Riding a bicycle is one of the most popular childhood pastimes. The freedom of biking down the sidewalk to your best friend’s house and the wind breezing past your face with every pedal are what childhood memories are made of.
But, when you hop on a two-wheeler now as an adult for a family stroll around the neighborhood, to commute to work or even to train and compete for an endurance event, you’re often only left with memories of muscle soreness, ligament strains and injury pains. To make your adult cycling experiences more enjoyable and to help you meet your cycling goals, the following training tactics will help keep you cruising strong as you peddle down memory lane on your favorite roads or trails.
Stretch It Out
The majority of the cycling clients that Marty Smith, massage therapist at Elements Massage The Woodlands, sees have extremely tight muscles, especially in the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves areas. The common denominator among many of Smith’s cycling clients is that the majority of them don’t stretch regularly. If they do stretch, they typically focus on warm-up stretching, missing a huge opportunity to increase their flexibility and blood circulation with after-exercise stretching. If you’re working out and cycling almost every day, it’s important to incorporate a separate stretching routine in addition to your regular exercise to keep your muscles healthy, limber and prepared to bike as far and as long as you want to go.
“The biggest thing I see with cyclists is that a lot of them religiously work out every day, but they really don’t like to stretch,” explains Smith. “A lot of times when your muscles start getting tight, you pretty much reduce the blood flowing to the muscles, so stretching after cycling can not only help to loosen up the muscles, but also help get blood flowing again. In cases when people have extremely tight muscles, massage alone isn’t really going to help these types of people. So, it’s important to incorporate a mixture of stretching and massage into your training, as well as during our massage therapy sessions.”
Pay Attention to Posture
Besides adding tightness to the muscles below your waist, cycling also can have a negative effect on the shoulder and neck area from sustaining a forward leaning position on your handlebars, especially the longer and harder you ride your bike. When you’re looking down for a long period of time, your neck and back muscles can begin to start hurting because you’re causing those muscles to stretch out of their neutral, relaxed state. The average weight of the human head is between 13-15 pounds, Smith says, so your neck muscles, already strained from looking down and over your handlebars, will actually try to tighten to pull your head back and relieve the pinching sensation in your neck. As such, it’s important to pay attention to proper posture on and off your bike so that you can maintain the proper natural positioning of your neck, spine and back.
“Your body is actually built to maintain proper posture and alignment,” explains Smith. “The more your body is out of alignment, the tighter the muscles are going to get. I’ve come to the conclusion that most people who complain of aches and pains aren’t usually related to an accident or any type of disease. It’s usually the result of poor posture and tight muscles.”
Adjust Your Gears
There are a lot of mechanical components and adjustments associated with cycling. To get the most out of your biking experience, your body and muscles need to be in proper position as you conquer mile after mile. To help minimize the common glute and lower back tension associated with cycling, Smith advises that you adjust your seat properly according to the type of bike you have and to your height. The same goes for the upper body – you need to adjust your handlebars appropriately to reduce the strain and pain in your shoulders and neck. If not, your muscles are going to compensate for the misalignment, creating extra muscle tension and increasing your risk of injury.
Re-Program Your Muscles to Reduce Injuries
Tight and sore muscles don’t feel good and can cause you to endure a lot of pain, but tight muscles also can end up causing season ending injuries if they aren’t addressed appropriately. A lot of times when your muscles are extremely tight, you lose range of motion in that particular part of your body. If the muscles are tight like a rope and you’re pushing your body to get full range of motion in a certain area, you’re going to eventually end up tearing either a ligament or tendon – whichever one is the weakest – due to all of the tension built up in the muscles. If you’re muscles are looser, they’re more like a rubber band that is able to bend and move in the manner you need them to perform.
Regular massage therapy is a good start to keeping your muscles loose and reducing the risk of injuries. Depending on the amount of miles you’re riding each week, Smith suggests coming in for massage at least once a month, if not twice a month during higher mileage weeks. If you don’t change up your habits and approaches to cycling and recovery between massages, then you will continue to suffer from tight, sore, injury-prone muscles.
“Getting a massage is actually starting the process of loosening the muscles and re-programming them to be flexible and limber,” explains Smith. “but, if you just go back to the same habits or the same environment that causes tension and tightness to build up in your muscles, then you’re just going to go back to feeling the same way you did before you had a massage.”
“Instead, it can be much more beneficial if you work on posture, stretching, making sure that you drink plenty of water and soaking in Epsom salt baths in-between massage sessions to help keep your muscles loose and flexible all season long,” concludes Smith.