Avoiding Strain Injuries on Your bike

By Scott Laliberte
Personal Trainer & Certified Cycling Coach
scott.a.laliberte@gmail.com | www.libertecycling.com

With the growing popularity of cycling comes a truth; by nature it is a low impact activity but the repetitive nature of the movement comes with a large possibility of muscle imbalances. Ultimately it is muscle imbalances that will make a rider more prone to strain and injury on the bike, and will keep him or her from real advances in his/her strength, speed and leg endurance.

While in theory most of the leg muscles are used throughout the pedal stroke, many riders tend to rely predominantly on the down-stroke and ignore the up-stroke. By doing this, the cyclist is primarily engaging and therefore building the quadriceps (engaged in the down-stroke), and ignoring the hamstrings (engaged in the up-stroke). Also, most newer cyclists have a tendency to use bigger gears and a lower cadence, which does not properly develop a well-rounded and balanced muscle structure needed for injury-free riding. Slowing down the cadence focuses on that down-stroke during the ride while a faster cadence would focus more on engaging those often-forgotten hamstrings and hip flexors.

The most obvious answer to the imbalance dilemma is to work on the pedal stroke and become efficient at a higher cadence. This is something I work on with all my clients as a first priority. The cadence that most new cyclists feel is comfortable is in that 80-90 RPM range, with most feeling that 90 is the highest they could sustain. I try and show them that 100 is a good cadence to work up to and to quickly find ways to get them there. Not only will it increase your comfortable cruising speed on the bike and keep your legs fresher but will also help you to increase that higher end-speed. I use the analogy of a sports car to help riders understand the importance of higher cadence. Higher revs make flashy sports cars perform better so why not get your legs turning faster and more efficiently? As they become more accustomed to the triple-digit cadence I then have them increase up the number to 110 and, for younger riders, into the 120 range.

Now I know most out there can just picture me out with my riders and everyone is bouncing around on their saddles pedalling wildly and out of control but I teach a pedalling technique that helps increase cadence while keeping the upper body relaxed and bounce-free. It focuses on taking your pedal stroke and breaking it down into the four components: down, back, up, and forward, and focusing on each movement separately. As the down-stroke is what riders are accustomed to relying on, my exercises get riders to ignore the down-stroke altogether, and focuses on the three other components of the pedal stroke separately during parts of the ride. These workouts, along with having cyclists ride at a higher cadence, result in riders start to feel their hamstrings and other unused muscles firing more readily. The comments are usually around the “I never felt those muscles so sore EVER!!” Now, as a coach and personal trainer, I have never been a fan of making any client so sore that everyday movements like walking down stairs is a chore, but sometimes muscle soreness is a great indication that they need to focus on those under-used muscles.

So smoothing out the pedalling and increasing cadence is the first move to helping out with muscle imbalances. It engages the hamstrings and hip flexors more often and puts less strain on the quadriceps. Working off the bike is also one of the best places to work on muscle imbalances. While some cyclists try and spend some time in the off-season in the gym working on unused muscles, as soon as the weather improves they do all their training on the bike. I encourage my clients to keep to a routine of incorporating some sort of cross training throughout the year. For some riders, telling them to ease back on the hours of training on the bike and instead do a 30 min or so body workout usually falls on deaf ears. Telling someone who has limited training hours that he or she can be faster with less time on the bike and more time working other muscles is usually met with scepticism, but it will work!

The off-bike workouts don’t even have to be that structured. A few body weight exercises that work on stabilizing the core is all you usually need. This brings me to an often misunderstood idea of core and core stabilization. What IS your core anyway? With new clients I demonstrate and explain core in a few ways. The demonstration is an activation move where they lie down and focus on activating their transverse abdominus (TVA) muscle; it is a movement that shows them the difference between engaging and not engaging one of the most important core muscles. The other way I explain the bigger picture of the core is by telling them to imagine slipping on an icy surface and not straining their groin, not wrenching their back, and not “pulling” a hamstring (three injuries that most of us are very familiar with in one way or another). None of those injuries included any abdominal muscles but all three of those areas are important parts of the core and more important than that 6-pack we all want…well except for when you’re at the beach.

The best way to get an idea of your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your muscle development would be to get assessed by a sports trainer. Find someone who understands your sport and has a good working knowledge of the types of injuries associated with it. Find a program that works for you to help balance out your body so that you can keep enjoying and improving in the sport you love so much.


Meet Scott Laliberte

Over 25 years ago on my very first club ride as a young junior I got dropped halfway through and had to find my way back alone. Cold, wet and dissapointed from being left behind by everyone I saw a rider up the road waiting. One of the older Elite riders had stopped and waited to help me back and told me that someday I would do the same for someone else. In the many years that have passed I have been lucky enought to race with and learn from some great riders and coaches. From each of them I have learned some valuable lessons on the sport and realized that I am a fan of teaching others the nuances of cycling.

After many years of racing I decided to get my NCCP Coaching in addition to my BCRPA Personal Trainer Certification, and share what I have learned to help mold others into champions. While racing at the Elite level I have enjoyed some great results and now I want to help my athletes reach (and exceed) their own personal levels of excellence.