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Common Cycling Injuries and How to Avoid Them - Optimize Your Ride

Optimize your bike ride and avoid common injuries with this article from Vulcan Performance.
Written by
Clay Higginbotham
Published on
Jan 15, 2024

Cycling is a great way to stay fit and enjoy the outdoors, but like any sport, it comes with its own set of common injuries. At Vulcan Performance, we're not just about treating injuries; we want to prevent them. Here's your guide to recognizing, avoiding, and overcoming the most common cycling injuries and pain points.

1. Low Back Pain

Low back pain in cyclists often stems from repetitive movements and poor posture. Here's how you can address it:

Mobility Work

After a long time in the saddle, your hip flexors can tighten and pull the lower back forward, causing low back pain. Focusing on stretches for your hamstrings and lower back can prevent shortening of the hip flexors and resulting low back pain.

  • The Knight Stretch (Click Here to View): This targets your psoas major, a key hip flexor that affects your lower back. Lengthening these hip flexors through the Knight Stretch can help alleviate back pain.

Bike Fittings

Cycling is repetitive by nature, and when the body performs the same movement over and over again when not positioned appropriately, discomfort and injury are likely to follow. One of the most common signs of a poor bike fit is low back pain after riding for only 30 or so minutes.

Taking the time to get your bike fit by an expert eye at Vulcan Performance at one of our locations in Birmingham is a great idea in order to keep you moving pain free. For ideas on what you can do at home to optimize your bike fit be on the lookout for our upcoming article on bike fitment.

Core Strengthening

Another primary cause of low back pain is a weak core. The core is much more than a 6-pack. Your core includes muscles of your trunk that surround the spine (the erector spinae and multifidus of your back). Core training is much more than just sit-ups. Cyclists can benefit from alternative core exercises such as bird dogs (below left) and supermen (below right).  These can be performed during your cool down or warm up, or can be part of a separate exercise routine. Try to start out with 3 rounds of 20 alternating bird dogs, and 3 rounds of 10 supermen.

2. Knee Pain

Picture this - you are riding more than ever and feeling great, and out of nowhere, you wake up to pain in the front of your knee. This knee pain can be a sign of overexertion or inadequate recovery. Here's what you can do:

Prioritize Recovery

Ensure adequate sleep, hydration, and calorie intake to support your training. Aim for 7 hours of sleep per night, drink plenty of fluids, and make sure your dietary intake matches your increased training volume. If you are interested in nutrition help, learn more about Vulcan Nutrition Coaching services here.

10% Rule

One of the major causes of pain at the front of your knee is from doing too much too soon. Whether you measure your rides in time or distance, a slow increase in volume will help your body adapt to the increased load you are placing on it. If you ride once or twice a week for 10 miles each, then knocking out your first 100-mile ride out of nowhere will leave your body more than a little beat up. We recommend that you increase volume by 10%-20% each ride (hence the "10% Rule"). For example, if you ride 20 miles on Saturday, then you should aim for around 22-24 miles the next Saturday.

Effective Warm-Up and Cool-Down

It is common for cyclists to skip a warmup altogether, or just ride a little slower to begin. We advise against this because increasing your body temperature and doing mobility work prior to hopping on the bike is proven to prevent injury and increase performance.

We recommend a quick warm up, around 5 minutes or so, with light dynamic mobility work prior to your ride. Some effective exercises are toy soldiers (below left) and knee hugs (below right). Additionally, another 5 minutes of stretching or foam rolling after your ride can help prevent trouble areas from tightening and reducing the performance of your next ride. If you need help creating a personalized mobility and stretching plan, you can reach out to Vulcan Performance for a bike fitting appointment.

3. Cross Training and Eccentric Loading: The Cyclist’s Secret Weapon

Eccentric training involves controlling a load as it moves with gravity or resistance. It's crucial for alleviating knee pain and improving overall cycling performance. Additionally, consider incorporating Blood Flow Restriction Training (BFRT) offered at Vulcan Performance. Current evidence shows that the use of blood flow restrictions training (BFR) can significantly improve power output and VO2 max with minimal stress on the body. Learn more about BFR here.

Cross training in cycling makes a huge impact on your performance and injury prevention. The primary muscles used in cycling are your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, core, and calves. Training these in different planes off of the bike will increase your peak power production to help you climb hills and take off at red lights faster.

4. Neck Pain

Long durations in a fixed posture can lead to neck pain. Here's how to counteract it:

Neck Stretches and Exercises

Incorporate simple exercises like chin tucks and alligators into your routine. Perform stretches for your cervical extensors, levator scapulae, and upper traps after your rides.

Neck Exercises

  • Chin tucks: 3 rounds of 20 with 1 minute rest between sets
  • Alligators: 2 rounds on each side of 15 (bottom left)

Neck stretches (post-ride)

  • Cervical extensor stretches: 3 rounds of 30 seconds
  • Levator scap (down and away): 3 rounds of 30 seconds (bottom middle)
  • Upper trap (down and towards): 3 rounds of 30 seconds (bottom right)

Enjoy the Scenery

Regularly changing your neck position by looking around during your ride can help maintain neck mobility and prevent stiffness.

Next Steps

Remember, injury prevention and recovery is a journey, not a sprint. At Vulcan Performance, we're committed to guiding you every step of the way. If you are currently experiencing any pain or discomfort or are getting started on your biking journey and want guidance, consider booking a bike fitting with us at Vulcan at one of our two locations in Birmingham, Alabama. From personalized training regimes to cutting-edge therapies like BFRT, we're here to enhance what moves you.

Stay tuned for our upcoming article on bike fitment for more insights on optimizing your cycling experience. Happy riding, and remember, your journey to better cycling health starts with the right care and knowledge. Let Vulcan Performance be your guide to a pain-free cycling experience! 🚴🏼‍♂️🌟

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