Safety / Injuries
Top Corrective Exercises for Cyclists
Corrective exercise is useful for anyone who is active, and in fact even for those who are not active enough. It involves doing specific stretches and exercises to correct imbalanced muscles, poor form and posture, and incorrect positioning in certain movements.
For cyclists, doing corrective exercises can prevent injury, reduce pain, improve mobility, and even improve performance. If you have clients who like to ride, you can use corrective exercises to tackle some of their biggest complaints.
First asses the problems to determine the root cause, such as tight hip flexors, and design a routine your client can put into use regularly. For instance, daily stretches of the hips can release those muscles that shorten and tighten after a lot of sitting and cycling.
Cycling is a great sport and physical activity, but like any other, it can cause pain and dysfunction. Help your clients be able to keep rolling with some corrective stretches, strength training, and other exercises.
Benefits of a Cycling Training Program
Cycling is a great type of physical activity for many reasons:
- It’s a cardiovascular workout you can scale up or down.
- Cycling promotes weight loss.
- It’s generally easy on the joints compared to activities.
- Cycling is just plain fun.
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Cycling for Cardio
Cycling is one of the best cardiovascular workouts you can do. By engaging large muscle groups in the legs, this kind of activity really gets your heart pumping. A vigorous cardio workout on the bike is great for your overall health and improves endurance and fitness.
To maintain or lose weight, cycling is a useful tool. Because it’s such a strong cardio workout you can really torch calories. According to the Harvard Medical School, 30 minutes of stationary, indoor cycling at a vigorous pace will burn 391 calories for someone who weighs 155 pounds. That same person will burn 446 calories in 30 minutes when cycling outdoors at a speed of 16 to 19 miles per hour.1
Biking Builds Strength
You will also build some muscle while cycling, especially in the glutes, quads, calves, and hamstrings. To stay upright and on the bike, you have to engage your core. While this isn’t the same as strength training, cycling does promote muscle strength.
Gentle on the Joints
Cycling is a good workout choice for anyone with joint pain. Compared to running and gym-based aerobics classes, cycling is low-impact. The motions in cycling and the muscles used help build strength around the knee joints in particular.
Cycling is a great addition to a cross-training routine. Learn more about varying your clients’ routines with this ISSA blog post on cross-training.
The Downside to Cycling – Movement Issues, Injuries, and Pain
No sport or physical activity is perfect, of course, and there are some ways that cycling can be harmful or cause pain or injury:
- Cycling is sitting, and sitting too long anywhere can cause problems. Sitting can trigger muscle imbalances, tight hips, and a rounded posture.
- Although it is easy on the joints, overuse can occur and cause knee and joint pain or injuries.
- Overuse on the bike can also inflame the Achilles tendon.
- The posture and positioning on of the spine and neck on a bike forces you to be craning your head up, which may result in head and neck pain.
- Cycling posture can also lead to significant lower back pain.
Learn more about overtraining injuries and how they can be prevented and rehabbed.
Strength Training and Corrective Exercises for Cyclists
None of these issues have to stop anyone from riding. It just takes a little corrective work to minimize pain, prevent injuries, and improve mobility, form, and strength. If you have clients who cycle, help them address current problems and prevent future issues by trying some of these corrective exercises.
Strength Corrective Exercises for Cyclists
One of the biggest focuses of training off the bike for cyclists should be strength training. As with any sport, your clients are bound to have some imbalances if cycling is their number one activity. Any kind of regular, overall strength training, hitting all the major muscle groups will be helpful. It strengthens the legs for more power when riding, helps build bone density, counteracts overuse, and can correct any imbalances in the body:
- Plank and boat pose. Add these core moves to your client’s routine to strengthen the abs and lower back. This will help improve posture and reduce fatigue on the bike and reduce lower back pain.
- Glute bridges and hamstring curls. It’s important to have good balance between the glutes, quads, and hamstrings to prevent injury, but most cyclists have much stronger quads. Work the glutes with bridges and the hamstrings with curls to improve strength in these muscle groups.
- Lunges. Add in this move for overall leg and glute strength. And, because cyclists only move in the sagittal plane, also throw in some variations, like lateral and curtsy lunges. These will work on the legs and glutes while also strengthening the core. Try sliders with lunges too, to get an even greater range of motion.
- Clamshells. This exercise will strengthen the gluteus medius, a muscle that is important in preventing knee pain. It helps keep the knee in alignment and prevents it from tracking in or out. To do a clamshell, lie on one side with legs together but bent at the knees and all joints stacked on top of each other. Lift the top knee up and squeeze the muscle before releasing.
Improving Ankle Mobility
We too often neglect the foot and ankle, but these joints and muscles are necessary for all kinds of movement, including cycling. Achilles tendonitis, painful inflammation in the Achilles tendon, is not uncommon in cyclists. The way to prevent this condition is to improve mobility in the ankle joint. Improved dorsiflexion takes some stress away from the tendon to reduce the likelihood of inflammation.
To improve dorsiflexion, try this exercise for a couple of minutes at a time: Put one foot up on a high step with the sole of the shoe flat against the surface. The angle between the calf and thigh should be just less than 90 degrees. The other foot should remain on the ground. Push the knee forward to stretch the ankle and then back again. You can add a weight for progression, holding it against the bent knee. Repeat on the other side.
Loosening and Stretching the Hip Flexors
The hip flexors, especially the psoas in the front part of the joint, shorten and tighten when we are in a sitting position for too long, including when cycling. Cyclists who also sit for their jobs are at particular risk of getting tight hip flexors. Tight hips are uncomfortable and can lead to injury. A daily stretch of these muscles can help.
One way to do it is to roll out the psoas on a ball or a foam roller. Roll gently over a small area of the hip, avoiding the ribs. Breathe slowly in and out while rolling. A regular lunge stretch is also useful. With the right leg forward in a lunge position, stretch the left leg behind until you feel a stretch in the psoas. Raise your left arm up and twist it a little to the right to increase the stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Relieving Head and Neck Pain
The posture you sit in on a bike inevitably leads to stress on the head and especially on the neck. Try neck retraction exercises to release tightness and tension in the suboccipitals, the muscles at the back of the neck and base of the skull.
To do retractions, hold a towel around the back of the head, grasping it in each hand to either side of the head. Essentially you’re holding your head in a sling. Press your head back against the towel until you feel a stretch in the suboccipital muscles. Repeat several times to relieve pain.
You can also use a lacrosse ball to roll the muscles, but caution your clients to start out slowly to prevent bruising and additional pain. Lie on the floor with the ball under the subocciptals. Move the chin up and down, making a double chin and releasing it, to roll the ball up and down gently. These moves along with general good posture practice will help relieve the neck and head pain associated with being in a hunched over, cycling position.
To expand your training business to include corrective work, check out the ISSA’s comprehensive certification course for Corrective Exercise Specialists. Learn how to help your cycling clients with preventable low back pain and other muscle-related pain and movement limitations.