Overuse injuries in cycling often present with a more gradual onset than higher impact sports. “If you want to get fit, ride your bike.” That old saying is true enough, in a sense, but ignores a number of important truths. Riding your bike won’t protect you against injury, ensure good full-body condition, or guard you against developing physical imbalances.
Of course, you want to spend as much time as possible riding your bike, but a little time in the gym — or working out at home — is well worth the small investment of time that it costs. Small changes regularly become big!
Inconspicuous pain, tightness and discomfort at the start or end of a ride can be easily ignored and managed by subtle compensations. In time, however, biomechanic inefficiencies reveal themselves and impact not only cycling, but also functional activities in daily life. These can often be helped significantly by the practitioners prescription of your Home Exercise Program (HEP).
The most common sites of pain in cyclists that we see are low backs, hips, knees and necks. While not always a major source of pain, a limitation in hip mobility is often the underlying cause of cycling injuries. After all, the hips are the driving force when riding, so discrepancies between right and left hips can lead to problems elsewhere in the body and put excess stress on neighbouring joints of the knees and low back.
In addition, a stiff thoracic spine—the large section of the spine from the base of the ribcage to the tops of the shoulder blades—can result in discomfort in the shoulders and neck when riding.
Why do cyclists need to do off-the-bike conditioning?
Cycling is predominantly one motion — pedalling — with a limited range of movement, using the same muscles repeatedly. This can lead to imbalances. Riders assume they can cycle their way to fitness, but it’s not fitness in the holistic sense. If you don’t address imbalances with exercises and conditioning, your injury risk increases.
What are the most common issues in cyclists?
Generally, it’s tightness and stiffness, particularly for cyclists who sit a lot and have desk jobs — they’re always sitting, either on a bike or at their desk. While seated, the hip is in its shortest position, the hip flexors aren’t working, meaning they can get really tight, same for the hamstrings.
As a martial artist, you need flexibility, but is it really important for cyclists?
It’s true that the range of motion needed in cycling is relatively limited. But what you need to look at is how a lack of flexibility will impact your biomechanics.
If you’re particularly tight in one area, it’ll have a knock-on effect in another area, which can make you susceptible to injury. Having poor flexibility also hampers your ability to hold an aerodynamic riding position.
Most people treasure their time. How do you convince them that this type of workout is really worthwhile?
Prevention is better than cure. A little time invested regularly means you’ll avoid time off the bike with injuries. What’s more, you need a strong core for stability — in order to transfer power efficiently to the pedals. To really develop that strength, you need to isolate certain muscles and develop them specifically.
The mobility exercises and stretches can help prevent injury and keep you healthy this riding season and many more to come. Chances are that you’re riding earlier in the morning or later in the day as it cools off, and you have not been moving much prior to the ride.
Unless you sleepwalk and perform hip flexor stretching in the middle of the night, I’d recommend performing at least 2-3 of the following mobility exercises before hopping on the bike. Put down the phone and/or computer and do your joints and soft tissues a favor with a 10-minute mobility session while drinking a cup of coffee (if well hydrated) or water (if not) before your ride.
In general, you want to focus on hips and thoracic spine; picking one exercise from each category is a quick and easy way to warm up before you hop in the saddle.
The stretches are all dynamic, not static, as you need to prepare your body for movement. As such, stretching should be mobile, moving in and out of the stretch to hydrate tissues and improve joint mobility.
Hip Flexor and Quad Stretching: In a kneeling lunge position, reach up and overhead as you move your hips forward and back 10 times. If there’s one thing you can do daily, this is it!
Offset Child’s Pose: On all fours, with your right knee ahead of your left, move your hips back to your heels 10 times. Repeat to the other side.
Deep Squat: This can be difficult, but in time will improve. You might need to support yourself by holding onto something as you drop down into a squat, butt towards the ground. Once in position, take 5 deep breaths expanding the ribcage and low back.
Posterior Lunges: Step back with your right leg, keeping the left forward. Repeat to the other side.
Thoracic Spine Mobility:
Doorway Stretch: Put your forearms in a doorway, lean into the stretch to open up chest while tucking chin.
T-Spine Mobility: On all fours, lean back into child’s pose while straightening your right arm forward. Take your left hand and move it to the right, under your chest. Repeat to the other side.
A Few Other Things To Remember:
Form: At the start of the ride, think tall spine, relaxed shoulders. Keeping yours eyes on the road (obviously), draw your chin back as if making a double chin. Maintain a nice high cadence and smooth pedal stroke, knowing that at some point you’ll probably go down into your drops or aero bars for harder race efforts. I find initiating the ride with good form carries over to times when you have to hammer in a more flexed position.
Foam Rolling: Most of us have a love/hate relationship with the foam roller. Trust me. It will help. Focus on the quads and thoracic spine to loosen up muscles before the ride and for recovery after.
Strength Training: After your weekend-long rides, if you have time, I recommend doing some squats, lunges and planks. A quick strength session, 20-30 minutes, can help improve power at the end of a ride when it’s most important. I find that it equalizes mobility in the joints and tissues as we tend to favour a stronger, less fatigued side of the body as the hours in the saddle go on. Your body will thank you for the next morning.
Many parents often believe that mountain biking is more of a teenage or adult sport, ruling it out as an option for their child. The activity develops strength, fitness and stamina, and is a great way to get younger people involved and enjoy physical activity while building strong foundations in a number of important developmental areas.Children can start mountain biking as soon as they can pedal on a bike, from as early as 3 years old. At OpentraX we start working with children as young as 6 years old. Stamina and physical strength are not required to master the fundamental skills of mountain biking. All these can be taught and practised in a safe, friendly, social environment, using teaching aids we designed especially for this purpose. Keeping it fun, games-based and enjoyable keeps engagement high.Our programs for kids focus on eye-body coordination, balance, MTB specific skills, as well as social skills (dialogue with coaches and peers, mutual help, praise, games, friendly contests, etc).Often creative approaches are needed to overcome a few unique challenges with young kids. Occasionally, complex mountain biking skills cannot easily be described in words, concentration and attention that reasonably cannot be expected from very young kids so we adapt how we get important information across.