Almost every roadie suffers an overuse injury at some point. When you ride your legs go through about 5,000 pedal revolutions per hour! If you have a weaker muscle, tendon or ligament it is overly stressed 5,000 times an hour. Here’s what you can do to prevent injuries. With regular training you can build stronger muscles, ligaments and tendons and be ready for longer, harder rides this spring.
A Tale of Two Clients
I’m working with all my clients to evaluate what went well in 2018 and what problems each had that we should address this winter.
My client Jim lives in New York City and has a demanding professional career. Jim has time to ride just three days a week. Each week I write specific workouts for Jim. Because of time constraints he does 0:45 – 1:15 hour rides on the trainer year-round. In the winter he also does a 1 – 3 hour weekend ride on the trainer. In 2016-17 he suffered from pain on the front of his left knee. I prescribed several simple strengthening exercises, which solved the problem. This winter he is doing high intensity weekday rides without any pain.
My client Bruce lives in California with easy access to country riding and is retired. Bruce does his own workouts and sends me a report each week for feedback. His approach to getting fitter is to ride more (and recover less). In 2018 he suffered neck, back, knee and ankle injuries severe enough to cause him not to finish several important rides.
PREhabilitation is Better than Rehabilitation
When a roadie gets injured the rider often sees a physical therapist for exercises for rehabilitation. A better approach is to do prehabilitation exercises to reduce the risk of injury. Here are five exercises that you can do at home in less than half an hour.
- Warm up with one-legged-pedaling.
Start by warming up for a few minutes on the trainer. Set a moderate resistance. Unclip and rest your left foot on a stool or box and start with your right leg:
-30 – 60 seconds right leg
-30 – 60 both legs (don’t bother to clip in your left foot; just pedal easy to recover)
-30 – 60 right leg
-30 – 60 both
-30 – 60 right leg
-30 – 60 both
-Repeat the same pattern with your left leg.
-Each week, increase the one-leg work interval by five seconds per repetition.
- Sets and repetitions.
Most of the benefit comes from the first set of 15 to 20 repetitions of an exercise. Start with 15 reps of an exercise and increase the reps until you can do 20 reps with good form. If you just do the same number of reps you won’t get any fitter. When you can do 20 reps with good form either increase the resistance you are using or progress to a more challenging exercise.
You don’t need a set of weights. You can just use your own body weight, a backpack or shopping bags with canned food, an exercise ball and a bike inner tube.
Experiment to find out the resistance you can use to do 20 reps. Then use a harder resistance and start with 15 reps and build up to 20 reps. If you can’t do 15 reps then either reduce the resistance or start with fewer reps and build up to 20.
- Use body weight.
These exercises all use body weight, which may be supplemented with additional resistance. Using your body strengthens your tendons and ligaments in addition to your muscles more than using a machine.
Rest 30 seconds between exercises to build your endurance.
Do these exercises two days a week in the off-season to improve your fitness and one day a week the rest of the year (including summer!) to maintain fitness.
Your legs may feel tired or even a little sore; however, you should not have any significant pain. If you feel pain then change the exercise or use less resistance.
1. Lunge or Split Squat or Wall Squat
The best single exercise for overall leg strength is the lunge and if you can’t do the lunge pain-free then try split squats. If split squats are problematic then do wall squats. These exercises strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteals.
The following are listed from hardest to easiest on your muscles, tendons and ligaments. If an exercise causes you any pain move down to the next one.
a. Full lunge:
Standing up (photo #1). Step forward about 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) with your right foot and lower your left knee toward the floor. Only go down until your right thigh is almost parallel to the floor. Keep your right knee over your ankle, not in front of your foot. (photo #2) Stand back up (photo #!). Repeat with your left leg: step forward with your left foot, go down and stand back up. Alternate right and left legs for each set. 1 set of 15 repetitions building to 20 reps with each leg. If you can do 20 reps then hold dumbbells or other resistance. For an added challenge do these backwards.
b. Partial lunge:
The exercise is the same as the full lunge but only go down as far as you can without any knee pain. 1 set of 15 repetitions building to 20 reps with each leg. If you can do 20 reps then hold dumbbells or other resistance. (no photo)
c. Split squat:
Step forward about 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) with your right foot. (photo #1) Lower your left knee toward the floor until your right thigh is parallel to the floor (photo #2). Keep your right knee over your ankle, not in front of your foot. Come back up like the first photo — that’s one rep. Go up and down (photos #1 and #2) for one set. Then switch legs. 1 set of 15 repetitions building to 20 reps with each leg. If you can do 20 reps then hold dumbbells or other resistance.
d. Full wall squat:
If you have any knee problems, only do the partial wall squat. Hold a dumbbell or other weight in each hand. Stand with your exercise ball between your butt and the wall. (Or use a basketball or soccer ball.) Put a folded small towel between your knees and squeeze your knees together enough to keep the towel there. You can also put a mini-band around your hips to keep them in alignment. Move your feet out so that when you squat down, your hip and knee joints will form right angles like sitting in a chair. (photo #1) Bend your knees and using the ball as a roller squat down like you’re sitting in a chair (photo #2). Stand back up. 1 set of 15 repetitions building to 20 reps. If you can do 20 reps then hold dumbbells or other resistance.
