Performance Tips

March 28, 2012

Volume 1: Do Cyclists Get Injuries?

Believe it or not cyclists are prone to many overuse injuries often targeting the lower back, hips, knees and feet. There is almost nothing more frustrating than missing a ride with the WCC due to an injury so you need to take precautions to avoid problems that will take you off the road, or add discomfort when you ride.  To make sure you never miss a ride follow these suggestions:

Make Sure the Bike FitsHaving the correct bike set-up is crucial both to maximize performance and to avoid injuries. The easiest way to avoid common cycling injuries is to make sure your bike frame properly fits your body. An improperly-sized frame can cause back, knee and neck soreness, saddle sores and numbness in your hands. When you’re seated on your bicycle, your legs should fully extend while pedaling. You should be able to grasp the handlebars without straining and your elbows should be slightly bent. Your handlebar shouldn’t be more than one fist-width lower than your saddle to prevent lower back pain. There’s no one-size-fits-all sizing guide to bike frames because bodies vary so drastically. Schedule a bike-fitting with one of our local bike shops to ensure that you are set-up properly.

Check Cleat Placement to Prevent Knee Injuries – When pedaling, the largest force produced acts through the knee up to 5,000 times an hour, so it is no wonder that the slightest incorrect distribution in load can result in a serious knee injury. Cleats that are rotated too far towards the inside may cause increased stress to the IT band as it crosses the outside of the knee. If you pain on the outside of the knee try moving the cleat to a more neutral position and/or widen the stance on the pedal. Remember to make adjustments very gradually as a small movement on the cleat can translate into major changes at the knee and hip level. Medial knee pain can result from external rotation (toes pointing outward) and/or stance too wide on the pedals. To remedy this align the cleat toward neutral with the toes more forward and perhaps narrow the stance on the pedal. Cleats should be positioned so that the ball of your foot is directly over the axle of the pedal.

Listen to Your Body – We are wonderfully made, so wonderful that your body will send you messages to let you know if something isn’t right. Everything from headaches, ‘tired’ eyes, urine colour, aches, tightness, and acute injury pain will be a signal for you to make changes. How many times have you had a niggle or full blown injury, ignored it and continued to train through it in the hope it would magically disappear? Unless there is a trauma involved (ie, an accident), injuries for cyclists rarely happen spontaneously. So don’t bury your head in the sand. Pay attention to your body & the messages it is sending you. Examining what your body is trying to tell you allows you to take proactive steps to correct the problem before it escalates to the point that you need to cut back your training.

A Strong Core is Key – You may have bulging quads and razor cut calves but if your core is weak you have no foundation for movement including the efficiency of your pedal stroke.  A solid core will help eliminate unnecessary upper-body movement, so that all the energy you produce is delivered into a smooth pedal stroke and power into the cranks.  Lower back pain and tight hips are often associated with a weak core but with just a 15 minute routine of exercises focusing on the transverse abdominus, lower back, obliques, glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors you will create a strong core that lets you ride faster, longer, more powerfully–and finish stronger than ever. (Note: Please consult your physician prior to attempting these exercises if you have any pre-existing conditions.)

Muscles are like Elastic Bands – Keep them Stretched – Trigger points – sore and tight spots in your muscles – reduce the extent to which your muscles can stretch and therefore produce power. Unfortunately you can’t ‘stretch out’ a trigger point. But by treating your trigger points properly, you will improve your ability to stretch (or lengthen) your muscles and therefore increase the amount of power you are able to produce from them. There are plenty of tools on the market that you can use. Try a foam roller, rolling pin or a tennis ball to target your calf muscles, quadriceps, butt and the IT Band. Increasing flexibility in the muscles and joints will reduce the stress on these areas during training. Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective or important. Combined with a strong & stable core and you will be well on your way to your next PB!

Posture Perfect – Posture is not normally something associated with injuries but how you sit and stand everyday affects your body and can increase your risk of injury. Think about how you sit on the sofa, in the car or in front of the computer, and how long you spend seated on a daily basis. These types of repetitive movements cause changes in your muscles and joint function. A tightness in one spot will inevitably produce a problem (whether it is a movement compensation or pain) elsewhere. Relax your shoulders, brace your core, keep your neck mobile and you will go a long way to reduce your risk of injury.

Give this routine of “Core Exercises” a try adding it to your training routine 3-4 times per week:

1. The Founder – What It Works: Lower back, glutes, hamstrings and upper back

A. Stand with feet shoulder width apart bending knees slightly and keeping your weight on your heels. Extend your spine by hinging from your hips.

B. Reach back with your arms, shoulders pulling down toward your butt. Really think of pushing your hips back and feeling the tension in your lower back. Hold this position for 15 seconds.

C. Stay in this position and lift your arms in front of you as high as you can. Keep your weight on your heels and your hips back. Hold for 15 seconds.

D. Take a deep breath, then exhale and fold all the way forward keeping your back flat and your hips hinging back as you place your hands on the ground in front of you.

E. Bend your knees, press your hands against your shins, extend your spin lifting your chest high and arching your lower back. Hold for 15 seconds.

F. Repeat B. and C.

2. Back Extension – What It Works: Erector Spinae and Multifidi (stabilizes muscles at the base spine)

A. Lie flat on your stomach with your arms stretched out in front of you. Look at the floor in front of you but don’t extend your neck to look straight ahead.

B. Bring your elbows and forearms off the floor and pull your elbows hard into your rib cage/midback using your shoulder blades and keeping them contracted.

C. Lift your upper body off the floor, leading with your chest and keeping your feet flat on the ground to avoid too much spinal compression.

D. Slowly lower your chest while keeping your elbows and hands off the ground. Repeat 15 times.


3. Bridge – What It Works: Hip flexors, glutes, lower back

A. Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your heels near your glutes. Arms are at your sides, palms down.

B. In one smooth motion, squeeze your glutes, raise your hips off the floor and push up from your heels to form a straight line from shoulders to knees; toes come off the floor slightly. Hold for two seconds. Keeping your toes raised, lower yourself three-quarters of the way to complete one rep. Do 20 repetitions.


4. Plank –  What It Works: Transverse abdominus, upper and lower back

A. Lying on your stomach, place your elbows under your shoulders with forearms and hands on the floor.

B. Lift your hips off the floor, keeping your back straight and abs tight, and rest on your toes. Aim for 60 seconds.



5. Transverse Plank – What It Works: Transverse abdominus and obliques

A. Lie on your right side, with your right elbow under your shoulder, forearm in front for stability, and stack your left foot on your right. Raise your left arm over your head.

B. In one motion, lift your hips to create a straight line down your left side. Lower your hips a few inches off the floor; do 10 to 15 reps, then switch sides.


6. Boat Pose –  What It Works: Transverse abdominus, lower back

A. Sit, resting both hands lightly behind you, and lean back until your torso is at a 45-degree angle.

B. Keeping your legs together, lift them off the floor as you extend arms forward at shoulder height. Abs are tight, as thighs and torso form a 90-degree angle. If your hamstrings are tight, you’ll need to bend your knees a little. Work up to holding for 60 seconds.





About the Author

Kelly Ellis
Besides being extremely passionate about cycling and running, she is also committed to fitness both personally and professionally. As the Fitness Director, Personal Trainer & Indoor Cycling Coach for Northfield Racquet & Fitness Club with both a Kinesiology and teaching background, she strives to find ways to educate and motivate others to lead a healthy, active lifestyle. Her training style focuses on functional movements, core strength and having a lot of fun while training. Don’t just train... train right!


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