If you want to become a faster cyclist remember one statement, consistency is king. Maximizing your aerobic potential takes years of steady training. To be the best you can be, you'll need to stay on your bike.
Unfortunately, for most cyclists, it's not if they get injured, but when. In our podcast interview with Revo PT, Dr. Matthew Smith said more than 90% of cyclists become injured.
Traumatic injuries are typically out of your control. But, you can help prevent non-traumatic overuse injuries by learning to move better.
When it comes to performance enhancement, a healthy body is your biggest asset. In order to make maximal fitness gains, you'll need to be on your bike.
Why Are You Injured?
If you have a traumatic injury, such as a broken collarbone from a crash, your cause of injury is obvious. A shoulder meeting the pavement at speed seldom has a happy ending. But, if the front of your knees hurt after 30 minutes of riding, understanding why isn't as straightforward.
Anterior knee pain—a fancy way of saying your knee caps hurt—is the most common overuse injury experienced by cyclists. A saddle that is too low can be the cause, but more often pain is the result of how you move.
If the muscles in your hips are tight or weak, your legs could be out of alignment when you move—commonly referred to as a poor movement pattern. While riding, this alignment issue strains your muscles, tendons, and ligaments with each pedal stroke. Since you take roughly 5,000 strokes per hour, it's no wonder your knees aren't happy.
When To See A Professional
Cyclists know how to push their bodies to the limit. High-intensity intervals or 100-mile century rides guarantee some physical discomfort. But, there is a big difference between good pain and bad pain.
Here are some examples of good pain:
- The muscles in your legs are burning after a hard effort. After 30-60 seconds this burning should subside as the lactic acid clears.
- Achey or sore muscles 24 to 72 hours after exercise. When you exercise, your muscles experience small-scale damage in the form of micro-tears. These tears are the cause of your pain. As your body repairs these micro-tears you get stronger—it's why exercise works.
Here are some examples of bad pain:
- Pain accompanied by swelling, discoloration, or bruising.
- Pain that is progressively getting worse.
If your pain falls into the bad category, do yourself a favor, and see a professional.
Make sure you see the right PT
Not all physical therapists are trained to work with athletes. If not, you might want to look elsewhere.
Physical therapy is expensive. Ask your therapist important questions before you begin treatment. Does your therapist work with athletes, and more specifically cyclists? In a perfect world, your therapist will also be a cyclist.
Ask if you will receive one-on-one treatment from the therapist during each visit. To increase revenue, therapists can hire unqualified assistants to guide patients through rehabilitation programs. Be leery of this arrangement. Without consistent attention of a well-trained eye, your progress will likely suffer.
Finally, stop by your therapist's office to make sure they have the right equipment. The Revo PT clinic in Boulder, CO is the perfect example of what a PT gym should look like. Inside, Revo PT has state of the art motion analysis systems and training tools.
Revo PT's motion analysis system takes a detailed look at your movement patterns. Data collected during the analysis helps Revo PT build a rehabilitation program. The end result is a better moving you. If your local physical therapist's gym looks like this, you're probably in good hands.
Minimizing Fitness Losses While Injured
One of the worst parts of being injured is watching your hard-earned fitness gains fade away. But, an injury doesn't have to equate to fitness loss.
Dr. Smith said your heart rate responds more severely to upper body exercise than lower body exercise. If you have a lower-body injury, you can maintain a lot of fitness by training your upper body. Smith recommends an upper body ski ergometer. Conversely, if you have an upper-body injury, riding an indoor trainer is an excellent way to maintain fitness.
Dr. Dane DeLozier of Revo PT also recommended working on technique and movement mechanics while injured. Improving both will help you return to your sport stronger and with less potential for injury.
Returning to training
Getting back to the sport you love is always the goal, but make sure you are ready before you do.
Smith and DeLozier recommend a return to training only when your movement patterns can support your sport. Returning any earlier will lead to problems. Revo PT uses the same motion analysis tools to identify healthy movement patterns which indicate a safe return to sport. As an extra measure, Revo PT uses surface EMG to make sure the right muscles are firing as you move.
When you return to training, start slow. Revo PT recommends revisiting the base phase of training.
Suggestions To Help Prevent Injury
Even if you are not currently injured, there is a lot you can do to be proactive. Having your range of motion, flexibility, and movement patterns assessed is a great way to identify problems that could lead to injury.
Dr. Smith said nearly all cyclists have mobility problems. A low-intensity stretching program performed twice a day for two minutes is all it takes to improve your range of motion.
Dr. DeLozier recommends a dynamic warm-up before riding and static stretching after riding.
A great bike fit will also help you stay healthy. A Revo PT bike fit will put you in a position that is both safe and performance enhancing. Dr. Smith said small changes in a bike fit could instantly add 10-12 watts to your FTP.
To help stay healthy, listen to our podcast with Revo PT.