Spring is upon us and this is the time where many of us are inspired to start planning bicycle adventures. But if you’re only used to shorter trips you might find yourself missing out on some of the fun if you’re not prepared. Cyclists are at a higher risk of sustaining knee, lower back, neck and shoulder injuries if they don’t take the right steps to minimise this risk.
Paul Visentini, a BikeFit Physiotherapist with the Australian Physiotherapist Association, has provided his ten top tips to help avoid injuries and recover more effectively after a long cycle.
- Make sure the bike fits you; have a PhysioBikeFit – Each person has a “window of function” regarding the shape and size of the bike, meaning there are no exact measurements. Some riders will need to change their set-up during as they get fitter and stronger. It is important that your bike fits within your “window of function” at any moment in your riding life to prevent pain and discomfort.
- Make sure your body fits the bike – If the body fits the bike, and is well conditioned, there is less pain, overload, and need for recovery. With direction from a physiotherapist’s assessment, your body can be adapted and changed for the better.
- Have a great pedalling technique – Good pedalling not only allows you to go faster for longer, but also shares the load while pedalling, preventing specific overload of any one joint or area of tissue and minimising discomfort.
- Vary your riding – you don’t need to ‘smash’ every day – There is a tendency for Australian cyclists to compete and ride hard all the time. Not even pros ride hard every day, nor should you. The day after a long, hard riding session should be easy, with high cadence, low resistance pedalling. Even at the end of a hard ride, you should have 15-30 minutes of easy pedalling to recover your legs and flush out the lactic acid build-up.
- Stretch and activate, build into your effort – If you are suffering from stiffness or soreness, your technique may suffer. Also, cold muscle is more likely to be injured. The best warm-up is to allow your blood to circulate, warming the tissues. Build into your cycle by pedalling easy to begin with.
- Target sleep, stress, diet and alcohol – General health can really affect your comfort levels and ability to recover. A lack of sleep increases the risk of stress fractures by 300%, which increases the likelihood of injury and decreases the body’s ability to recover.
- Eat well, especially during and after a ride of 2 hours or more – Our bodies can probably handle one hour without food, but from the second hour onwards it requires 50-100mg of carbohydrate per hour. Protein after a ride is also ideal for recovery.
- Have a strong and consistent recovery routine – Muscles can become sore due to inflammation and tightening of the fibres, with lactic acid build up a by-product of exercise. Gentle stretching and self-massage helps to remedy this and a spikey ball and foam roller are essential in the massage process. Using cold or hot-cold therapy, like walking in the sea or hot-cold showers, is said to stimulate the neurovascular system into accelerated recovery.
- The recovery ride – As previously mentioned, an easy one hour ride at high cadence and low power is essential to good recovery after a hard day.
- Massage – Massage is used as a recovery tool especially in the professional ranks. Riders find a 30 minute massage in the evening essential to fronting up well the following day. Relaxation and release of tight fibres, and the flushing of lactic acid build-up give great relief to riders of all levels. To the pros, the other suggested recovery technique for the rider is psychological; enforced relaxation after a tough day helps riders get a good sleep.
Riding injured is both uncomfortable and affects your performance negatively. Physiotherapists can help teach you the most effective recovery techniques and fit you to your bike to avoid future injuries.
For more information on how to prevent cycling injuries, or to find a suitable physiotherapist, visit www.physiotherapy.asn.au.