rest and recovery

Recovery Techniques for Mountain Bikers

napping for recovery

We all can agree that riding hard is a requirement for optimal performance. To be a truly sustainable mountain biker what you really need to understand is how important RECOVERY is in your life. Proper recovery techniques can enhance our ability to train hard and avoid injuries. In fact, all adaptations to training occur during your rest and recovery, NOT during the time you spend working out.

What Riding Does to our Bodies

Day after day any repetitive task can be hard on our bodies. Cycling is an amazingly difficult sport and can be downright punishing at times. With the repetitive pedalling motion of cycling, it is important to recover properly in order to bring balance, flexibility and range of motion to the body and mind.

Riding literally damages your muscles and when you recover they rebuild in order to meet the new demands you are throwing at them. This is called EIMD (Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage) and DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and these can be reduced with the proper rest and recovery strategies.

Below are some of the best recovery strategies to help turn you into a recovery master. They will allow you to be able to continue to ride well day after day in a more sustainable way.

Structure Your Training

If you want to improve quickly at riding, you need a plan. That plan can be as simple as riding 3 times a week to hiring a coach and having prescribed workouts to improve endurance, power and skill on the mountain bike along with accountability and feedback on your progress.

Knowing when to ride hard and when to rest harder depends on many factors, but all of your riding efforts are translated into progress when you rest.

Try This: Write out 3 rides you need to accomplish this week in order to meet a riding objective, space them out with rest days in between so you arrive at the next ride rested and ready to rip!

Following intense bouts of exercise studies have measured decreased proprioceptive function (knowing where your body is in space), range of motion, strength, force production as well as decreases in dynamic movements such as sprint speed, agility and jumping.

Pay Attention to Your Nutrition and Hydration:

Don’t buy into the hype of any special diets or supplements. Keep things simple and eat like you are fueling your body. Start to think of food as fuel and don’t beat yourself up too much about having something you love (like ice cream :) Riding bikes is a good way to burn off and use extra calories if done right.

Most of us are in a perpetual state of dehydration, so drink more water.

If you are really having a difficult time with eating, hire a professional for a consult. It’s amazing what you don’t eat if you are going to put it in a food diary for someone to inspect.

Make sure food looks like the original and keep the packaging and preservatives to a minimum.

Try This: Keep your own food diary for one week, writing down everything you put into your mouth. (Of course, there is an app for that too!) Try to keep a water bottle with you and full at all times, drinking throughout the day. (You can even set a reminder on your smartwatch/phone.)

Fluid losses have been shown to diminish both mental and physical capacity. Poorly hydrated cells will not synthesize proteins as well, which can slow muscle tissue repair and recovery.

Stretching Improves Flexibility and Range of Motion:

We know that stretching feels good, but only up until a certain point, and then it just doesn’t feel right. Knowing when and how to stretch properly is highly variable and depends on YOUR body. It is individual. That means what is right for you is not right for your spouse or your best riding partner. 

We are all different! Not shocking I guess so why would we all stretch the same way? 

There are many ways to stretch:

  • statically (holding a position for >30 seconds)
  • dynamically (gracefully moving through a joints range of motion)
  • myofascial stretching/PNF and other specialized techniques

Generally sitting on the bike and riding makes us hold certain postures which are all similar. If you are a cyclist you are going to have to at minimum stretch :

  • upper back and neck
  • shoulders
  • quads, hips and hammies
  • wrists and forearms
  • calves and feet

Try This: After your next ride lay down on your back and try to stretch out as long as you can. Reach your toes and fingers (overhead) in a letter I position trying to pull yourself apart for about 10 seconds, rest for 5 and do 5 reps of reaching in a row. Then roll onto your stomach (prone) while pulling your feet toward your bottom, holding it for a nice quad stretch for at least 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side and alternate so each side gets 3 reps.

PNF stretching uses the body’s hardwired protective mechanisms (reflexes) to gain flexibility and allow the muscle to relax. The hold-relax technique is used by contracting the muscle for 2-5 seconds prior to lengthening it in order to allow the muscle to relax completely and gain increased length.

Foam Rolling and Massage:

Anyone that has been injured has most likely been introduced to a foam roller by their physical therapist. They are a good investment and should be in every athlete’s living room.

The marketplace has expanded to provide various devices which allow you to provide pressure, friction, and shear and thus work on soft tissues, preferably while lengthening a muscle.  Examples include dense and soft foam rollers, massage sticks and lacrosse balls to name a few.  

This type of bodywork has been shown to increase range of motion, localized blood flow and circulation, increase muscle flexibility, decrease muscle soreness and improve neuromuscular efficiency.  These tools can also be used effectively for static and dynamic stretching, improving flexibility and improving core strength as well as balance.  They are an essential tool for your home gym and can be effective if used correctly.

