3-exercises-to-prevent-cycling-injuries Pro Cycling Outlet

The most common injuries for cyclists are caused by overuse and tightness. It’s one area where there is a lot of overlap between amateurs and pros as overuse is a problem at all levels. So, if you want to prevent cycling overuse injury, the best thing is to strengthen key muscles and increase your flexibility. 

Beginner cyclists transitioning to amateur, or amateurs going pro, increase the amount of training load. Going from casually riding 4 hours a week to 15 on the way up, to 20-30 hours as a pro needs stronger core and glutes to avoid the common cycling complaints of sore knees and lower back pain. 

Beginners can find they put too much pressure on their shoulders, arms and hands because their legs, hips and core aren’t strong enough to do the work on longer, more demanding rides. At the other end, pros can often be guilty of “pushing through” when they’re tired and injuring themselves that way.

Why do tight muscles cause cycling injuries?

Cycling, as an activity, uses a fairly limited range of movements so the danger of overuse is already high. When one muscle gets tight, stiff, sore or uncomfortable, the body adapts and makes movements using other muscles to compensate. 

The hips and pelvis are especially important as tight muscles there cause back pain and, perhaps more surprisingly, strain on the knees. These muscles tend towards tightness when we sit, whether that’s on a bike, in a car, at a desk, or watching TV. 

How can you prevent cycling injuries?

Girona-based physiotherapist Kat Stene, who treats pros including Mitchelton Scott Women's Team at her Força 13 clinic, sees overuse injuries a lot. “There isn’t great research on prevention but from working with cyclists for over 20 years I recommend certain exercises to avoid overuse caused by tight muscles. Basically, if people keep their glutes and core switched on appropriately they’re much less likely to get knee and back injuries.” 

3 simple exercises to prevent cycling injury

These stretching and strengthening exercises can be done every day and you don’t need any special equipment aside from an exercise mat.

Dead bugs

Stretching for cyclists

This one strengthens your core but, Kat says, most people can’t do a full dead bug straight off because they lack the core control to do it correctly in the first place. For this exercise, you don’t want to be using the “six-pack” muscles or gripping your bum. Instead, focus on using the deep core muscles (transverse abdominals) and start with a single-leg version, working up to using both legs alternately. 

  1. Lay on your back and extend your arms to the ceiling. Your legs should be bent at right angles to the hips. 
  2. While slowly extending the left leg so it’s parallel to the floor, drop your right arm straight out behind you. Keep the arm and leg off the floor and your core engaged with your lower back pressed to the floor. 
  3. Bring your left leg and right arm back to the start position. If you’re doing the single-leg version, repeat 9 more times. Once you have the appropriate control, you can alternate: left leg and right arm, then right leg and left arm. Build up to 3 sets.

Advanced clam stretch

Cyclists stretches

This is an adapted clam as Kat finds that the standard clam over-emphasises the side hip muscles (tensor fascia latae, or TFL). By adjusting the angle, you make the exercise harder but concentrate the work on the glutes to stabilise the pelvis and prevent lower back strain. 

  1. Lie on your side, with legs straight and your head resting on your outstretched arm.
  2. Bend the top leg, roll your hips forward, and slide the knee away so your legs form the shape of a number 4. The top leg should be at 45° to the floor.  
  3. Keeping the hips in line with the shoulders, tighten your core and lift the knee so you feel the work in your glute. 
  4. Start with 3 sets of 10 each side, building to 3 sets of 30.

Couch stretch

Flexibility is just as important as strength when it comes to avoiding injury. During cycling, or any kind of sitting, the muscles along the front of your hips (hip flexors) and legs are constantly in “flexion”, so this exercise allows time for extension to reduce the tightness. 

“Particularly amateur cyclists tend to have tight hip flexors and quads,” says Kat, “which stops you getting into a good position on the bike, and that tightness causes knee and back injuries.” 

  1. Kneel in front of the couch with your back to it. Position your left knee as close to the couch as possible, lean the shin against it, and flex and lean the foot on the cushions. 
  2. Support yourself with your hands and step your right foot forward into a kind of lunge position, ankle below the knee and knee at right angles to the ground.
  3. This might already feel like a stretch but the aim is to press your hips forward to feel a stretch and hold for 20-30 seconds, repeating twice on this leg before swapping over. You can rest your hands on your knee for stability but don’t rotate the hips. 

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