Indoor Cycling and Sore Muscles After Spin Class

Thigh Muscle Pain after Spinning class?  Here are Best Recovery Strategies Every Spinner Needs To Know To Enhance Performance

Muscle soreness after a heavy Indoor Cycling workout is sometimes inevitable.  But you should not ignore it.  Recovery strategies are not often discussed between Instructors and Riders.   We tend to discuss more fun things like mileage, watts and Garmin data. However speeding up recovery is the key to maximising performance whether you are an amateur or a pro.  

Indoor Cycling Training Causes Damage!

If you get caught up in the emotion of the class it is easy to go BEAST MODE and really take it to the next level.  So inevitably after an intense Ride there is almost always going to result in some form of soreness the following day or perhaps the next few days if you are new or coming back.

Riding hard causes muscle breakdown, inflammation and stress on the muscles, tendons and joints plus the nervous system and hormonal system.

But it is not a bad thing!  If managed and kept in sane zones.  Note SANE.

Riding also produces the result we are looking for: muscle growth (hypertrophy), increased cardiovascular endurance, better strength, higher work capacity and greater tolerance for lactic acid.  

And of course that hard ass!

But like everything in life those rewards come with risks.  In this post we will look at a really scary one - the nicked named "RHAMBO" and the more common one comply called "DOMs."

The Dangers of High Intensity Training - THE SCARY TRUTH ABOUT RHABDO

As a disclaimer I am not a doctor and don't pretend to be one on the internet.  But in rare situations you can way over do it and develop a condition doctors call Rhabdomyolysis.  

This can happen to anyone - trained or newbie.  This occurs as a result of damage to the striated muscle cell membranes.

Such injury releases into the systemic circulation calcium, potassium, phosphate, urate myoglobin, CPK, aldolase, lactate dehydrogenase, AST, and ALT. In the presence of excess calcium, further muscle fiber necrosis occurs and can lead to acute renal failure!  

Rhabdomyolysis is determined by testing for creatine kinase levels in the blood. Supposedly it should be in the hundreds, and ideally under 400.  Now.. I'm not trying to scare you but just by being aware of what rhabdomyolysis is in important so that you can aim to prevent it. Whether you are an avid Rider or a beginner, do some reading on it to get familiar.  Your kidneys are serious business!​

I am a big proponent of slow and long base rides.  Especially for beginners.  Maybe its not so popular these days with everyone and their dog subjecting Riders to endless HITT sessions but the experience in from riding professionals is that you need a "base".  Especially for beginners or Riders coming back.  The indoor cycling community has fallen in love with "tabata style" all out high intensity filled class.  And for good reason because they do offer results but with risks.  Be warned.

The bottom line is that you need time.  The truth that out bodies need time to adapt to hard training.  Building a fitness base is essential.  

And YES this takes time.  Patience is a virtue here.  You need to be on guard to warning signs.

Over training in general and the risk of conditions like Rhabdomyolysis can be avoided by performing sub-maximal training over a longer periods of time instead of constant short bursts of high intensity and limited exercise in hot conditions.  You need to staying hydrated, ensuring a high enough carbohydrate intake and spacing out enough rest periods to optimise glycogen repletion and full recovery.  

No Pain No Gain - thats BS!!!

In most spinning studios, gears/resistance levels are subjective, so you’ll have to learn what your body considers a flat road (a light, easy gear), what your body considers a hill, what your body considers a mountain (likely a difficult hill climb) and so on.  You will learn to tolerate being uncomfortable.. but pain is not acceptable.

Listen to YOUR body and ask the instructor to provide feedback as you test different levels and practice the various seating/standing positions. It is very important as a beginner rider to just take it easy!  You are building a base and just like no one expects a novice to curl 50-pound dumbbells the first time, and the same holds true for your indoor cycling classes.

Play the long game.

It isn’t necessary to push yourself to your breaking point to get a good workout!!! Repeat!!!  Yes - the instructor will motivate you to work harder but you MUST listen to your body during and after class.  And this applies to you seasoned Riders - this is still true!  You cannot be going 100% every class every freaking day.  

You need recovery and balance.  

My rule is to leave a little something on the table every Ride.  I do this on the bike and with the weights in the gym.  Always leave a little something for tomorrow... max'ing out 100% every time is a fools game - that will inevitably lead to injury or worse.  

According to WebMD, possible warning signs of rhabdo include muscle pain or weakness, difficulty moving your limbs, abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, fever, rapid heart rate, confusion, dehydration, dark red or brown urine, or no urine at all.

SO IMPORTANT!!!!! If you are experiencing some or all of those symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.​  Better safe than sorry!  Ok.  

That was heavy but it is important to get it out of the way either as an instructor or rider to be aware of the dangers.  Ignorance is not bliss.  

Now on to a more common issue Riders and Instructor experience.. the dreaded DOMS

Best Recovery Strategies Every Spin Class Junkie Needs To Know To Enhance Performance​

Here are some of my tips for dealing with or avoiding extreme muscle soreness and fatigue:​

First!  being sore is NOT a good indicator of progress.  PERIOD!  ​Any idiot instructor can destroy your body with endless HITT's and no recovery.  We are seeking progress... not PAIN!  

Indoor Cycling Music and Profiles

According to ACSM, physical activity that puts a load on muscles often leads to delayed onset muscle soreness, or ‘DOMS’.  This soreness that gradually comes on after the workout usually develops 12-25 hours after the exercise.  

It generates the greatest amount of pain 24-72 hours after the exercise has been performed.

There is no consensus between experts on how DOMS occur.

However, most experts tend to agree that DOMS is caused by numerous of factors. First, the muscle soreness is a result of micro-tears in the muscle fibres. The breakdown of muscle fibres increases inflammation, which further breaks down muscle fibres; just like a vicious spiral.

