7 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Body on Your Bike Part 2
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7 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Body on Your Bike: Part 2
Whether you are a commuting cyclist, a recreational cyclist or a competitive cyclist, knowing more about bike fitting, cycling position and the important cycling muscles will help you to enjoy your ride even more. While cycling, the body and the bike need to work in perfect harmony to increase efficiency. These tips will give you simple and practical information to improve your cycling capacity and to avoid injuries. When fitted properly and pedalling smoothly, you will decrease your energy expenditure so you can aim ride longer, ride more often and even beat your mates.
Being fit on your bike
- Strengthening should start with core stabilisation
- Focus on a smooth pedal stroke with a high cadence
- Prevention is better than cure: consult early if you have any issues before it leads to pain and stops you from cycling
Being fit on your bike
We could think that cycling is all about lower body strength and power; however this is not the case. The legs are certainly an important part of the puzzle, but the upper body and the trunk need to be taken into account. Mobility, strength, flexibility and stability of every body part play an important role in cycling performance. Appropriate strengthening, stretching, mobility and coordination exercises make a significant difference on your cycling performance.
Strengthening should start with core stabilisation
The body is made of two main categories of muscles, the mobilising and the stabilising muscles. These two types of muscles are really important in cycling but need to be considered separately because the way to train them differs. It is important to start with the stabiliser muscles to provide the mobiliser muscles a stable anchor allowing them to use all their power to push on the pedal and pull the handlebar. If the core is weak, they will lose energy by trying to stabilise the body on the bike which is likely to lead to overuse injuries.
Deep core muscles play an essential role in stabilising the trunk to avoid excessive lateral and torsion movements of the body which result in a loss of energy and power. The key muscles are the transversus abdominis and the multifidus in the back, the deep neck flexors and extensors in the neck and the rotator cuff in the shoulder. These muscles need endurance and tone to be active at a low level throughout your ride or workout and also be able to stabilise the body during high intensity efforts. Therefore, these muscles are trained with global body exercises when the trunk stays still; abdominals and back exercises such as crunches and back extensions do not train these muscles.
The key muscles in the legs for cycling are the gluteus maximus (A), psoas/iliacus (F), hamstrings (E), quadriceps (B) and calf (C). They need to be strong and flexible to generate power on the pedal. In the upper body, deltoids, latissimus dorsi, trapezius and rhomboids are the most important muscles to pull on the handlebars effectively and to support the trunk. These muscles can be strengthened off the bike with weight training and plyometric exercises. When possible, using a position and movement similar to cycling help the muscles to develop strength in those specific angles.
Focus on a smooth pedal stroke with a high cadence
An effective pedal stroke is smooth and circular to increase the stability and to engage all muscles. If it looks or feels like a separate upstroke and downstroke, there is probably a lack of coordination, muscle activation, joint mobility or muscles flexibility. To improve your pedal stroke, the main problem needs to be address with specific training, rehabilitation or bike fitting modification.
Once the pedal stroke is smooth at low cadence, it is important to be able to maintain this fluidity at higher cadence (80-90 rpm) to reduce the energetic cost of cycling4,7. To achieve a smooth pedal stroke at high cadence, it takes practice. Stationary trainer or rollers are really useful for this purpose as you can change the resistance, pedal continuously, and concentrate on your pedal stroke without having to pay attention to the road and cars.
Prevention is better than cure: consult early if you have any issues before it leads to pain and stops you from cycling.
The vast majority of pain and injuries arising from cycling are non-traumatic injuries related to overuse1,9. Several causes can be responsible for symptoms to develop such as improper cycling technique, sudden increases in intensity or volume of training and improper bike fitting. Whatever the cause is and whether or not some problems or dysfunctions were present initially, pain will result from the accumulation of strain in your body reaching a critical threshold. Considering that the cycling cadence in elite road cyclists is usually between 80 to 90 rpm4,7 and that higher cadence (100-110rpm) is also common for short duration, it is obvious that if the pedalling pattern is altered, injuries can develop quickly with this high rate of repetitive movements. The main body dysfunctions leading to pain are detailed below…
Imbalances are mainly caused by differences in muscle strength or flexibility. It can be present between the same muscle of the left and right side which can lead to an increase in torsion force on the body challenging core stability and leading to overuse of one limb. Imbalance can also be between antagonist muscles (which produce opposite movements) of the same limb. This will alter the fluidity of the movement, increases the compression of the joint and puts the muscles at higher risk of strain and injuries. In cycling, the muscles of the legs are more prone to imbalance; therefore a muscle assessment and proper off the bike training are essential to detect these issues and address them.
To cycle effectively, muscles need to be strong, but more importantly to contract or activate with the appropriate timing. Some muscles can contract properly with isolated weight training, although it doesn’t mean the timing will be optimal when achieving a complex and fast task like cycling. Improper motor pattern will result in lack of coordination between muscles and overactivity of some muscles. The most frequent issue with cyclists is the lack of activation of the gluteal. It results in overuse and early fatigue of the hamstrings and quadriceps while extending the leg to push down on the pedal. Poor psoas activation is another example that usually leads to overuse of the TFL (accessory hip flexor) and lateral hip pain. Specific assessment for muscle activation can identify those improper motor patterns and their underlying causes. These issues can be addressed with appropriate interventions and exercises.
The mobility or range of motion of every joint in the legs greatly affects the cycling technique and fluidity of each pedal stroke. However, the mobility of the back and arms also affect considerably posture, comfort and performance. The main joints to consider other than the legs are the lumbo-pelvic region (hip, pelvis and low back), the thoracic spine, the neck and the wrists. Although, major movement restrictions or stiffness in other joints will potentially affect the cycling pattern. Reduced movement or increased tightness of a joint can have an impact throughout the body. First, the muscles moving the joint will have to produce more effort to move the stiff joint. Second, the joints around will need to reach extreme range (hyperextension, hyperflexion) to compensate for the restricted joint which increases the risk of injuries through these joints. If the compensation from the joints above and below is insufficient, there will also be an increase in rotation and torsion of the trunk and throughout the entire body. These issues can be prevented by assessing the posture and the mobility of every joint and addressing any issues with the proper intervention.
If you haven’t already seen the PART 1: FITTING YOUR BIKE, have a look for more tips and information on how to properly fit your bike.
Who can help you?
As physiotherapists, we are specialists in the assessment and care of the musculoskeletal system. We can test all the essential aspects of your body that can affect your cycling. With a thorough body assessment, we can pick up what can trigger pain or alter your performance. Whether your joint mobility, muscle strength or flexibility, core stability or patterns of movement are problematic, we are the experts who can fix these dysfunctions.
You can also act before the onset of pain by having a screening assessment to find out which areas in your body are accumulating strain. Intervention to decrease tension in your body and making sure muscles are working properly is the best way to optimise performance and to avoid overuse injuries leading to the necessity of taking time off the bike.
Another essential component of cycling we can assist you with is to make sure your bike is properly fit for you.
Contact us to fit your bike, prevent pain and injuries stopping you from cycling, to improve your performance or to get on top of your injuries and avoid recurrences.
Northwest Physiotherapy Group
Phone: 9370 5654
To know more about cycling injuries, bike fitting and performance; follow the links below to find ongoing updates on new trends and most recent research.