Less Pain, More Gain: 6 ways for cyclists to reduce soreness from strength training and running

Get DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) every season you start working out in the gym? Can’t walk the day after going for an easy 2 mile jog? Tried doing a 15 minute HIIT workout once and now your arms feel like jello on the bike? Check out these strategies to reduce soreness from exercises that aren’t on the bike and even ones that are. 

Athletes who are aerobically fit can easily overdo it during exercise types they aren’t recently conditioned for. Cycling is a primarily aerobic sport which requires the body and mind’s ability to endure activity for long periods of time in a specific body position using specific muscles in specific ways. Take that athlete who has an incredibly strong aerobic engine from cycling and throw them on a running treadmill. Chances are they can go for a pretty long time at a high intensity, the first time. The muscles will likely be fresh but not used to this type of stimulus which leads many to experience moderate to severe soreness or DOMS for hours to days. This is also true and very common of cyclists starting gym work in the off season and base season. 

If you suffer from soreness and DOMS year after year, consider these strategies to ease the pain, get the work in, and make sure your soreness from cross-training doesn’t impact your cycling training sessions. 

#1 Conditioning

While it may seem boring and less hard core, easing into exercises the body isn’t familiar with will support the body’s ability to adapt to and from the training and reduce the chance of DOMS later. Start with some light band-work before strength training like this 20 minute adaptation workout. Doing the same or similar exercises weightless or with less weight, reps, or speed will prime the body for more productive training in the future. This priming will allow the body to more effectively recovery from workouts.

#2 Massage, Foam Rolling, and Roller Massage

Evidence exists to support the use of roller devices such as foam rollers or roller sticks as methods to reduce muscle tenderness from strength training and sprint work (1, 2). While these methods easily performed at home on oneself are shown to be effective, evidence exists which supports the use of massage as the most superior method to reduce muscle soreness. A meta-analysis published in 2018 in Frontiers of Physiology examined various methods to reduce markers of muscle soreness. Massage was found to be the most effective technique for recovering from DOMS, compared to active recovery, compression garments, immersion, contrast water therapy and cryotherapy (3). 

Try foam rolling or using a roller massage for 10 to 20 minutes on sore muscle groups after strength training. Find your local massage therapist and book a massage on weeks of intense strength training. 

#3 Take BCAAs pre strength training

A study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism in 2010 explored the use of branched chain amino acid formula pre workout in young, healthy, untrained females to reduce muscle soreness. The researchers concluded taking a BCAA supplement pre workout may reduce muscle soreness post exercise from eccentric movements like weighted squats (2).

Find a supplement which contains 2:1:1 BCAA ratio and is NSF Certified to take pre workout. Take this supplement pre strength training sessions. 

#4 Tart Cherry Juice

While results are mixed, some evidence supports the use of tart cherry juice to reduce DOMS and muscle soreness from eccentric movements and in runners from long distance running events. It has been shown to be most effective when taken in 8-12oz doses 1-2 times per day for days leading up to the exercise and a few days following the exercise (5, 6). 

In the summer, try drinking 8-12oz cold tart cherry juice in the evening to lower your core body temperature and reduce the risk of muscles soreness. 

#5 Moderate Intensity Aerobic Exercise

Interestingly, moderate intensity aerobic exercise may be more effective than low intensity aerobic exercise for reducing muscles soreness. Researchers who published a study in 2012 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research investigated the effects of various recovery techniques on reducing DOMS in 26 women between the ages of 19-25. Participants performed 60 eccentric actions of the knee extensors immediately followed by 20 minutes of low intensity cycling or moderate intensity cycling or seated rest. The moderate intensity cycling group had the lowest scores for post exercise soreness, while seated rest and low intensity cycling had the same rated soreness following exercise. This evidence suggests that moderate intensity aerobic exercise may be more effective than total rest or low intensity aerobic exercise at reducing DOMS  from strength training exercises (7).

During your cooldown from strength training, consider riding at a 5-6/10 relative perceived exertion rather than 1-3/10 relative perceived exertion or calling it a day and not doing any cooldown activities. 

#6 Stretching and Activations

Evidence exists to suggest flexible muscles are less prone to soreness than inflexible muscles. Researchers who published a study in 2011 in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise investigated the effects of static stretching and stretching with activation (contraction) on muscle soreness from strength training in thirty untrained young men. The results suggest that regular static stretching or stretching with activation reduce the risk of DOMS from strength training compared to no stretching or activation (8).  

Stretching and activations do not need to be performed immediately before or after exercise to have their positive effects. They may be performed anytime of the day. Try stretching between work meetings or doing a series of air squats while waiting for your tea water to boil. 

Have the least pain with the most gain by incorporating one or more of these strategies into your recovery routines. Find what works for you so you can more effectively complete your bike workouts and be in less pain during the day. Check out 20 Minute Adaptation Workout to Get You Primed for Winter Strength Training to get even more out of your strength training.

About the author: Kristen Arnold MS, RDN, CSSD is a level 2 USA Cycling coach as well as a Registered Dietitian (RD) specializing in sports nutrition and is a board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). With Kristen’s nutrition expertise and diverse experience in the sport of cycling as a racer and a mentor, she provides a comprehensive approach to her coaching. She works with athletes from the beginner to elite ranks in road, cyclocross, and mountain biking disciplines. Kristen is professional road racer racing with Wolfpack Women's Racing, and seasoned mountain bike and cyclocross racer. Learn more about Kristen.