e. Partial wall squat:
The exercise is the same as the full wall squat but only go down as far as you can without any knee pain. 1 set of 15 repetitions building to 20 reps. If you can do 20 reps then hold dumbbells or other resistance. (no photo)
2. Short-arc Quad Extension
This is particularly good to prevent knee pain. Sit with one leg resting on something so that it’s flexed 20 to 30 degrees from straight and with a weight on the ankle. (photo #1) Straighten your leg all the way, hold for 5 – 6 seconds, and then lower back to 20 to 30 degrees. (photo #2) Tightening and holding strengthens the head of the quad around the knee. Do a set of repetitions with one leg, then a set with the other leg. 1 set of 15 repetitions building to 20 reps You can also do these on a machine at the gym. Do not go through the full range of motion — this puts incredible force on your knee cap and may cause injury.
3. Exercise Ball Bridging
Ball bridging strengthens your gluteals and also your core. A strong core is essential to prevent lower back and shoulder pains and hand numbness. These are progressive. If you can do a set of 20 repetitions of the first exercise with good form, then move on to the second exercise. If you can do a set of 20 reps of the second exercise with good form, then move on to the third exercise.
a. Exercise ball bridging:
Lie on your back with your feet resting on an exercise ball. Stretch your arms out to the side with your hands resting lightly on the floor for balance. (photo #1) Tighten your core and butt muscles to raise your butt up off the floor so your body is close to a straight line. (photo #2) Lower back down to the floor. 1 set of 15 repetitions building to 20 reps.
b. Exercise ball bridging and leg extension:
Bridge up with both legs as before. Hold your position at the top top and lift your right foot off ball for five counts, put your foot back on ball and lower. Do a set of repetitions with the right foot and then switch feet. 1 set of 15 reps building to 20 reps with each leg. (no photos)
c. Exercise ball one-leg bridging:
Lie on your back with your feet resting on an exercise ball. Lift your right leg off the ball. (photo #1) Tighten your core. Use your left glute muscle to raise your butt up off the floor so your body is close to a straight line. (photo #2) Lower back to the floor. Do a set with one leg, then a set with the other. 1 set of 15 repetitions building to 20 reps with each leg.
4. Ball Hamstring Curl
These strengthen your core, hamstrings and gluteals. If you can do a set of 20 repetitions of the first exercise with good form, then move on to the second exercise.
a. Exercise ball hamstring curl:
Lie on your back with your feet resting on the exercise ball. Tighten your core and butt muscles to raise your butt off the floor so your body is close to a straight line. (photo #1) Bend your knees, pull the ball toward your butt. (photo #2) Return to straight legs. Do the desired number of reps before lowering your butt back to the floor. 1 set of 15 reps building to 20 reps.
b. Exercise ball one-leg hamstring curl:
Lie on your back with your feet resting on the exercise ball. Tighten your core and butt muscles to raise your butt up off the floor so your body is close to a straight line. Lift one foot off the ball. (photo #1) Bend your other knee and pull the ball toward your butt. (photo #2) Return to straight. Keep your butt in the air and one foot off the ball for the full set. Lower, rest and switch legs. 1 set of 15 repetitions building to 20 reps with each leg.
This strengthens the upper back muscles that hold up your head. You can do this exercise with an inner tube. If the tube provides too much or too little resistance, then order exercise tubing from Amazon. Loop the tube over an anchor so that the band is somewhere between even with your shoulders and parallel to the floor to higher than your head and angled down 45 degrees. Stand with straight arms extended in front of you grasping the band or tubing ends. (photo #1) Using the muscles that connect your upper back to your lower neck, spread your arms wide until they are out to your sides and squeeze your shoulder blades together. (photos #2 and #3) If you can’t spread your arms out all the way because of an injury only go as far as you can. Return to starting position. If you can’t get through the full range of motion, then get lighter tubing. 1 set of 15 repetitions building to 20 reps. When you can do 20 reps get harder tubing.
These five exercises strengthen all the important muscles used in cycling. Doing them twice a week for just half an hour will dramatically reduce the risk of injury so that you’ll have more fun this year!
Coach Dan Kehlenbach is in all the photos except where I am demonstrating the short arc quad extension.
As we age consistency becomes more and more important. My eArticle Off-Season Conditioning Past 50 applies to roadies in your 50s, 60s, 70s (like me) and beyond. Whether your goal is long-lasting physical health, the joy of physical activity or continuing athletic performance, this eArticle will teach you what to do in the off-season. It includes
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My eArticle Productive Off-Season Training for Health and Recreational Riders explains in detail what you can do to become a better rider this winter. The article has three progressive four-week blocks of resistance exercises, which are included in:
- A 12-week off-season exercise program to keep you healthy during the winter months.
- A 12-week more intensive off-season program to build your endurance, power and speed, preparing for base training.
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My Off-Season Bundle includes Productive Off-Season Training and two other articles, which teach you how to make the best use of your available time this winter. The Off-Season Bundle totaling 60 pages is just $13.50 (Only $11.48 for our Premium Members with your 15% discount.)
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.