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As keen cyclists always hungry to improve, we get our information from all kinds of places; other riders, magazines and the professionals we see on TV, but how do we know what we’re doing is right, and best for us personally?
When it comes to cycling and injury, according to the experts there are some commonly held misconceptions that could mislead us, the kind that Six Physio’s Mark Golton hears most regularly when patients present with cycling injuries or pain which refuses to go away.
“There is so much stuff out there, which when we take time to reflect on it, there isn’t much evidence for. It is really important that we question things as easy answers are not necessarily the right ones. In every setting we have to ask ‘does this make a difference to me?’”
Your bike caused your injury.
Whenever we assess an injury we are looking for a cause and effect. Unless you’ve been involved in an obvious accident or crash, bike fit can be an important component to consider, but not the only one. There are lots of other variables; loading of training, what you have done before and whether you are robust enough to handle the amount you are doing. Yes, a bike fit might improve your biomechanics but even if it is perfect you still might not be able to tolerate the stress of your training volume, particularly if you are increasing it rapidly. Nutrition, sleep and stress levels all contribute to your risk of injury. Bike fit is significant, but it’s not the only thing. Getting an expert to set your bike up for you will help but you need to look at every aspect of your body and lifestyle when assessing an injury.
Everyone should regularly use a foam roller.
When I look at everyone on their foam rollers I wonder if in five years’ time we will look back and be wondering why we did it. This happens; a few years ago professional football players (and cyclists) started wearing nasal strips to increase oxygen flow but within a few months everyone stopped again. Foam rollers are a convenient thing to use but the depth of research evidence isn’t there.
When you are injured you want to do things to contribute to your recovery and a foam roller is something everyone can proactively do. There may be a placebo effect, which in itself can help. Blindly rolling around on a roller with no clear objective though is not helpful. Knowing how to use it is key. Sometimes I see people rolling around on tendons but the latest research shows tendons don’t like to be compressed. The important thing is to question why we are using it, is it improving your capacity to move freely? With any intervention it is important to see tangible change, for instance does it improve your thoracic (upper back) rotation? If it does, and we can see it and measure it great; if not then it may be time to re-address what you’re doing.
If you want to get good at cycling ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike.
Many cyclists have ridden a lot but have never become any better. Just riding may not be enough. What type of riding are they doing? Are they pushing their boundaries? Is their training challenging their weaknesses and targeting their events?
Strength and conditioning work off the bike is hugely important, as is the mobility aspect. If you can’t comfortably get into your riding position and hold it, while still firing up your glutes, you will not be producing all the power you are capable of.
A few strength and conditioning exercises each week will do the trick.
There are many strength and conditioning components to consider but importantly we need to make sure it is truly transferable to cycling. We should be mimicking the positions we are in on the bike for true specificity, not just doing generic exercises.
If you are riding your bike a lot and not getting any faster, then all of your training, diet and lifestyle needs looking at. Are you challenging yourself enough? If you want to ride faster in an event you need to ride faster in training, doing intervals at race pace and above until those speeds become comfortable.
If you are injured the only solution is to stop cycling and rest.
No physio wants to say ‘sorry you can’t do that event’. Our skills are in problem solving, the thrill of the job is in keeping people going and seeing their success. Some pains we need to be very careful of, stress fractures for example. Others can tolerate more for a short term. If we can tape your knee up so it’s pain free, great, we can crack on with training or competing. Training loads can be adjusted, certain types of movement avoided or high intensity work reduced. If we can, we will keep you cycling. Any persistent pain, or pain that is worsening is worth getting checked out.
As a cyclist you only need to work on leg strength.
There is a frequently used saying I learnt when studying to be a physio; “proximal stability for distal mobility”. In layman’s terms, that simply means having a strong and stable torso for your limbs to move from. Having good core function is now widely regarded as an important component of fitness in most sports, including cycling. When you have a strong core to drive from there are huge benefits to be gained in your power output. Good mobility, muscle recruitment and timing, will help you produce the most power throughout all of the pedalling action. Cycling is a challenge because it’s mainly in one direction, the action is very linear and the body is being challenged in a repetitive way. Tight hip flexors, for example, become dominant and can then lead to lazy glutes. For optimal performance we need to look at how we engage all of our muscles, in our core and in our posterior chain (the muscles at the back of the body).
Six Physio will be offering post-ride massage at all UK Cycling Events. Enter your next ride today.