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Strength Training for Cyclists: Injury Prevention and Performance

Cyclists, as with all athletes, need to ensure a level of robustness able to withstand the maximal demands that the sport can (and will) throw at us. Appropriate physical preparation programs have been shown to reduce modifiable injury risk factors while improving our performance (1); both clearly important facets in success. Previous debates have suggested that strength training may not benefit endurance performance and indeed prove detrimental, however, modern research has quashed this, noting that a combination of endurance training as well as maximal strength and power training can result in up to a 5% increase in time trial performance (3). Maximal strength training sees us lift heavy loads for low reps at near maximal efforts, while ‘power’ training utilises a continuum of light to heavy loads with an emphasis on moving with intent (i.e. high speed) in accordance with the load (2). These qualities go hand in hand; if we can improve our maximal strength, we will have a greater platform to develop our ‘explosive power’ – important for those hills and sprint finishes.

Road cycling is a demanding, repetitive sport that can take its toll on the body. Having a solid strength base can aid in our ability to perform these repetitive, cyclic movements time and time again. Further to this, it can help to improve the amount of power produced per pedal stroke, increasing the speed, and therefore distance at which we are able to move at a given work rate.

To help reduce your risk of injury and improve cycling performance, we have developed a list of 5 exercises that you can use at home or on the road with minimal equipment required. 

World’s Greatest Stretch

  • Standing up tall, hug one knee to the chest.
  • Release, step out and lunge into a push up position, with the lunging leg in line and outside of both arms.
  • Rotate the arm closest to the lunging leg as far as possible, keeping the back/base leg knee straight. Rotate back into the pushup position.
  • Rock back onto the back leg keeping the front leg straight for a hamstring stretch, holding for approximately 5 seconds. 
  • Complete 3 full cycles each side.

Side Lay Leg Lift

  • Lay on your side bending the bottom knee at 90 degrees, forming a straight line from knee to shoulder.
  • Bridge up using the bottom knee and elbow as the 2 points of contact with the ground.
  • Keeping the top leg straight, raise from the hip by contracting the glute, bringing the foot up to level with hip height.
  • Lower with control and repeat.
  • Complete 3 sets of 10 each side.

Double Leg Hamstring Bridge

  • Lay flat on your back, with roughly a 100 degree bent at the knee.
  • Press the back of your heels into the bench, raising your hips to a position which sees a straight line from shoulders to knees.
  • Hold with hips bridged for 2 seconds before lowering with control.
  • Repeat for 3 sets of 10 reps.

Lunges

  • Stand with feet in line and shoulder width apart. Step forward with one foot and lower the back knee to the ground, staying tall through the body.
  • When lunging, aim to keep the lunging knee in line with the toes, avoiding collapsing in. 
  • Press through the front heel to raise yourself back up to neutral and repeat with the opposite leg. 
  • 3 sets of 15 each side. 
  • To increase difficulty weight can be added (be creative by utilising full milk cartons). 

Dead Bug

  • Lay flat on your back, raising legs to a tabletop position with a 90 degree bend at both the knees and hips.
  • Always maintain contact with the ground with your lower back, avoiding arching up and losing contact.
  • From here, lower one leg out with control (3-5 second lower) while the opposing leg stays still in the tabletop position, before returning and alternating legs.
  • Lowering the leg while maintaining a bent knee will make the exercise easier, extend the leg fully for a more difficult exercise.
  • Repeat 3 sets of 6 each side.

Logistics and Summary

Complete the World’s Greatest Stretch as a mobility drill at the start of the session before rolling through the remaining exercises back to back in a loop until you have completed 3 sets of each. Look to perform this session twice per week to improve performance and resilience to injury. As always if you have any questions or would like some Information on a program tailored to your needs, get in touch with the team at RAD today.

