Your legs make about 5,000 revolutions each hour you ride! In one study of 518 recreational cyclists an astounding 85% reported at least one non-traumatic injury in a year. The affected joints were:
- 48% neck of which 31% required medical treatment
- 41.7% knee of which 11.5% stopped cycling for an average of 42.8 days
- 30.3% low back of which 2.7% quit cycling.
What can you do now to be one of the 15% who doesn’t get injured?
In The Cyclist’s Training Bible Joe Friel writes, “An athlete should do the least amount of properly timed, specific training that brings about continual improvement.” What does this mean in practice?
One Overload at a Time
You get fitter by asking your body to do more than it’s used to doing and giving it time to recover. It responds to this overload by getting stronger. You can overload your body in five ways:
- Increasing Frequency — Increasing the number of days that you work out
- Increasing Duration — How long you work out.
- Adding Volume – How many hours you work out, the result of #1 and #2.
- Increasing Intensity — Riding harder.
- Changing Modalities — Changing to riding from strength and cross-training workouts
Each of these adds training stress. To be safe change only one of the five at a time.
You build fitness slowly and progressively. Three rules of thumb:
- Week to week increase your weekly volume by 5-15%.
- Month to month increase your monthly volume by 10-25%.
- Year to year increase your annual volume by 10-25%.
Change Training Modes
This winter you may have been doing strength training. In the spring as you increase your riding you should also reduce your strength training to one moderate session a week to maintain your strength gains.
Spring is the time to build your aerobic base, not power and speed. This means riding at a conversational pace. For more see my column on Aerobic Base Training.
Stay in the Small Ring
When I started riding in the 1970s the Italian Olympic Cycling Training Manual said I should ride at least 1,000 km on my fixed gear to build my base before doing any harder riding. If I didn’t have a fixie, then I should ride at least 1,000 km in the small chain ring. Riding a fixie is hard on the knees. It’s still good advice to ride 1,000 km (625 miles) in the small ring before shifting up and riding harder.
Brent Bookwalter, who raced for a decade with BMC, advises that if you have a choice between an extra 20 minutes of riding or spending that time recovering, use it for recovery. (VeloNews, June 2015) Remember that your body gets fitter if you overload it and allow it to recover.
A poor bike fit can also cause an injury that may cost you time off the bike. Knee problems often result from a saddle that is the wrong height and/or too far in front of or behind your bottom bracket. Neck and low back pain often are caused by bars that are too low and/or too far from the saddle.
Bike fit is dynamic. Your correct fit changes over time with your fitness, especially flexibility, and type(s) of cycling you enjoy. Andy Pruitt is the founder and retired director of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. He’s fit pro teams as well as average roadies. I’ve taken dozens of clients to get a bike fit — one increased his power by 5% with just a proper fit. Andy Pruitt on Bike Fit on my website describes how he does a bike fit.
Strengthen Your Core
Your upper body should be supported by your core ,which should be strong enough so that your hands rest lightly on the bars like you are typing. A strong core is the key to avoiding neck, should and back pain as well as numb fingers.
The surface muscles you use for crunches run up and down your abdomen; similarly the surface muscles you use for arching your back run up and down your back. Below the surface muscles are the core muscles, the transverse abdominis (located on each side of the naval) and the internal and external obliques (extending diagonally from ribs to pelvis). These muscles form a girdle around your core, hold your back in neutral and provide a stable platform to anchor your leg muscles. You want to activate and train the core muscles that run around the abdomen, not the surface muscles that run up and down. There’s a two-part article on my website on Core Strength for Cycling. Each part has a progressive program of 10 exercises to strengthen your core.
Cover Your Knees
The circulation of blood around your knees is poor and when it’s cool outside circulation is worse, resulting in knee pain and possible injury. It’s easy to spot the pro racers training around Boulder, Colorado: they wear knee warmers even when it’s in the 60s.
My eArticle Spring Training: 10 Weeks to Summer Fitness describes in detail eight key training principles and seven physiological improvements brought about by base training, improvements that don’t happen if you don’t train correctly. I explain the importance of varying your training intensities to get the best results and how to gauge intensity. I include six tips to improve your recovery. I conclude four different 10-week programs. They range from a program for riders who’ve trained for 4 – 6 hours this winter up to riders who’ve trained 10 – 12 hours. The programs are also designed for riders with different goals for 2019. The 26-page Spring Training: 10 Weeks to Summer Fitness is just $4.99.
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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.