Kylie recently caught up with Trish Wisbey-Roth (Specialist Physiotherapist) who has spent time working with the Australian Olympic Cycling Team. Here we share some of the common problems and key tips to cycle pain free.
Cyclists spend many hours in the same position while pushing through the pedals. We use muscles, when riding to hold ourselves in position, while other muscles are used to generate power through the pedals. This is why core strength in cycling is so important and training should be focused on effectively recruiting core stabilising muscles, in addition to recruiting power generating muscles. Performance on the bike can improve with more effective power generation, and the chances of overuse injuries will also reduce!
Cyclists who use the incorrect muscles for stabilisation and power production will often risk back, hip and knee pain and injury. Common cycling injuries that can develop from a lack of core stability and lack of effective use of the gluteals (buttock muscles) include:
- Low back pain from lack of support from stabilising muscles. In the cycling position if back muscles are not working, then over time the disc, nerves and ligaments will become stressed and possibly irritated.
- Hip and groin pain from excessive side to side movement of the pelvis on the bike seat.
- Sciatic nerve pain due to excessive movement through the lower back and hip region and irritation of spinal nerve.
- Excessive use of hamstrings and side thigh muscles to compensate for lack of gluteal strength
- Excessive use of quadriceps and hip flexors to compensate for lack of hip and spinal muscle strength. (Trish Wisbey‐Roth 2010)
- Stiffness and pain in the mid-back and neck regions as the cyclist tries to stabilise the body via the arm muscles and handlebars.
- Pins and needles in the hands, and hand problems from stabilising and weight bearing through the arms.
Specific core strength for cycling involves activating and strengthening the deep spinal stabilisers and gluteal strengthening exercises. This takes a bit of concentration and guidance, as these deep muscles are layers under our strong superficial muscles. It can be tricky to turn them on and keep them on! An ideal bike setup is really important too, to prevent over flexing the spine and preventing muscles not working effectively, fatiguing early, and leading to overuse injuries. The muscles trying to compensate for this suboptimal, positioning are the ones at most risk of overuse injuries.
Clinical Pilates and specific core exercises using Real Time Ultrasound, can help isolate the deep stabilisers to activate. Once this muscle recruitment has been established the exercises can then move to cycle specific movements. It’s one thing to be able to turn a muscle on and make it strong, but another thing for it to turn on in a specific joint range/ position, and under a different load. These programs involve doing exercises on land with specialised Pilates equipment or ball based, a few times per week. When this strength has developed and the right muscles are switching on, like guy ropes stabilising a tent pole, there should be much less pain, and cycling performance will improve dramatically! (Trish Wisbey‐Roth 2010)