Of course, the most important thing to get your muscles recovered is proper nutrition. For those that haven't read it before, have a look at my blog post: Nutrition: Eating for Recovery as a bit of a guide.
What else can you do though?
Firstly, here are a few tips (and a routine I often follow) to get your muscles recovered after a hard ride:
- Take a Shower or Bath: Especially after a long winter ride, warming your body up will help to get the blood flowing around to your extremities, and stop you seizing up.
- Muscle Rubs: This is something of a recent revelation for my routine, but I have found it to make a notable difference. I have been using a Deep Muscle Relief Rub from The Bakewell Soap Company. The rub has three active ingredients: Salicylic Acid - which relieves muscle aches caused by lactic acid build up, Cineol - which helps to relax muscles and joints, and Sesquiterpenes to reduce inflammation and bruising. Most people have probably used these natural ingredients before, but may recall them more readily under the plant names of Arnica and Cajeput. The rub is an easy and effective way of soothing tired muscles, you simply massage it into your legs and any other sore spots, and let the natural ingredients do the work. Many pros often favour natural remedies over chemical solutions, I certainly enjoy using this product a lot more than chemical based alternatives.
- Compression: Compression clothing is something that often has its efficacy disputed amongst sports people. However, I can say that the Skins compression tights that I purchased a year or so ago do make a difference (to me at least). Slip them on after a ride and your legs feel supported and more comfortable. In my honest opinion, I attribute a lot of the effectiveness to keeping the muscles warm and subtle, and stopping them seizing up; but either way, they feature in my recovery routine quite regularly.
- Gentle Exercise: I really notice it if I sit down for an entire afternoon writing a university paper or reading after a long ride. My muscles will seize up, and they won't be as ready for the next morning's ride. It is well worth doing some gentle exercise a few hours after you get back from a hard ride; this doesn't have to be much, it could just be walking the dog, or going to the shops; but it is important to keep the blood flowing to the leg muscles to flush out the lactic acid that has built up there.
Below I've put a few more tips, which can be used when you are preparing for an event, to keep those muscles in prime condition:
- Keep them Compressed: When you're travelling to an event, being sat is a car for a long time is not the best preparation for your muscles. To keep them in better condition, wear a pair of compression tights on longer journeys to keep the blood flowing. Make regular stops at services as well; get out of the car and go for a walk around to keep your muscles subtle.
- Warm-up: A warm up is so important, the shorter the race the longer the warm up. That means if you are doing a short crit you need to be fully warmed up, and have been on the turbo or rollers for a good 30 mins doing easy spinning and fast cadence sets, with your heart rate at a moderate exursion level. If it is a road race event, it is worth riding the circuit, or sections of it if possible. This will allow you to scope out the corners, but also free up your muscles; often the neutralized zone at the start of the race is one of the most intense bits! You don't want to be going into it cold!
- Muscle Rubs: After your warm up, it is worth using some muscle rub on any potential problem spots such as your joints. It will help to avoid injury and ease any potential pain, as well as loosening up those muscles to their maximum flexibility.
So there you go, a few tips and tricks that can keep those muscles in good condition before and after an event or hard ride. For me, the big revelation has been the use of muscle rubs in my routine; it has eliminated problems that I sometimes had in cold weather with the muscles around my knee joints, and has made it a lot more comfortable on the bike. Look after your pistons and they'll keep you flying along even faster this season.