintergreen (for warmth)
- 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of olive oil (for body)
John Hughes warming his quadriceps
If you dont like the oily feel you can also use a body lotion such as Jergens or Lubriderm. Ive also gotten Vaseline Intensive Care at a mini-mart when I needed to work on my legs during a ride.
Position. Sit on the floor or the bed with a towel under you to catch any drips.
Shake. Start with your right knee bent slightly, heel on the floor. Grab your right thigh and shake your leg gently up and down and side to side for a couple of minutes until your muscles feel loose and floppy.
Warm-up. Then apply massage lotion to the quadriceps and around the knee. Make brisk, light, up-and-down motions with your hands on that quad and around the knee. Do this for a few minutes until your muscles feel warm.
Stretch. Continue to sit with the knee of your warm leg slightly bent and the muscles relaxed. With both hands grab the quads of that leg. Push your right hand slightly to the left and your left hand to the right, stretching the muscle. After a couple of minutes, reverse directions and pull with the right hand to the right and pull with the left hand to the left. This is similar to kneading bread. Knead your quad for a few minutes. Then use your fingertips to make circular motions where the quad attaches on both sides of the knee.
John Hughes stretching his quadriceps
Flush. After stretching, apply more massage oil to your quad. For a couple of minutes gently stroke with your fingers from your hip to your knee. Then apply more pressure with either the heel of your hand or your forearm across the muscle. Gradually increase the pressure to work out any knots.
Other muscles. After the quadriceps, work on the hamstring and then the calf. Repeat on the other leg.
You can use the same technique on another person after cycling and also massage other muscles that get tight while cycling such as the low back, shoulders, etc.
I appreciate Ritaann Beckers helpful comments on how to do self-massage. Becker is an endurance cyclist and has been a Licensed Massage Therapist (MA#7036) for 25 years in Florida.
Get more information on nine different recovery techniques including post-ride nutrition, stretching, self-massage and icing in my 16-page eArticle Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance, which is available for just $4.99 from RoadBikeRider.com The article is illustrated with 14 photos.
Other articles by Coach Hughes