Getting a massage on a regular basis is invaluable if you have the time and money to do it. Find a massage therapist that is certified and one that comes highly recommended. It’s a bonus if they are a mountain biker!

Try This: Coach Tricia, DPT has a foam rolling workout to teach you some basics. It’s a 25 min foam rolling class that is best done after a ride.

Cold Water Immersion/Contrast Baths:

This recovery strategy involves plunging into an ice bath to submerge your legs and part of your torso.  

 Endurance athletes may benefit from this water therapy although scientific evidence and study are lacking.  It does generally feel good and perhaps the placebo effect, of thinking it is doing good can help you.

Cold water and contrast baths may help with tissue damage, inflammation, lactic acid reabsorption, compression effects (due to the hydrostatic pressure of the water) or changes in circulation.

Some studies have shown that the optimal protocol for cold water immersion is to submerge for 6-12 minutes at an optimal temperature of 50 deg F. 
Contrasting heat and cold for 5-7 cycles of 60 seconds has also been shown to assist with recovery (50 deg F cold plunge and 100+ deg F hot plunge.) Cold Plunge

Try This: After your next ride jump in the creek, lake or river, if you are lucky enough to be near one. Chances are it’s cool enough to feel good and aid in your recovery efforts. If you are not that lucky, then run a cool bath and get in while enjoying a recovery beverage!


There has been an explosion of compression items in the past years.  Compression sleeves, socks, shirts, shorts, tights and pneumatic boots all theoretically improve venous return through a graded compression.  These garments act as a pump for the lymphatic drainage system which is a therapy that has been used in the medical field for many years. 

Studies have shown that by using these recovery tools there is decreased muscle soreness, and inflammation and they allow for a more stable alignment of the individual muscle fibers. The use of compression sleeves has not statistically been shown to improve performance while competing and training, even though some feel better while wearing them.

Try This: After your next long ride wear a pair of compression socks if you have to be on your feet. They are also helpful while travelling on airplanes, while sitting or even standing for prolonged periods.

Compression socks are given to post-operative patients in the hospital on a regular basis to decrease swelling, improve venous return and to help in preventing blood clots following surgery.

Cross Training/Skills Lessons/Active Recovery:

Gentle aerobic exercise that uses different muscle groups than cycling could aid in recovery as well.

Examples include strength training, core exercises, walking, hiking, swimming, running, stand-up paddle boarding, tai chi and yoga. 

Athletes should use this time to really work on skills by performing drills to improve technique and working on core strength, balance, proprioception and posture. This important training can boost your skills and efficiency while the body is not fatigued, so bad habits are not reinforced when riding tired.

Try This: Start a regular stretching or yoga practice. Try to shoot for at least 20 min 3 times a week. Sessions can be done online, but if you are new to yoga or don’t have an idea what stretches YOUR body needs, hire a professional.

Try This: Skills practice has the ability to drastically improve your riding skill and confidence on the bike. Be sure you are actively seeking out ways to improve your riding. Want to be able to get up and over logs, roots or rocks more effectively? Check out the video below.

Proper Sleep/Napping:

Getting the proper rest is essential to recovery. Sleeping and napping is a way to recharge and repair the body. Be sure you are prioritizing your sleep and here’s a little more information on the subject:

Try This: Prioritize your sleep! Make it the most important thing of your day. Here are some tips to improve your sleep:

  • set an alarm for 30 min prior to you wanting to be tucked in and cozy.
  • start at 30 min pre-sleep routine when that alarm goes off! No excuses! Everything else can wait- remember we are trying to be consistent and this is IMPORTANT!!
  • limit caffeine, alcohol, TV, other screens, news watching and thinking about your TO DO list for tomorrow.
  • incorporate soothing music, relaxation, stretching, breathing exercises, reading (a real book not a screen) and other things that are calming and meant to get you ready for the most important time of your day- sleeping!
  • write out your sleep routine and keep it posted so you can follow it!
  • wake up in the morning and say, “Wow, I slept great! I’m ready to kill it today!”

hammock resting

What Recovery Strategies are Right For You?

I encourage everyone to start testing all of these methods to see which ones work the best for you.  It depends on what equipment you have available to you, how much time you have and what makes you feel most rested and refreshed to go out there and ride. Pay attention to how your body is feeling and what it needs! Be a sustainable mountain biker and live to ride another day.

Got any other recovery tips? Leave them in the comments below.


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Bruce A Bussell

    You nailed it on the head. Recovery is really important if you are a cyclist. I used to totally ignore recovery but found that hydration, nutrition, and especially sleep has been my friends when it comes to proper recovery. The one thing that would probably help me a lot that I’m just too much a wimp to try is the cold baths.

    Anyway, excellent article. I will bookmark your site and return.

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