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How to Prevent 3 Common Cycling Injuries With Gym Exercises

January 27, 2020

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How to Prevent 3 Common Cycling Injuries With Gym Exercises

You’ve got a great bike fit. Your cleat position is dialed in, and your pedaling technique is flawless.

Now, you have everything you need to remain injury-free for many years, right?

Wrong!

The reality is that most cyclists’ injuries result from overuse, which isn’t something even a premium 500-dollar bike fit, the best equipment, professional-level skills, or endless resources at your disposal can help you avoid—unless you take a few extra measures in advance.

And all of these measures involve the same location. Your one-stop-shop for all things health and longevity. A literal fountain of youth: the gym.

Here, I’ll outline three of the most common cycling injuries caused by overuse and quick and easy gym exercises that can help you avoid them.

Cycling Overuse Injury #1: Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is possibly the most common complaint from cyclists.

The reality is that humans have been around a lot longer than the 200 years bicycles have existed, and our body isn’t built to spend long hours hunched over the handlebars.

Hunching over our handlebars makes us more aero, but the riding position can wreak havoc on your lower back.

Last summer, I started experiencing severe lower back pain on each ride, causing me to stop on the side of the road every 30 minutes to stretch my aching muscles. I’d dealt with back pain before, but this was debilitating. Another level.

Even with conditioned legs, amazing roads, and beautiful summer weather, my unbearable back pain made my rides miserable.

I was good about stretching. I did yoga almost every day. My bike fit was unchanged for two years, and I’d never had any problems before. Why on earth was my back doing this to me all of a sudden?

After giving it some thought, I was able to narrow it down to one thing: slacking off from the gym. Modern life—and winter—had made it difficult to make it there routinely.

I started visiting the gym routinely and voila! The back pain went away. My back muscles had been too weak to handle the miles I was putting in.

Gym Exercises to Help Cyclists Avoid Lower Back Pain

When you’re biking in an extreme position for an extended time, your core and lower back muscles work overtime to support your spinal column. If they’re not adequately conditioned in the gym beforehand, your lower back can take a beating, lock up, and make you miserable.

What exercises are best for preventing lower back pain while riding bikes?

  • Romanian deadlift: This exercise forces you to bend over while holding a bar, which engages practically every muscle in your back. It’s a great bang-for-your-buck exercise that will also strengthen your core, hamstrings, and glutes.
  • Back squat: Another barbell exercise that strengthens your whole body. This one targets your lower back. It’s also an excellent exercise for improving your core strength and developing power on the bike.
  • Hip bridge: This targets your lower back, as well as your glutes. Glutes often become weak from underutilization and can contribute to a multitude of injuries.

The hip bridge exercise activates your glutes more than any other exercise and teaches them how to fire when you’re on the bike. You can add weight with kettlebells or a medicine ball if you need more of a challenge.

Cycling Overuse Injury #2: IT Band Syndrome

Your iliotibial band (IT Band) runs from your hips to below your knee. The repetitive motion of cycling can cause inflammation on the side of the knee, so it’s another injury that can frequently occur, despite a proper bike fit.

Credit: Wikipedia

IT Band Syndrome is also an injury I’ve dealt with.

It was May—the crux of my season—and the incredible pain on the side of my knee, which radiated down to my calf, had already prevented me from training for two weeks.

I became desperate. I tried every stretch imaginable and iced my knee religiously, but I still couldn’t generate any power without experiencing sharp pain.

I received a referral to a physical therapist, who diagnosed me with some muscular imbalances. Apparently, I was overusing my quadriceps and not recruiting my hamstrings or glutes properly.

What did they prescribe? The gym.

How the Gym Helps Cyclists Avoid IT Band Syndrome

Lifting weights is the best way to teach your muscles to fire more efficiently. Weightlifting also properly balances muscle recruitment, which maximizes power on the bike and prevents injuries, especially IT Band Syndrome.

The Romanian deadlift and squat from earlier should do the trick for IT Band Syndrome as well, but here are some supplemental exercises that can be an excellent addition to your arsenal if you’re susceptible to the injury:

  • Stability Ball Hamstring Curl: A great way to target weak hamstrings and glutes
  • Side Lunge: This lunge variation targets the often-underutilized gluteus medius. You can gradually add weight after you have the movements down.

Cycling Overuse Injury 3: Broken Bones

“Crashing is a part of cycling as crying is a part of love.”

Johan Museeuw

Cycling isn’t a weight-bearing activity. As such, the exercise doesn’t stimulate new bone growth, and can gradually lead to decreased bone density. In other words, no matter how many thousands of miles you rode last year if you didn’t lift weights, you didn’t do your bones any favors.

Add to this, several other factors outside the scope of this article, and cyclists are at extreme risk for developing weak bones (osteoporosis).

Furthermore, if you spend enough time riding your bike, you’re bound to crash at some point, creating a perfect storm of circumstances for breaking bones.

But there’s something you can do to help prevent broken bones: hit the gym.

Whether you ride MTB, road, or both, if you spend enough time on your bike, it’s only a matter of time before you crash.

How the Gym Helps Cyclists Avoid Broken Bones

Lifting weights causes microscopic damage to your muscles, which become slightly stronger each time your body repairs them. The same thing happens to your bones.

Lifting heavy objects causes the body to reach a threshold known as the minimum essential strain, or MES, which occurs when someone applies approximately 1/10th of the force needed to break a bone. It’s at this threshold when new bone growth is stimulated.

To achieve MES for optimal bone-strengthening results, cyclists should lift weights for both their upper and lower body.

How many broken collarbones could be prevented if we were better about hitting the gym?

To prevent broken bones, make sure that you select exercises for the entire body. Many riders only do lower bodywork—but upper body lifts such as bench press, shoulder press, and dumbbell rows should become a mainstay of your routine.

A Final Word About Cycling Injuries Caused by Overuse

The gym.

Many cyclists read these words and cringe. The last thing we want is to cut our time on the bike, just to go pump iron while surrounded by gym rats. I know; I used to feel the same.

But going to the gym has changed my cycling, and that’s no exaggeration.

From performance to injury prevention, if you want to be able to ride strong and live a healthy life, both on and off the bike, the gym needs to become a regular part of your fitness routine.

There are dozens of other reasons why gym work should become a mainstay in your training plan.

There’s not enough time to go over all the best exercises or the best way to incorporate gym work into your current training plan—so I’ll save that for future articles!

Landry Bobo holds a bachelor's degree in Health Sciences and is the owner of Aspire Cycling Coaching in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He has extensive experience with high-performance cycling training, as well as writing about subjects related to health, fitness, nutrition, and sports performance.
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