Whether you ride recreationally or for competition, a professional bike fit is one of the best things you can do to improve your power, efficiency and overall enjoyment of cycling.
Proper bike fit can reduce the risk of overuse injury common to cyclists, including:
- Neck pain
- Low back pain
- Hip pain
- Saddle numbness
- Knee pain
- Foot and ankle pain
- Hand and wrist pain or numbness
- Flexibility and Stretching
Flexibility and Stretching
The most neglected aspect of any exercise program is flexibility. Muscle flexibility and elasticity are essential to prevent the onset of overuse injuries. Inflexible muscles also can lead to musculoskeletal imbalances that could cause injury or pain.
Flexibility is extremely important in cycling because it requires an athlete to be in a fixed position for an extended period of time. This can lead to muscle shortening and reduce joint range of motion. The most common cycling overuse injuries are low back pain and knee pain, both of which can be caused by decreased muscle flexibility.
Prior to a cycling session, an athlete should stretch after a 10-minute warm up, and after the workout is complete. Stretching after a workout is the most beneficial activity for maintaining muscle extensibility and increasing range of motion.
Tips for Stretching
Neck/Trapezius Muscles: Using your right hand, reach over your head and place your hand on the left side of your skull. Gently pull to the right until you feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat three times on each side.
Quadriceps: Stand near an object that you will use for balance. Stand up straight and balance yourself with your left hand. Using your right hand, grab your right ankle and gently pull up and back toward your buttocks. Try to keep your knee in line with your shoulder. You should feel the stretch in the upper front part of your leg. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat three times with each leg.
Hamstrings: Lie flat on your back. Wrap a belt, dog leash or yoga cord around your right foot. Keeping your knee and back straight, pull your right foot up while keeping your left leg on the floor. You should feel the stretch in the back of the leg. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat three times with each leg.
Piriformis/Gluteus Maximus: Lie flat on your back. Pull your right knee toward your chest. Grab your right ankle with your left hand and pull toward your left shoulder. You should feel the stretch in your buttocks. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat three times with each leg.
Calves: Keeping your weight on the wall, step back with your right foot and straighten your right leg. Your right heel should be flat on the ground. Drop your hips toward the wall and hold. You should feel the stretch in you calf. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat three times with each calf.
Have a Plan: Whether preparing for a race, competing in a century or half-century ride or cycling across Georgia, you will need a training plan. A surefire way to accomplish this is through periodization.
- Periodization helps you develop a plan and involves breaking the year or season into four- to eight-week training periods devoted to certain goals. Each period will vary in the intensity, duration and frequency of training. Periodization balances hard and easy training days. A good resource to help develop your periodization schedule is Joe Friel’s Cyclist’s Training Bible(Velo Press;Third Edition;2003).
Train Your Weakness: Many cyclists spend too much time working on their strengths. Climbers focus on hills and gaps. Sprinters train on flat terrain and do speed work. Find your weak points and devote a greater chunk of training time to developing them.
Everything in Moderation: A major training mistake is training too hard on the easy days. Doing so prevents you from being fully rested. If you do not rest, you will get less benefit from your hard training efforts and set yourself up for injury.
Have a Tool to Measure Effort: The most common methods to measure effort in cycling are:
- Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)—Judge how hard your effort is on a scale from six (very light) to 20 (very hard).
- Speed—Cycle computers measure current and average speed.
- Heart rate monitors—Wireless heart rate monitors are used to gauge training effort based on certain “threshold” heart rates.
- Power meters—These devices measure force at the bicycle’s hub or at the pedals. Power output is how hard you push on the pedals and how fast you pedal. Power meters allow you to gauge training efforts based on power levels.
- Heart rate monitors and power meters are advanced, technological tools, but they are more expensive. The tools you use will allow you to more easily set goals, monitor progress, and periodize your training and monitor your improvement.
Rest: Use the same amount of discipline to properly rest that you devote to training. Your training plan should include regularly scheduled rest breaks. The body needs downtime in order for maximum training adaptations to occur. Proper recovery and rest are essential components to you training regimen. Without proper balance you place yourself at risk for overtraining, chronic fatigue, and injury.
Work on Efficiency: The more efficient you are while cycling, both in terms of pedaling and aerodynamics, the less energy you use. Being efficient lets you go faster without pedaling harder. Two areas you can work on to improve efficiency are pedaling mechanics and position on the bike. Pedaling mechanics describes to how smoothly and fluidly you pedal. Efficient pedaling requires you to make perfect circles. To do this, push down on the pedals, visualize scraping mud off the bottom of your shoe and pull up the pedal. A good way to practice perfect circles is isolated leg training (ILT), or pedaling with just one leg. ILT forces you to eliminate the “dead spot” at the bottom of the pedal stroke—you have to “scrape mud” and pull up to turn the pedals with one leg. Position refers to how aerodynamic your body is while riding the bike. Wind resistance is one of the major obstacles to speed. The more aerodynamic your position, the less wind resistance you encounter. The first step to an aerodynamic position is buying the correct size bike, you can only fine tune with proper bike fit Most local bike shops are equipped to help you determine the correct size bicycle given your body dimensions and riding style. If you wish to further fine-tune your fit, many physical therapists and other professionals can individualize your bike positioning.