References

  1. Bazyler, C. Abbott, H. Bellon, C. Taber, C. & Stone, M. Strength training for endurance athletes: Theory to practice. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 37(2): 10-22, 2015.
  2. Hoff, J. Gran, A. Helgerud, J. Maximal strength training improves endurance performance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 12: 288-295, 2002.
  3. Sunde, A. Storen, O, Bjerkaas, M, Larsen, M. Hoff, J. & Helgerud, J. Maximal strength training improves cycling economy in competitive cyclists. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 24(8): 2157-2165, 2010.
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Cycling – Injury Prevention

With the FedUni Road Nationals on in Ballarat this week it is the perfect time to talk cycling with many of us inspired to jump on the bike ourselves. For those of us however that perform cycling as a competitive sport, injuries can always be a worry that is at the back of your mind. As cycling is a very repetitive sport by nature, overuse injuries are unfortunately all too common. These types of injuries are generally far less debilitating than the acute injuries that can occur, however they can still affect training and ultimately race day performance. Broadly speaking, overuse injuries in cyclists have two common causes; bike positioning alongside lack of strength in certain areas. Let’s have a look at what some of the most common overuse injuries are in cycling and what we can do to prevent them. 

Neck Injuries

Neck injuries account for the biggest proportion of overuse injuries in cycling as often a cyclist’s neck can be placed into excessive hyperflexion for extended period. It is therefore important that we take note of a few things including handlebar and seat positioning. We can then also look at strengthening through the upper back, not only the strength but the conditioning of these muscles to hold this position for long periods of time too. There are a few upper back exercises we can do to help reduce the risk of this including: 

  • Ring row
  • Banded pull apart 
  • Dumbbell bent over row
  • Cat Camel stretch

Knee Injuries

The next most commonly injured area is that of the knee with an array of different overuse injuries that can occur, however the main ones being patellofemoral pain (PFP) and iliotibial band syndrome (ITB syndrome). Due to the high demand that is placed on the quadriceps during the downstroke of cycling (where the knee is extending), this leads to a large amount of force being translated to the patellofemoral joint. This reaction is said to be the cause of PFP, while ITB syndrome can be better accounted for through the repetitive nature of the sport. As with the non-specific neck injuries that cyclists can have, the set up of the bike is a large contributing factor to the occurrence of these injuries. Other factors include a rapid increase in training volume and an increase in hill work performed. It is therefore important that we be mindful of this as a cycling community and prepare our bodies appropriately to be able to withstand the increase in load. It is important that our increase in load is no more than 10% per week and we are not increasing both volume and hill work at the same time. It is also then important that we strengthen our bodies to withstand this added volume. For this it is important that we improve the strength in our glutes and stabilizing muscles through the hip. A few key exercises that we can use to aid in this include:

  • Banded glute bridge 
  • Side lay leg lift 
  • Split squat

Lower Back Injuries

The last injury we will talk about is that of chronic lower back pain. This type of non-specific pain is generally caused by the prolonged flexed position that the athletes are placed in, resulting in a flexion/relaxation inhibition or fatigue of the erector spinae (lower back) muscles. Again, preventing this type of injury can be attributed to making sure that the athlete has the correct set up of their bike. It is also important however that we look to improve our lower abdominal and general core strength, to offset any weakness through the erector spinae muscles. There are a few key exercises that we can use to help target these areas. 

  • Dead bug 
  • Swiss ball crunch 
  • Bretzel

Summing it up…

In summary, if you are a keen cyclist there are a few very important things that you will need to take note of in preventing any chronic overuse injuries from occurring. Firstly, making sure that the bike is fitted correctly to you, correct seat type and position and correct handlebar position. It is then important that we don’t increase the amount of training that we are doing too quickly (10% at a time) and only in one form at a time whether that be increasing volume or hill work. Lastly it is important that we perform some strength work to off set any injuries that could occur. 

Happy cycling 😊

References

  1. Schwellnus, M,P. & Derman, E,W. Common injuries in cycling: Prevention, diagnosis and management. South African Family Practice. 47(7): 14-19. 2005.
  2. Visentini, P. & Clarsen, B. Overuse injuries in cycling: The wheel is turning towards evidence-based practice. Aspetar Sports Medicine Journal. 8: 486-492. 2019.