Six Exercises for Preventing Pain on the Bicycle
It’s the rare cyclist who hasn’t had the odd ache or pain while on the bike. The difference between an occasional sore spot and a nagging injury can be your willingness to do some behind-the-scenes work for your hard-working body. According to research that has delved into bicycling overuse injuries, riders’ top sore spots are the lower back, knees, and neck. We’re talking about repetitive use symptoms (not acute injuries like broken bones or road rash) of the musculoskeletal variety.
Bike fit, gearing choice, and riding volume are all external variables that can contribute to overuse injuries and are worthy of investigation. A poorly fitting bike is the largest contributor to chronic pain in cyclists and can easily be avoided by seeking out a qualified professional before you start logging big miles. Internal factors like strength, neuromuscular control, and mobility are things you can modify with specific training, starting with the following exercises.
Lateral band walks target your gluteus medius and minimus, muscles that support your pelvis during weight-bearing activities like walking, running, and jumping. Because cycling is a sport that asks your body to move only within the sagittal plane (legs are moving forward and backward of your trunk), lateral muscles like the ones in your outer hips can get neglected. This muscle group also contributes to your ability to maintain alignment of your hip, knee, and foot during the pedal stroke. Check out a video of the exercise here.
Single-leg bridges require your deep core muscles, including the transverse abdominis, to stabilize the pelvis while the glutes extend your hip. The gluteus maximus, in particular, contributes to your power during the top of the pedal stroke and does much of the work during this exercise. Watch the video here.
Supermans offer an opportunity to build the endurance of your back extensors, which you need to maintain an optimal position of your spine while riding. Many people experience lower back pain as their extensors fatigue and fail to support a neutral spine position. Check out this cyclist-specific video.
Planks are a simple way to train shoulder and trunk stability. Muscles like the serratus anterior must stabilize your scapula as your arms absorb road vibration and support your upper body. Most people are familiar with planks, but it never hurts to check in on your form. You can do that with this video which also includes some variations to add to the challenge.
Foam roll pec stretches allow your pectorals to lengthen, reversing the on-bike position of rounded shoulders and a flexed upper back. Your neck also has a chance to relax out of its hyperextended position and settle back in line with your shoulders. Watch this video for guidance on positioning during this stretch.
Hip flexor stretches: active (kneeling lunge) or passive (Thomas stretch) open up your anterior hip and combat tightness that can contribute to lower back pain. The psoas and rectus femoris are lengthened during these stretches. This video will show you how to do this beneficial stretch in the lunge position and here is the passive version from a supine position with some great additional information about how to identify the tight structures in your hips.
Do your future self a favor and make time for these exercises—support the body that supports you doing the things you love!
*These exercises are suggested for the healthy cyclist interested in preventing common overuse injuries. If you are experiencing pain, come see us at Solstice Physical Therapy for specific advice and treatment.
Written by Marin Campbell, PT, DPT