Cycling is one of the best exercises for cardiovascular fitness and of course, leg power and strength. As a physiotherapist, we use cycling to keep range of motion in the arthritic knee and build strength in the quads. For any post-surgical knee, the cycle is one of the most important tools to get the knee back to full function.
However, as with any repetitive single dimensional exercise without specific cross-training, you can develop an injury – and cycling will turn from joy to torture.
The three most common injuries we see are;
• ITB Syndrome (lateral knee overuse)
• Low back pain
• Neck impingement
ITB Syndrome results from the Iliotibial band rubbing around the outside of the knee. Over time this friction creates pain, inflammation and changes the way the knee moves.
Severe ITB Syndrome can be so painful that the sufferer can’t walk down a flight of stairs.
I experienced this as a young triathlete, before my physio days. Unfortunately, I didn’t do the cross training and to this day I still have trouble from the scar tissue left over from not managing the problem correctly.
As you can see on the below diagram the ITB runs from the hip to the knee. Because cycling puts the hip in a constant flexed position this shortens the ITB, so when you stand upright the tightness pulls around the outside of the knee.
Preventing ITB Syndrome is a lot easier than fixing it. The two things every cyclist should do to help prevent ITB Syndrome is to strengthen the Gluteus medius and to keep the ITB band soft. Below are my two favorite exercises.
• Side lying bent knee leg lift
• ITB Obie Roller release
When the Gluteus medius gets weak, it won’t be long until the cyclist starts to experience low back pain. Because of the constant flexion into the low back and the long hours in the same position, simple low back pain can turn to more serious conditions involving nerve entrapment and sciatica.
A good core-strengthening regimen needs to be part of every cyclist’s routine. Two 30 minute sessions per week and 10 minutes a day will go a long way to preventing a severe back injury. The cycling motion overlooks the core muscles of the gluteus medius, the transverse abdominus and other smaller muscles surrounding the pelvis.
Not only will core strength prevent injury it will generate more power and make you a better cyclist.
Having a weak core will prevent cyclists from generating the required stability. This leads to pain in the lower back by forcing supporting muscles to compensate for the weakness of others. If your power muscles are busy trying to support the core, then they are robbing you of required power into the legs.
Find a Pilates or Oov or CX Works class which is challenging and enjoyable. Learn the moves and work it into your weekly routine. The core is way more than just crunches and planks. Core training should involve the three dimensional positioning of the pelvis to generate maximum power for your sport.
Finally, neck impingement. This often comes from poor bike setup and severe tightness in the shoulders and upper back. Most of the tightness develops first in the upper trapezious which runs from the base of the skull down to the shoulder blades. Poor posture is the second cause of neck issues in cyclists. Sitting all day in the office with head forward and shoulders rounded, and then getting on a bike for hours and doing the same thing is a recipe for disaster.
The following two drills on the Obie Roller will help release the upper trapezious and elongate the thoracic spine.
As a keen cyclist, I find I don’t have any trouble with my cycling as long as I keep doing the exercises. Get into it, take the time to develop a good routine and you will be able to enjoy cycling for much longer and at a higher performance.