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Cycling: How to improve your performance and prevent injury

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

To improve your performance and prevent injury it is important to understand the biomechanics behind the pedaling pattern.

As illustrated in the graph above, the pedaling pattern can be compared to a clock with certain times representing the movement in which certain muscles are activated. The power muscles (gluteals/quadriceps) are active from 12-6 o’clock and then a shift to the calf muscle group will occur at approximately 5 o’clock. During the backstroke, from 6-9 o’clock your hamstrings and tibialis anterior will do the work to get your leg in position to push again combined with the hip flexors that become active from 9-12 o’clock.

Why is this important to me?

Maintaining or restoring precise movement of specific segments is the key to preventing or correcting musculoskeletal pain. Therefore, it is important to identify the areas of your pedaling stroke that needs work since if there is a deficit in a muscle, the other muscles will start overpowering which leads to injury.

For example, if the gluteal bulk is deficient, there is a likely compensation with increased work done by the quadriceps. The higher the quadriceps force, the higher the patellofemoral joint compression forces, the greater the risk of patella-femoral pain syndrome.

What should I do if I have muscle imbalances or just want to improve my performance?

A great way to address any deficits in the activation of the muscles or just to improve your overall performance is through strength training. The strength-building mechanisms that help cycling are largely neurological. This means they have to come from teaching your body to better use the muscle it has, rather than from adding lots of new muscle.

Strength training for cycling

Cycling is an endurance sport that typically relies largely on the recruitment of slow-twitch muscle fiber. These fibers have great stamina as it is, however, strength training improves the maximum strength of these fibers, which further increases the time it takes to work them to exhaustion.

Additionally, strength training improves how quickly you can produce force. By improving your force production, you will reduce the time you need to reach certain velocities, as well as decrease the intensity required to perform your endurance work.

Lastly, there is a concern among cyclists that adding strength training to their workout routine will lead to fatigue. That is not true. In fact, adding strength training to a cyclist’s endurance-training program not only has no negative physiological effects on endurance parameters, but it has been shown to lead to an improvement in cycling economy, which is the oxygen consumption required to maintain a submaximal cycling intensity.

After all, stronger muscles are more efficient muscles. Therefore, as maximum strength increases, the amount of activated muscle fiber required to produce the same submaximal force decreases. In the end, you’ll be doing the same work, but with less effort.

How to do strength training

The recommended strength training for cyclists is 2-3 a week. Since the goal is to strengthen our muscles without adding more muscle, the training consists of longer rest periods and heavier weights. It is also important to notice that there is no lifting to failure.

Before starting your strength session, it is important to warm up your body with 10 minutes of your preferred aerobic exercise (e.: treadmill, elliptical, cycling). Additionally, before starting your strength sets it is necessary to do a warmup lift for each exercise. To perform the warmup, you start with 50% of the weight that you do on the strength sets and perform for 15 reps.

Then you can get started on the strength sets. It is recommended to do 3 sets of 4-5 reps with 2-4 minutes rest in between. Here is a workout that the physios here at Breathe recommend:

1 - Barbell squat

2 - Kettlebell swings

3 - Deadlifts

4 - Eccentric calf raises with weights

5 - Split squat with a barbell

6 - Banded dorsiflexion

It is also important to remember to perform a cool down straight after with stretching or rolling.

If you would like to learn more about how to improve your cycling performance or would like to get checked for muscle imbalances and have a workout specifically tailored to you. Book a consultation with one of our expert physios here! Feel free to give us a call on (07) 3061 7128 if you have any questions

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