Have you ever experienced nagging knee pain while riding a bike? It can be very frustrating and take away all the fun of cycling. However, knee pain is not the only problem riders encounter; it can be any other body part that may cause discomfort while cycling.
Thus, paying attention to your body and taking care of it is essential to avoid any injuries or pain. As a professional coach, I have worked with many athletes and witnessed how proper bike fit, strength and conditioning, and preventative exercises like stretching and pilates can help prevent injuries and pain.
In addition to bike fit, factors like strength and conditioning, flexibility, mobility, and pedaling technique are also crucial for maintaining a healthy body while cycling.
As someone who has coached professional athletes for over 20 years, I’ve learned a thing or two that can help make cycling more enjoyable and less painful. These tips have been tested and proven to be effective.
Some of these tips might be things you’ve heard before, while others might be new to you. But all of them are important for keeping your body healthy and injury-free while cycling.
1. Bike Fit
A proper bike fit is crucial for preventing potential injuries on and off the bike. I highly recommend seeking a skilled bike fitter who can help improve your riding performance.
Poor riding posture can cause many injuries and discomfort cyclists face for years, and a bike fit can help ease the pain. A bike fit involves finding the optimal position for your:
- Bike seat
- Pedals, and
- Other components to ensure that you are comfortable, safe, and efficient while riding.
A bike fit may also include adjusting the height of your seat-post, the angle of your handlebars, the position of your pedals, and many other fine-tuning adjustments.
While a bike fit is not a magic solution that will protect you from injuries, it can significantly reduce your chances of getting injured while cycling. Moreover, it can make your riding experience more enjoyable by reducing discomfort and enhancing performance.
2. Individualized Programming
Cycling is an excellent, low-impact aerobic exercise that provides many benefits. Compared to high-impact activities such as running, cycling places significantly less stress on the joints, particularly the knees, hips, and ankles.
Running can cause microtrauma to the bones and joints with every stride, leading to wear and tear injuries over time. Cycling, in contrast, is a non-weight-bearing activity that provides a smooth, circular motion that doesn’t jolt the body.
As a result, it’s an ideal exercise for people with joint issues, such as osteoarthritis, as well as those recovering from injuries.
The low-impact nature of cycling is incredibly positive, but it can also be a double-edged sword. Cyclists, even experienced ones, often push themselves too hard, leading to overuse injuries.
To avoid this, it’s essential to manage your training and riding program carefully. One effective approach is to use fitness tracking apps like Strava or Training Peaks to monitor your progress and adjust your training accordingly.
These cycling apps can help you:
- Set goals
- Track your progress
- Identify strengths and weaknesses
- Analyse ride data like power, heart rate, and even
- Keep you motivated
Another critical way to avoid injury is to incorporate recovery time into your routine. After a long, hard ride, I recommend scheduling a “recovery ride.” A recovery ride is performed at a low intensity, generally in Zone 1, and helps flush out the niggles from the previous ride.
3. Off-Bike Strength and Conditioning
When it comes to strength and conditioning, most people think of bodybuilding. However, there’s more to it than building muscles. Strength and conditioning primarily focuses on improving your functional movement safely and efficiently.
The goal is to strengthen your muscles, especially the stabilizer muscles you can’t see. These muscles play an essential role in maintaining proper posture and pedaling technique while cycling and preventing injuries.
There are a variety of strength and conditioning exercises that are beneficial for cycling. These exercises include but are not limited to:
- Theraband work
- Lateral lunges
- Monster walk
- Leg extensions, and
- Hamstring Bridges
I recommend performing these exercises at least three times a week to get the most out of them. If you’re new to strength and conditioning training, starting with two sets of 12 to 15 reps of each movement is best.
As you gain more strength, you can gradually increase the intensity. By incorporating these exercises into your routine, you’ll be able to improve your cycling performance and reduce your risk of injury.
4. Warm-Up and Cool-Down
Cycling is a great way to stay fit, but it’s important to remember that a proper warm-up and cool-down are essential for avoiding injury. I’ve heard numerous stories from clients who have experienced cramps, muscle strains, and other issues due to skipping these steps.
Many cyclists think warming up is difficult and takes a long time. But actually, it’s pretty simple. You don’t need to do anything fancy. Just doing a few simple exercises like jumping jacks, skipping rope, or taking a brisk walk can help your muscles get ready for exercise and get your blood flowing.
With a warm-up, the key is gradually increasing your heart rate and body temperature without overdoing it. You don’t need to break a sweat, but you should feel a little warmer than when you started.
Similarly, cool-down exercises are just as crucial for preventing injury and promoting recovery. After your ride, take a few minutes to stretch, walk around, and gradually decrease your heart rate.
This will help prevent stiffness and soreness and prepare your body for your next ride.
5. In and Out of The Saddle
If you’re planning a long ride, it’s important to keep moving to avoid any stiffness and discomfort. You can try various techniques to stretch and move your body, but ensure you’re an experienced rider who maintains balance easily.
For instance, when the road is clear, I like to take my hands off the handlebars and stretch my shoulders, back, and neck.
Another option is to get out of the saddle routinely, which can help reduce pressure and engage different muscles. This is easier when climbing, but you can also try it on a flat road by changing gears.
Cycling is a great sport that provides an excellent workout and allows you to see beautiful scenery and explore new places. However, following the five steps outlined above is essential to prevent injuries.
Here’s a quick recap:
- Get a bike fit.
- Track your progress.
- Incorporate strength and conditioning.
- Don’t skip your warm-up and cool down.
- Move around on the bike.
Brenton is an Australian with 20 years of experience working with professional athletes. These athletes have combined to win more than 15 international events. He holds a Degree in Sports Coaching and was the Head Advisor to the Japanese Government Sports Institute and was the former Manager & Head Coach to Australia’s Governing Sporting Body. Brenton currently consults with several professional athletes and clients from varying backgrounds and sports. Check out Brenton’s ride on STRAVA.