Bicycling participation is on the rise in a big way. In fact, bicycling is growing on a national level faster than any other recreational sport, even surpassing golf. Factors such as Lance Armstrong’s popularity and organization, charity rides such as Team in Training and Tour de Cure, increased fitness awareness in the fight against obesity, and the rising cost of gasoline are all contributing to the sport’s popularity.
New bicycle riders and seasoned participants alike are prone to overuse injuries. An important fact that many people are simply not aware of, whether just entering the sport or even with years of experience, is that you don’t need to suffer through bicycling.
Many people associate bicycling with pain. Think of riding, and you might think of knee pain or back pain, either of which may deter you from riding your bike. Pain is often described as ‘weakness leaving the body,’ but this is not necessarily true, and in fact on the bike it usually is incorrect.
Common pains people experience while bicycling include lower back, neck and shoulder pain, numbness of the feet, hands and saddle region, and knee pains (front, outside, and behind). Pains and injuries often mean that your pain affects how long or how far you can ride. Pain or numbness usually have a gradual onset during your ride, and if they are significant, the pain and numbness can last well after the end of your ride, which in turn affects your attitude about riding again. The good news is on-the-bike pain syndromes are usually caused by poor bike fit and are often solvable.
The top ways to avoid an overuse injury:
Proper bike fit is a marriage of sorts between your body and your bicycle. Your body changes over time, so your bike fit needs to change with it. Just as relationships evolve, so too must your bike fit. If you really want an overuse injury, never follow up with your bike fit pro. On the other hand, if you want to maintain a healthy bike fit, follow up on a regular basis to monitor changes in your flexibility, strength, equipment, skills and goals. If you get another bike, get another fit.
If you are careful to not recruit your lower back and abdominal muscles on the bike, your neck, hips and shoulders will be forced to work harder, which will greatly increase your chances of getting an overuse injury. Just in case that’s not in your list of goals, however, using your abdominals and lower back muscles to support your awe-inspiring bike posture will go a long ways towards helping you stay comfortable and injury-free on the bike.
Stretching is boring, right? Bicycling requires certain levels of flexibility that most people don’t have. Skipping stretching can avoid necessary gains in flexibility or result in tight muscles as a function of increasing levels of exercise. Tight muscles are muscles that are just waiting to be strained, pulled or torn. Flexibility plays a key role in reducing stress on your thoracic spine, legs and hips. If you work on keeping these key areas flexible, you will decrease risk of injury and improve your posture.
Leg and back strength are your friends, and there is no shortcut to gaining them. If you overwork your muscles, the result is muscle trauma. You can’t do tomorrow what you skipped today and expect to keep your goal timeline the same. It’s best to start early, and keep your strength exercises muscle specific. For instance, strengthening your abdominal muscles will not result in stronger back muscles. You need a healthy muscle balance, which means if you want stronger lower back muscles (which are great for cycling), you need to do specific lower back exercises.
Possibly the most common bicycle skill deficit is lack of pedaling skills. Proper pedaling recruits quadricep, hip, calf, and gluteal muscle groups equally and simultaneously. If you are a “gear-masher,” a rider who primarily uses their quadricep muscles to drive big gears at low revolutions per minute (RPM), you are primed for an overuse injury.
Optimal endurance bicycle cadence should be 90 RPM. It takes time and patience to develop this core bicycling skill. A bicycle computer with a cadence feature will help you monitor your progress while you learn what 90 RPM’s feels like. Eventually, it will become second nature. Pedaling smaller gears at higher RPM’s reduces the risk of muscle injuries. It also helps you conserve energy during prolonged efforts.
Common training mistakes often involve distance and intensity. If you increase milage and intensity too quickly, before gaining muscle strength, flexibility and endurance, you put your body at risk for overuse injury.
There is a delicate balance to be struck when making increases. Longer rides should be done at a lower intensity, and higher intensity training should be done on shorter rides.
Periodized training plans can help you avoid training injuries. Periodized training accounts for appropriate increases in volume and intensity, and imposes appropriate recovery periods that help reduce the risk of injury.
These topics will be covered in greater depth right here on BikePT. Attention to them will help you reach your bicycling goals. Knowledgeable friends and qualified professionals can help you stay on course. Find a local BikePT certified pro in your area to get started with a proper bike fit.