As cold winter months give way to prime bicycling weather, USA Cycling anticipates more than 70,000 Americans will take to roadways and pathways by bike this year. In fact, the number of cyclists has increased by 67 percent over the last decade.
With the increase in people on bikes, comes an increase in cycling-related injuries, including cervical and upper back pain; low back pain; strains and sprains of the calf muscles; Achilles and Patella tendinitis; and strains of the quadriceps and hamstring muscles.
“Cycling requires dynamic bursts of strength and speed, which sometimes can throw the body out of balance, creating strain and injury,” said Teresa Malone, PT owner of Advanced Therapy & Sport Medicine in Great Bend. “Part of building stronger athletes is introducing behavior change to help the athlete sustain her or his own health, including stretching and strength conditioning.”
Malone offers the following 12 essential tips to maintaining a healthy cycling career:
1) Cervical Flexion Isometric: Position yourself on your back and raise your head just off the floor and tuck your chin downward slightly, to keep your neck straight. Hold this anywhere between 30 seconds to two minutes. This is a difficult exercise, because the anterior neck muscles (neck flexors) are generally the weakest muscles in the body. Perform this exercise once a day.
2) Cervical Extension Isometric: Position yourself on your stomach with your face at ground level or with your head off the end of your bed for improved comfort. Your arms will be down at your sides, palms down. Begin to raise your head up, just off the floor and tuck your chin in to keep your neck straight, preventing you from looking upward. At the same time, lift your arms off of the floor, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold this position from 60 seconds to four minutes. Perform this exercise once a day.
3) Upper Trap Stretch: Reach over your head and gently pull your ear towards your shoulder, hold for 30 seconds. Repeat for the other side. Repeat this stretch one to three times daily.
4) Cervical Extensor Stretch: With both hands behind your head, move your head downward to stretch the muscles in the back of your neck. Don’t pull your head down, just use the weight of your arms to assist in the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat this stretch one to three times daily.
5) Doorway Stretch: Put both of your forearms onto the door frame, step through the doorway with one foot and lean forward slowly, stretching out the pectoral muscles. Hold for 30 seconds. This stretch can be repeated once or twice daily.
6) Shoulder Stretch: To stretch out the right shoulder, move your arm across your chest. With your left hand, grab the right arm just above the elbow and slowly pull your arm over to the left side until you feel a good stretch. Hold this stretch for up to 30 seconds. This stretch can be repeated once or twice each day.
7) Pelvic Tilts: While lying on your back and both knees bent, place your index and middle fingers on the front of your pelvis. Begin to push the small of your back down into the floor, while tightening your lower abdominal muscles. Your pelvis will rock upward during this movement. Repeat these for up to three sets until fatigue.
8) Segmental Bridges: While lying on your back with both knees bent, initiate the pelvic tilt described above and then continue to move up one vertebra at a time until you have moved into a bridged position. As you begin to move back down, initiate your movement from the upper most vertebrae on the floor and lower yourself back down one vertebra at a time until you roll back out of the pelvic tilt. Repeat up to three sets until you fatigue.
9) Crunches and/or Sit-Ups: With your hands on your chest or behind your head, initiate an abdominal contraction, lifting the head and shoulders off the floor; slowly lower shoulders back to the ground. Hold the crunch for five seconds. Repeat until you fatigue performing two to three sets. Sit ups will work your abs very well too, and will engage your hip flexors strengthening them as well. Have someone hold onto your legs and feet for assistance.
10) Hamstring Stretches: The hamstring stretch described here is for the rider who may have low back pain and bending forward is painful. Laying on your back, raise your leg up with your hands, keeping the knee straight. Hold this stretch for 30-60 seconds. You can also use a yoga belt or karate belt to assist you in raising your leg. The belt would go around your foot and pull the rope with both hands.
11) Quad Stretch: Standing up straight, raise one leg up with your hand towards the buttocks. Keep your leg straight and don’t lean forward, stay straight. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. If you’re balance is unstable, hold onto a firm surface to prevent falls.
12) Hip Flexor (Psoas) Stretch: Kneeling down, begin to lean forward putting the lower leg’s hip flexor muscles on stretch. If you want more of a stretch, reach for the back foot and bend the knee until you feel a good stretch and can tolerate it for 30 seconds.
“Training during the off season for competitive cyclists will strengthen muscles essential for cycling. It is also critical to respect your body with rest and a good diet rich in protein, produce and good old-fashioned H20,” concluded Malone.
Malone says Advanced Therapy & Sports Medicine opens its doors to anyone who wants to be stronger and more balanced, whether for sport or everyday life. For more information, please visit or call Advanced Therapy, 3517 10th Street, Great Bend, Kansas, 620-792-7868.