We’ve got a new fitness contributor, Al Painter. He’s got quite the credentials, which you can read about here. And if you’re a cyclist, read on to get a jump start on spring training.
While running has been villainized as being bad for you, cycling can’t be too far behind. Riding a bike is a “uni-planar activity” takes place in one plane of motion. The issue is it is done in a seated position very often done after sitting for 8-10 hours a day behind a desk leaving the hip flexors in a shortened position before getting on the bike. Clip in and ride for a little while, and you begin to further shorten the hip flexors that much more.
Cycling might be great for building cardiovascular fitness, but it is a flexibility killer that very often leads to the following scenario:
A rider goes to see a doctor because they’ve got knee pain. After being examined, the rider is told they’ve got IT Band Syndrome, patellar tendonitis or if they are lucky, piriformis syndrome. They are typically given a prescription for anti inflammatory medication, told to rest and stretch, then sent on their way. The lucky ones are sent to PT, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case.
What the rider typically isn’t told is where their pain started in the first place. More times than not, the above mentioned injuries start with a lack of glute function due to tight hip flexors altering lower body joint mechanics. The problem here is that it isn’t uncommon for this injury to start somewhere other than the knee where the pain is actually manifesting.
If you’ve got aches and pain on the bike, the first step should always be to check cleat alignment and then make sure the saddle is set up correctly. From here, you should then get a thorough assessment of lower body joint mechanics, glute function and hip alignment. Since this is very often the root cause of knee pain for cyclists, you can very often get rid of it by looking in these areas first.
Here is what a typical ride on the “Injury Cycle” looks like for riders in pain:
- Muscle strength/flexibility imbalances limit joint range of motion (ROM). This typically takes place where the muscles are the weakest.
- You usually begin to develop adhesions in the muscles, or the tender muscle knots you feel when you use “The Stick” or a foam roller as you body tries to keep you from moving in a way it deems as a threat to the system.
- A progression of regression ensues as substitute muscles take over the duties of the tight/weak ones, for instance, the hip flexors for tight hamstrings or weak glutes.
- From here, you develop faulty joint movements that begin to damage ligaments, tendons and cartilage.
- In turn this begins to inhibit the nervous system’s ability to properly control muscle movement ultimately leading to performance losses and eventual injury.
Keep in mind, every time you move in the presence of a muscle imbalance, the nervous system becomes increasingly less efficient at commanding your muscles. Over time, the command for “pedal, walk, run, etc” will be progressively altered and any muscle imbalances will become worse if left unaddressed.
Since neuromuscular coordination (how much muscle your brain can turn on as your muscles move your bones) and joint stability are two of the more critical components to power production, it is essential that the line of communication between your brain and your legs remain as open as possible. Also keep in mind that the more stable your joints are, the more power your body will allow you to produce.
With that being said, there are “Four Pillars of Human Motion:”
- Locomotion (walking, running, etc)
- Level Changes (sitting/standing, going down to tie your shoes)
All human motion is a combination of these Four Pillars working together to produce movement. Even something as simple as brushing your teeth with your right hand involves quite a few things taking place to produce movement:
- Neck stabilization to hold your head still while your jaw is open.
- Shoulder stabilization to produce circular arm movement.
- Elbow stabilization to allow the wrist to move the brush as the fingers hold onto to the brush.
- All the while, the lower left hand corner of the abdomen is providing diagonal dynamic stabilization for the right shoulder to produce the above mentioned movement.
- Add in standing on one leg, and you can turn brushing your teeth into a core strength exercise!
Something as simple as putting on a seat belt involves rotation to grab it so you can then need pull it to push it to “make it click.” Since our bodies only know movements and not muscles, it is critical that we learn how to move as well as possible to remain healthy.
This is where training off the bike comes in to help you “undo” the effects of riding and keep the lines of communication open between your brain and the hips. A functional training program will do this and allow you ride longer and pedal stronger.
If watts drive the price of stock for power output in the saddle, then strength training off the bike is the currency that allows to purchase your options. You spend all of your time in and out of the saddle producing power with one leg, and your exercise program off the bike should reflect that. To maximize its effectiveness, it needs to be rooted in single leg exercises to develop hip stability and glute strength so you can deliver as much power as possible to the pedals.
The best ways to do this are with the “Turkish Get Up,” loaded bridges and the “quadruped hip blaster.” These exercises open up the hips, hammer the glutes, and best of all, are the best ways to “undo” all of the time spent in the saddle. They aren’t easy, and only people without current spinal column or knee issues qualify.
Quadruped Hip Blaster
Loaded Glute Bridge
Turkish Get Up
These are great exercises that produce very good results, but only if they are done correctly. You should always enlist the help of a qualified trainer, strength coach or physical therapist when you are starting a new exercise program or making a switch to your current one to make sure you are moving correctly.