Note: Some people are more at risk at having DOMS than others.  Just remember that lack of DOMS is not a result of a bad workout!​  This is worth repeating!  Some spinners equate soreness with a good workout.  This is not a good way of thinking.  

Tip 1: Avoid dramatically changing your workout profile (mode, duration or intensity)

Whether you are a regular exerciser or a beginner, build-up gradually and allow your body time to recover in between sessions.  If you are a Rider in class this means riding to your level.  

This is why I always take it super easy on new/returning Riders. If they haven’t been regularly Riding, they’ll be sore the next day no matter what we do. Its ok to be be "pleasantly sore", but not to the point where it hurts to walk or climb stairs - that's to much - way to fast!  

And think about this long term - how many people never come back to a class because they were scared away from coming back.  The message is EASE in to it!  If you want to make drastic changes, ease into it and experiment with small changes along the way.  

As a general rule, do not increase training intensity and duration by more than 10% per week!  

Tip 2: Warm Up and Cool Down Properly!

A proper warm up before a workout can reduce DOMS. This is something most Riders ignore!

You know who you are 🙂

Again there is the old favourite excuse “I don’t have time” and “it does not really make a difference.”

It only has to take 5 to 10 minutes - so everyone has time and it will make a big difference to you if you hurt something, get injured and need a month off Riding. 

In general, you should warm up all your muscles before a Ride.  Gradually increase the intensity as the Ride profile commences. A warm up is also important to get mentally “in the zone” and switch your body “on” for the Ride.

After a tough workout it is important to do some exercises that cools your body down. Cool down exercises will help your body move from working hard to resting. A sudden stop in Riding activity might make you feel dizzy, which is why the post-workout phase should always be a part of your exercise routine​

Tip 3: Are you Getting Enough Sleep​

Sleep is the most overlooked aspect of indoor Riders training and recovery. Most average Riders — like most people—require 7-8 hours of sleep per night. However, if you are an instructor or really hard-training on the bike you may require as much as 10 hours of sleep per night to see optimal recovery.

Sleep is a beautiful and necessary regenerative process where your body’s peak hormone production occurs. That allows it to restore, rebuild and adapt.  

If you don’t sleep, cortisol levels skyrocket. Insulin resistance increases. And testosterone and growth hormone levels plummet.  Bad.

That is EVERYTHING you don’t want.  All that hard work in the gym and on the bike is for nothing.  So many Riders ask me how many calories they are burning in class.  Man I'm sick of that question.  Developing and sticking to a bed time routine is one of the most powerful things you can do when it comes to gaining muscle and losing fat.  Stop counting calories and start tracking you quality of sleep.  And watch the scales move!

​Tip 4: Supplements and Food

Before you consider any of the endless supplements out there please look at your diet first!  ​This is not the place to go off on the whole starve yourself to health nonsense out there but personally the better I eat the better I recover.  When your muscles are sore, inflammation is a huge part of the problem.

To help reduce this inflammation, add foods that are rich in omega-3s—such as salmon, free-range meat, flax, avocado, and walnuts—to your diet.

The natural anti-inflammatory properties of these foods can help dial back the soreness after overexertion. Amino acid supplements (creatine and protein) can also help with muscle recovery after a high-intensity workout.

I know there are tonnes of diet article out there but ask yourself these questions.  Am I eating lots of plants, enough meat (to protein rich veg), and good fats!  If you are having a lot of problems with soreness talk to your doctor but also visit a nutritionist and discuss diet strategies.  

Below I have listed four foods/suppliment I personally take.  Chat with your health care professional and maybe they might be useful for you as we are all different and have different needs.

Bromelain... find it in Pineapples

According to WebMD: "Bromelain is used for reducing swelling (inflammation), especially of the nose and sinuses, after surgery or injury. It is also used for hay fever, treating a bowel condition that includes swelling and ulcers (ulcerative colitis), removing dead and damaged tissue after a burn (debridement), preventing the collection of water in the lung (pulmonary edema), relaxing muscles, stimulating muscle contractions, slowing clotting, improving the absorption of antibiotics, preventing cancer, shortening labor, and helping the body get rid of fat."

It is the enzyme bromelain. Initially found to aid in digestion, subsequent research has shown that the enzyme helps the body clear itself of dead and damaged tissue almost anywhere, thus accelerating the healing process. Consumed regularly, bromelain has proved its worth in athletes training hard, aiding them to recover from both injury and the "planned trauma" of intense workouts.  Again... I'm not a doctor so talk to yours before you start talking anything.  Especially if you are on medication or have a history of illness.

Cherry Juice

You won't need a spoonful of sugar to help this medicine go down! Tart cherry juice has rapidly become one of the hottest super foods, thanks to its high level of antioxidants (even more than pomegranates!) and other benefits—one of which is decreased muscle soreness. Try adding a splash to your post-workout smoothie.​


One of the few supplements to hold up under research academic scrutiny, creatine has been shown to help lessen the pain and duration of muscle soreness from an intense strength-training session.

Creatine is an amino acid whose job in your body is to funnel energy to your cells, particularly your muscle cells. So more creatine in your system means more energy is available for building and repairing those toned quads you've been working on. Even better, reported side effects like bloating or upset stomach are rare and generally mild.​


Your cup of Joe just got a healthy salute, thanks to University of Georgia researchers who found that taking caffeine, about the equivalent of two cups of coffee, helped reduce muscle soreness in women after a strenuous workout.

It works by blocking adenosine, a chemical released by your body in response to injury.

Just be careful not to overdo this one.  

The researchers recommend that people use caution when using caffeine before a workout. For some people, too much caffeine can produce side effects such as jitteriness, heart palpitations and sleep disturbances.  Again... a little goes a long way. 

References and Further Reading


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