Balance Body and Bike
People have been riding bikes since the 1800s, however in recent years the number of people cycling, has surged. No longer is it an elite competitive sport, it’s now a worldwide, mass-participation activity. I’m a keen cyclist myself and have entered many sportives over the last few years, and am often to be found out of the saddle struggling up Riber or a gradient more to my liking such as Rowsley.
It’s not just a means of getting you from A to B or the fact that it’s an opportunity that’s available to most people, regardless of age, size or ability, cycling is great exercise. It is an extremely effective form of low weight-bearing cardio (aerobic) exercise. While weight-bearing activity like running is important to maintain good bone health, it’s a very good idea to mix it up with some non-weight-bearing activities like cycling and swimming.
Cycling can also be an adventure, getting out on trails and exploring new areas, taking in beautiful views or just the fresh air. And although your cycling sessions can be solitary if you want them to be, it is also a great sport to do with others, creating lots of opportunities for forming new friendships and building new communities.
For those of us who are more competitive, there are plenty of opportunities to put ourselves to the test, with a huge range of long and short distance competitions, charity events, and multi-sport challenges like triathlons. This brings the added satisfaction of giving us physical goals and challenges to work towards.
Then there’s the green aspect – opting to ride a bike instead of using a car keeps pollution and gas related emissions at zero.
But most of all its fun and it makes you happy, thanks to the hormones called endorphins, which are released when you exercise.
But fitness can also be fickle. One minute you’re in the form of your life, and the next you find yourself struggling to rotate the pedals without pain. Cycling injuries are an unfortunate downside to the sport, and some people are more prone to suffering them, than others.
There are two main types of cycling injuries, those caused by falling off (acute injury), often resulting in fractures, contusions, abrasions and concussion. And then the more common overuse injuries caused by the repetitive nature of cycling including overtraining, biomechanical stresses, often due to muscle imbalances, and incorrect bike set-up.
This is why being posturally assessed and having your bike set up checked, are particularly important if you plan on cycling regularly. And just because you have it done one year, doesn’t mean you’re sorted. Everyday activities affect our muscles balances and this can change over time. And it is very frequently these muscle imbalances, that cause injury.
As with any overuse, overload or training error injury, you have to consider your body’s tissue capacity. Musculoskeletal tissues including muscle, tendon and bone are constantly evolving and with appropriate loading (training) and adequate recovery time, the tissue gets stronger and develops better stamina.
However, over-loading or under-loading results can cause a breakdown in tissues, tissue fatigue, and pain. Hence, cumulative stress or load that’s above the capacity of the tissues, can cause overuse injury. This makes monitoring your training load, giving your body time to adapt, and increasing the volume and intensity of your training gradually is an essential component of staying injury free when cycling.
And this is relevant whether you’re a casual recreational cyclist who takes their bike for a spin once a week, compared with more serious cyclists who take part in long group training rides.
A Ferrari built on a Ford chassis? Unthinkable! But could that be you? Imagine the speed and power of a Ferrari without a matching chassis to ensure stability and control required for good handling and sticking to the road. The inner workings providing the stability, control, and endurance that comes from your core and surrounding pelvic/buttock muscles is essential as a base for good injury-free cycling.
There are three A-B-C components to staying injury free on a bike:
A – Alignment ie. muscle imbalances, weakness, flexibility issues, leg length discrepancies and being flat-footed can all lead to injury.
B – Bike set up – again this is fundamental to get right. Incorrect bike set up can be the cause of injuries that could side line you for months and yet it’s easy to get right with some good advice.
C – Conditioning and fitness – a good stretching and strengthening programme to correct the muscle imbalances and ensure you’re strong where you need to be, is the final component in staying injury free.
Like any repetitive motion sport, cycling can produce a catalogue of niggling aches and pains, which if left untreated can become more serious.