Mountain Bike Recovery

Author: Serena Bishop Gordon


In a previous article, Adam talks about the importance of rest, recovery, and the difference between the two. Recovery serves to allow healing from recent efforts or training you’ve done, while resting prepares you to be fresh for what’s ahead. Recovery from a mountain bike race differs from that of road and cyclocross, and varies depending on the duration and terrain of the race completed. For mountain bike racing, in addition to the recovery needed from muscular damage due to repeated high intensity efforts, it is also necessary to give your body healing time from the jarring nature of a mountain bike course.


When we ask our bodies to perform at their maximum, i.e. race, our muscles are damaged, and our bodies respond by releasing the enzyme creatine kinase (CK). Elevated levels of CK have a negative impact on physical performance, are responsible for muscle soreness, and can a negative psychological effect because training will feel harder than expected. 


Recovery starts as soon as you cross the finish line with a recovery drink and a cool down spin, and continues into the next few days. Doing a recovery ride the day after a 90-120 minute cross country mountain bike race speeds up the recovery process by increasing blood flow to the muscles and flushing out the the CK enzymes, as well as increasing range of motion due to decreased swelling.


This recovery ride should be 30-90 minutes, completed on flat terrain with a high cadence, ranging between 90-110 rpm, and should be VERY easy. There is a good chance you won’t feel like riding; your back may hurt and you will probably be tired. Pedal anyway; you will feel better after you ride, and that’s the main goal. Doing this ride on the road is beneficial as it gives your body and mind the ability to take the path of least resistance. Incorporating some easy stretching or yoga into your day can also aid in recovery.


The following day is the day for complete rest if you mentally need a day off the bike, or a second recovery day, limited to 45-60 minutes of easy pedaling. For example; if your race is on a Saturday:


Saturday: Race

Sunday: Recovery ride. 

Monday: Complete Rest or recovery ride, limited to 45-60 minutes. 

Tuesday: Resume training 


Work, travel, and your racing/training schedule can, and will, alter this plan, but allowing the body to loosen and warm up on day one then rest on day two will speed recovery by reducing your CK levels and allow you resume normal training more quickly. This is particularly important process if you have a number of races on your schedule in quick succession. Depending on the duration and intensity of the race, you may not want to resume quality training until Wednesday; being sure to give your body adequate recovery and avoiding jumping back in too quickly. 


If you are training for a longer marathon-style mountain bike race later in the season, Sunday's ride could be a longer endurance ride, instead of a recovery day, with complete or active recovery the following day (and maybe the next). Again, this depends on where you are in your training block, the purpose of the mountain bike race as part of your overall annual plan, and how quickly (or slowly) you typically recover. 


In summary, two recovery days after a cross country-style race is a good guide. You won’t be losing fitness by taking an extra day of recovery, but instead will be ready for your next event or training block. If you are racing back to back Saturdays, Tuesday and Wednesday would be your quality training days, Thursday would be a rest day, and Friday would be your openers. If on Tuesday you don’t feel 100% recovered from the weekend’s effort, it is better to use the day for active recovery and resume training Wednesday. No sense in digging yourself into a hole and regretting it come race day. 


Of course, the longer the duration of the race, the longer the recovery needed. Here is a general guide:


XC Style events (90-120mins): 2-3 days.

Marathon events (3-6 hours): 3-5 days. 

100-milers, 7-10 days.

Mountain bike stage races (4-7 stages) 2-3 weeks before resuming quality training.


Taking the proper recovery will not only allow you to hold onto your form and motivation for the duration of your season, but will also allow you to get the most out of your quality training days and set you up for success in your next race. At times, resting can be more difficult than training but is just as necessary and important. As the wise Myerson advises, “Rest with the same discipline, dedication and self-control you put into your training, and you'll see the effects for yourself.”