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Best ways to recover after a long hike or cycle

Annapurna Trek | Stephen Cheung
Annapurna Trek | Stephen Cheung

Most people spend a lot of time training in the lead up to their active holiday to ensure they are able to complete and enjoy their adventure. With the extra activity added to your routine, you're bound to feel some level of ache, pain or strain from your training session – or after completing a day pedalling or hiking on the trail.

Try these helpful recovery tips to help ease any muscle or joint soreness post-exercise and keep your legs strong.

Cooling down

Going from an intense or high activity level back down to zero should not be an abrupt change for your body, the last thing you should do when you finish exercising is to stop completely.

If you hop off your bike, give your legs the time to adjust to the change in the environment by pacing around on foot for a while. If you've finished a hike on the trails, gradually slow your pace and stay on your feet for a bit as opposed to sitting down straight away.

Lake Dunstan Trail, Central Otago |  <i>Ross Mackay</i>

When you are 5-10 minutes from ending your workout or activity, reduce your pace to a lower intensity to transition your body from activity to a resting state.

When beginning any exercise, you would warm up to activate your muscles, so similarly, allowing your body a cooling down period is also important to reduce the risk of cramping, as well as removing lactic acid from your muscles. This is especially important in cooler temperatures when muscle stiffness is much more pronounced.

Don't forget to stretch

After exercising, do gentle stretches for five minutes to allow your muscles to relax into a resting state; stretching restores your muscles to their normal length, aiding in their recovery.

Focus on the muscles used during the day while you’ve been trekking or cycling, such as calves, hamstrings, hip flexors and quadriceps.

Avoid bouncing in and out of the stretch. Instead, you want to move into the stretch until you feel a mild to moderate tension, and hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds.

Fuel yourself

Long walks and extensive pedalling deplete your energy stores, so it’s important to refuel to replace this energy, repair tissues and supercharge your recovery process.

Take advantage of the 30-45 minute post-exercise window where your body maximises the absorption of protein, water and carbohydrates, and aim to have a nutritious snack while after your training session or in between your long walk or cycle. Include some high-quality protein and complex carbohydrates such as granola, energy bars or nuts. Your body will thank you for it later.

Rehydrate and replace fluids

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! You lose a lot of fluid during a long hike or cycling expedition, so you should be replacing fluid throughout the day.

Drinking 1 ½ cups to 2 ½ cups of water per hour for at least 2 hours after exercise is an easy way to boost your recovery as the water supports every metabolic function and nutrient transfer in your body.

Cyclists enjoying a refreshing coconut roadside in Vietnam |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i>

Just remember to reduce your water intake as you get closer to bedtime to limit the number of times you have to get up in the middle of the night.

Rest

If you're training to the lead up to your hiking or cycling adventure, give your body the chance to rest in between the days you are active. This will give the muscles you've been working on time to recover and avoid the risk of injury and strain from prolonged or intense exercises.

This may not necessarily mean doing no activity at all, but can see you switching to less intense activity or exercises which focus on other areas of your body. For instance, if you did cardio one day, the following day you may want to do weight training instead. If you were hiking all day and want to ease the pressure on your joints, you could opt for a short bike ride the next day.

Mental and physical rest is equally important when letting your body recover, so getting in enough sleep will allow you to come back refreshed and feeling even stronger the next day.

Enjoying the view after a day on the trail in western Nepal |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i>

Preparation

While out on the trails warming up and stretching your muscles before you start can do wonders as it prepares your body for the day ahead. But being prepared for your active holiday doesn’t just mean training and ensuring you are fit, you also need to consider a few other things including:

• Ensure your backpack is sized correctly and avoid carrying a backpack that is too heavy for your frame, or that you are not physically fit enough to carry.
• Minimise the risks of sore feet by wearing proper hiking socks and hiking boots that are broken in. Have a read of our guide on ways to avoid getting blisters.
• Use trekking poles to assist your muscles. These can be especially worthwhile on uneven terrain or when you need to rock-hop. You can find more gear tips in this blog post.

Taking these few simple steps can help you to enjoy your walking or cycling adventure and limit the aches and pains.

Training tips, recovery exercises, recovery tips, easing leg pain, post-exercise recovery, training sessions, leg workout

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Moumita Adhikary

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