Cycling is a popular sport and hobby all over the world, and is a great way to get some exercise as well. With that, many cyclists love it so much that they often cycle frequently and for long hours, especially outdoors during the warmer months. While this is generally a healthy activity, due to the repetitive nature of cycling (or any sport that could be as intense) there are certain preventative measures to take so that you can continue cycling without injury. Because, let’s be honest, you want to be out there cycling rather than recovering from an injury!
Let’s talk about the position you are in when you cycle. Often, we are sitting and hunched down and forward while cycling. This position is advantageous for decreasing wind resistance, however can be tough on our spines. It is important to spend time and effort to counterbalance the effects of this position. It’s good to work on mobility exercises and stretches that bend the spine in all the other directions- extension, rotation and laterally to the sides. I love a foam roller for rolling out and stretching the mid and upper back (thoracic spine) as well.
Also, strengthening is extremely important for my cyclists, and especially single leg stability strength training. This means, each leg is as strong as the other one with symmetrical ability to push and pull during cycling. The gluteal muscles and hamstrings are both important muscles to work during strength exercises. It is important to work each leg individually for the best results as well. These muscles will help to pull the pedals through during cycling, thus decreasing the risk of knee injury, hip flexor overcompensation and thigh pain.
Our “core” is also a great area to strengthen, as this will keep our back supported as we cycle. The deep core muscles act as an internal corset around our spine and are the most important layer to engage. While riding, it’s great to work on pulling your belly button in toward your spine in order to “turn on” these deep muscles.
Neck pain is often very common with cyclists as well, again because of the position of the spine and head/neck for a prolonged period of time. There are particular neck exercises that can help to keep this pain and injury free. “Chin retractions” are a great exercise that you can perform daily. This is pulling your head back into a retracted position, as if you are a turtle pulling your head into the shell. Fifteen repetitions three times a day can stave off those neck issues.
I recommend seeing a physical therapist for an evaluation in order to determine where you are currently and how you can prevent any issues in the future due to your cycling. The physical therapist can give you a set of particular exercises that will keep you strong, fit and injury-free during your cycling season and well into the future. He or she can evaluate any previous areas of concern, and now is the time to dedicate to your exercise program so that when the warmer months arise you are ready to get on your bike and go!