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10 tips to prevent cycling injuries

Alia Parker's picture
Keep cycling fun by preventing pain and injury with these ten tips. Cycle Traveller

Cycling is one of the best activities around: it's low impact, fun and gets us from A to B while keeping us fit and prolonging our lives. But even this wonderful low-impact exercise can cause unwanted wear and tear on our bodies, especially if you've just put in a big day in the saddle.

Working in a bike shop, I've come to see just how common cycling pains and injuries are; especially pain in the neck, lower back and sit bones.

But there are ways to prevent injuries.

Here's some advice on how to keep your body at its best from Paul Visentini, a cyclist and specialist sports physiotherapist at PhysioSports in Brighton, Melbourne, and a bike fit specialist with the Australian Physiotherapy Association.

 

Paul's top 10 tips

1. Make sure the bike fits you

Each person has a “window of function” regarding the shape and size of the bike, meaning there are no exact measurements. Some riders will need to change their set-up during a season as they get fitter and stronger. It is important that your bike fits within your “window of function” at any moment in your riding life to prevent pain and discomfort. (I spoke to Paul recently about getting the right bike fit and he shared his advice in our article on Common cycling pains and how to avoid them. )

2. Make sure your body fits the bike

If your body fits the bike (for example, your ride position is not too aggressively positioned beyond your capabilities), and is well conditioned, there is less pain, overload, and need for recovery. With direction from a physiotherapist’s assessment, your body can be adapted and changed for the better.

3. Have a great pedalling technique

Good pedalling not only allows you to go faster for longer, but also shares the load while pedalling, preventing specific overload of any one joint or area of tissue and minimising discomfort.

4. Vary your riding

You don’t need to ‘smash’ every day. There is a tendency for Australian cyclists to compete and ride hard all the time. Not even pros ride hard every day, nor should you. The day after a long, hard riding session should be easy, with high cadence, low resistance pedalling. Even at the end of a hard ride, you should have 15-30 minutes of easy pedalling to recover your legs and flush out the lactic acid build-up.

5. Stretch and activate

If you are suffering from stiffness or soreness, your technique may suffer. Also, cold muscle is more likely to be injured. The best warm-up is to allow your blood to circulate, warming the tissues. Build into your cycle by pedalling easy to begin with.

6. Target sleep, stress, diet and alcohol

General health can really affect your comfort levels and ability to recover.

 

"A lack of sleep increases the risk of stress fractures by 300%,
which increases the likelihood of injury and decreases the body’s ability to recover."

 

7. Eat well

This is especially important if you've been riding for periods of two hours or more. Our bodies can probably handle one hour without food, but from the second hour onwards it requires 50-100mg of carbohydrate per hour. Protein after a ride is also ideal for recovery.

8. Have a strong and consistent recovery routine

Muscles can become sore due to inflammation and tightening of the fibres, with lactic acid build up a by-product of exercise. Gentle stretching and self-massage helps to remedy this and a spikey ball and foam roller are essential in the massage process. Using cold or hot-cold therapy, like walking in the sea or hot-cold showers, is said to stimulate the neurovascular system into accelerated recovery.

9. The recovery ride

As previously mentioned, an easy one hour ride at high cadence and low power is essential to good recovery after a hard day.

10. Massage

Massage is used as a recovery tool especially in the professional ranks. Riders find a 30 minute massage in the evening essential to fronting up well the following day. Relaxation and release of tight fibres, and the flushing of lactic acid build-up give great relief to riders of all levels. To the pros, the other suggested recovery technique for the rider is psychological; enforced relaxation after a tough day helps riders get a good sleep.

 

Image: Friends cycling for fitness in the park. Source: Shutterstock

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