Bike Riding: Back to Basics

Peo­ple love rid­ing bikes because it’s a great way to get exer­cise; it has low-impact on your joints as you rotate your legs thou­sands of times dur­ing a typ­i­cal ride. But small issues with your bik­ing tech­nique can cause big prob­lems over time, includ­ing knee pain, the most com­mon low­er body injury in the sport.

The Mechan­ics of Pedaling

As you ped­al, your body is cycling through two phas­es — the pow­er phase and the recov­ery phase. If you think of the ped­al cycle as a clock face, the pow­er phase is when you push the ped­al down­wards between the 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock posi­tions — where your body gen­er­ates force to move the bike for­ward. The recov­ery phase is when your ped­al moves back up to the 12 o’clock posi­tion. Dur­ing these two phas­es, mus­cles in your low­er body are in con­stant use:

It’s not just your legs that are get­ting a work­out, either. Bik­ing engages your entire body to pow­er your ride, giv­ing you a full body work­out, espe­cial­ly when on moun­tain ter­rain or inclines.

Com­mon Injuries

Just because it’s a low impact sport does­n’t mean it’s one with­out poten­tial for injury. Injuries can occur over time with repeat­ed move­ment, or as a result of sud­den move­ment, like falling off the bike. Com­mon injuries for bicy­clists include:

  • Knee pain
  • Back pain
  • Achilles ten­donitis
  • Mus­cle tightness
  • Sad­dle sores
  • Foot numb­ness
  • Mus­cle fatigue
  • Neck pain

Tips for Success

To help avoid these injuries, and to make the most of your ride, you’ll want to ensure you have prop­er fit, posi­tion­ing and regimen.

Fit Mat­ters

Ride a bike best suit­ed for the ter­rain and style of rid­ing you’ll be doing. Make sure to use prop­er posi­tion and align­ment. Seat height should be set so that the angle of your knee at the bot­tom of your ped­al stroke is 30 to 40 degrees to avoid knee issues and max­i­mize your ped­al stroke. Check your seat’s for­ward posi­tion and tilt too. Your kneecap should be stacked over the ball of your foot. Move the seat for­ward if your kneecap is behind your foot, move it back if your knee is in front of your foot.

Final­ly, sit on the seat with your hands on the han­dle­bars. Your arms should have a slight bend to them, to avoid pain in your back, neck, shoul­ders and wrists.

Fit applies to your safe­ty gear as well. Choose a hel­met, pads, shoes and prop­er cycling cloth­ing that pro­vide fit and com­fort while pro­tect­ing you on your ride.

Prop­er Footwork

If your fit is cor­rect, it will be much eas­i­er to achieve prop­er foot posi­tion­ing. Posi­tion the ball of your foot direct­ly over the piv­ot arm in the ped­al for max­i­mum pow­er and effi­cien­cy, as well as reduced pain and injury. When coast­ing, posi­tion your feet on an even hor­i­zon­tal line — at the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock posi­tions. You’ll have a more bal­anced ride and can more effi­cient­ly respond to sud­den shifts in your ride, like bumpy ter­rain or need for quick maneu­vers. It also puts your feet into prime posi­tion to restart pow­er and recov­ery phases.

Build Endurance

It does­n’t mat­ter if you bike dai­ly or if you haven’t been on a bike in years, every­one needs to grad­u­al­ly increase dis­tance and endurance to avoid injury. Sud­den jumps in rid­ing longer, hard­er or faster than you’re accus­tomed to puts stress on your con­nec­tive tis­sues, which caus­es joint inflam­ma­tion — they’re sim­ply not able per­form at the lev­el you’re push­ing them to. Take time to build on your speed, dis­tance and hard­er ter­rain by increas­ing over a few weeks instead of over a few rides.

Cross Train­ing

Cross train­ing pro­grams like weight train­ing, yoga, Pilates, swim­ming and core exer­cis­es can increase per­for­mance and low­er your chances of injury. Addi­tion­al­ly, mod­ern recov­ery meth­ods such as mas­sage, cold ther­a­py, foam rolling and stretch­ing help by enabling your mus­cles to repair and refu­el faster, allow­ing for more rig­or­ous training.

Whether you’re in a race, bik­ing down a rough ter­rain or tak­ing a leisure­ly ride with your fam­i­ly, make sure you have the prop­er fit and form to avoid injury. If you do expe­ri­ence pains or injuries, the DuPage Med­ical Group orthopaedics depart­ment is here to get you back on track. Sched­ule an appoint­ment online or call us at one of our Chicagoland loca­tions.

Image Source: Cycle Sea­son is Here in Van­cou­ver, How is your Ped­al Stoke? http://​www​.myper​son​al​train​er​van​cou​ver​.com/​c​y​c​l​e​-​s​e​a​s​o​n​-​i​s​-​h​e​r​e​-​i​n​-​v​a​n​c​o​u​v​e​r​-​h​o​w​-​i​s​-​y​o​u​r​-​p​e​d​a​l​-​s​t​roke/ (accessed 27 May 2016)

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