Fareham Wheelers Cycling Club
Watch Your Back!
Something that a lot of us (me included) take for granted, until it starts to play up, is our back and Iíll bet there are very few of us who havenít at some point experienced some discomfort from our backs. This is especially noticeable following long or hard efforts such as sportifs, TTís or climbing and is due in a lot of cases to the muscles of the lumbar region fatiguing. This means that they cannot support the torso and keep it isolated from pedalling forces, which causes poor form and pain. To avoid this it is important to understand which muscles are responsible for supporting our backs during cycling and what exercises and stretches will help them to become more fatigue resistant. So the next time the weather is foul on a Sunday morning, donít roll over and go back to bed, give these a try and youíll be feeling great and improving your riding from the comfort of youíre living room.
Note - These are suggestions only and Iíd recommend that anyone wanting to try them out do so after consulting a qualified exercise professional - poor technique when exercising the back can lead to serious injuries.
At a stretch...
Flexibility is probably the most underrated area of training for cyclists, but the truth is that by improving our flexibility especially in the hip girdle cyclists will benefit from improved pedalling efficiency and suppleness in addition to feeling more comfortable in a tucked aero position. Plainly then this is going to help us all especially those of us who are TT addicts.
With all stretches there are a few tips to get the maximum benefit: 1. if the stretched muscle starts to wobble then youíve stretched it too far so back off a little and continue. 2. stretch-response - hold the stretch for 10 seconds then as you feel it easing increase the depth slightly and hold this for 30 seconds. Any less and you wonít really get any long-term development. 3. Stretching isnít exactly comfortable but it shouldnít make you grit you teeth, wince, yelp or cry for mum. So donít be daft, if it hurts stop youíve taken it past its range of motion and itís only going to do damage!
Hamstrings: Get low over the bars for a ďTT-blitzing-aero-tuckĒ next season with some new and improved stretchy hamstrings! Find a comfy spot and lie on your back. The non-stretch leg should bend at the knee to rest the sole of the foot flat on the floor. Take the leg to be stretched and with the knee flexed raise it so that you can take hold of the back of the knee with both hands. Extend the knee to the point where you can feel the stretch in the back of your thigh (the knee need not be fully extended to do this). Through a combination of extending the knee and pulling the thigh closer to the torso you can increase the depth of the stretch. Hold as described above and repeat with the other leg.
Buttocks: Complements the hamstring stretching to get you nice and aero and pedalling smoothly. Start out the same as the hamstring stretch, but flex the knee of the Ďto be stretchedí leg so that the ankle rests just above the knee of the other leg. Flex the hip of the non-stretch leg to bring the knee and ankle up toward the chest. Youíll start to feel in now so take hold of the back of the thigh of the non-stretched leg and hold the stretch. To increase the depth of the stretch, pull the thigh closer in to the chest. Hold as above and swap legs.
Hip Flexors: The muscles that help us spin smooth circles by pulling up on the pedals. Your hip flexors are a group of muscles which connect the thigh and torso, which can be difficult to target without knowing this specific stretch. From a standing position take a large step forward with one leg, bend at the knees to lower your torso down and forward whilst keeping the toes of the trailing leg in contact with the floor. You will feel the stretch in the trailing leg at the very top of the thigh. To increase the depth of the stretch, push through your hips to sink lower. You may wish to hold onto something whilst practicing this as it is possible to loose balance if you are not used to such movements.
Lower Back: Targets all those vital little muscles that weave their way around the spine to keep you fresh on long rides. Starting off by lying on your back with your knees bent take hold of your thighs and pull them upward toward your chest keeping your lower back in contact with the floor as you do so. This should lead to you feeling the stretch in your lower back and buttocks.
There are as many stretches as there are muscles so this is far from an exhaustive list but itíll put a spring in your step for the start of the season and you can add stretches as you need. Of course, feel free to ask if you want to know a specific stretch and Iíll do my best to oblige.
Weight for it...
Building up the muscular strength and endurance of the muscles which help to support the torso during cycling will have a double effect: Number 1 youíll feel more comfortable for longer whilst out on the road (great if you are planning an epic sportif this summer or wanting to step up to the longer Sunday routes) and number 2 you wonít ache anywhere near as hard the day following a big/hard ride.
Once again there are a massive variety of resistance training exercises which Iím not even going to attempt to get into here. Iím going to focus on techniques that can be done at home with next to no equipment and are related to improving comfort on the bike and posture not on improving pedalling force etc. If you have access to a gymnasium or weight training equipment great, but you wonít need it for this. A Pilates class would be great for targeting these muscles (contrary to popular opinion itís not at all like Yoga) and are available at almost every sport centre/gym/community hall if you care to look.
Back Extensions: These simple exercises are a bit like the opposite of a sit-up and are great for improving the fatigue resistance of the lower back. Lie prone on the floor with your elbows raised off the floor and your hands either side of your head. From this position breath out as you arch your lower back so that your chest and feet are lifted a couple of inches from the floor (how far you lift is effected by your flexibility and bone structure so donít force it). Breathe in as you return to the starting position and repeat between 8-20 times per set. If you cannot make 8 repetitions lower your hands and rest them on the small of your back to make the exercise easier or if you can complete a full set of 20 move the arms outstretched in front of you to increase the intensity.
Lower Back Twists: Similar to the above but designed to target the tiny muscles interlinking the vertebrae. Same prone starting position as above but when you lift raise one shoulder higher than the other to introduce a slight twist at the small of the back. Alternate which shoulder you lead with and complete sets of 8 to 20 repetitions with progressions as above.
!!! NOTE: DURING THE NEXT TWO EXERCISES IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT YOU ROUND YOUR BACK DURING THE LIFT. ARCHING THE LOWER BACK PLACES ENORMOUS STRESS ON THE VERTEBRAE SO PLEASE DO NOT DO IT!!!
Abdominal Curls: Everyoneís least favourite exercise but essential for a strong and balanced posture. All sorts of weird and wonderful ways of doing the humble sit-up and most of them donít really do what they claim to. If you want to target your abís you need only flex your torso 30į or so, any more than this and youíre really working out the hip flexors in preference to the abdominals, the same is true if you anchor your feet during this exercise. The best way to target the abís is to start from a supine position, bend the knees to 90į and cross your hands across the chest. Round the back and curl the shoulders up toward the knees. There is no need to sit-up all the way; a curl that lifts the torso into roughly a 30į angle to the ground is optimal. Return to the starting position and repeat between 8-20 times per set. Increase the intensity by either lifting your arms above your head or using an incline that places your head lower than your feet. Lessen the intensity by lowering your arms and placing your hands on your thighs or use an incline to raise your head above the level of your feet.
Oblique Curls: A close second in the ďI hate theseĒ stakes but great for core stability and comfort on the bike. Adopt the same starting posture as you do for the regular abdominal curl but to target the Obliques place your hands palms down on your thighs. Whilst sitting up lead with one shoulder to run the hand up your leg to the inside of your knee, slowly and under control return to the starting position and repeat leading with the other shoulder. Alternate which shoulder you lead with and complete between 8-20 curls in total per set. Once you are happy with the degree of twist needed to target the Obliques (guided by the hand running up to the inside of the knee) you can choose to increase the intensity by raising the hands to cross the chest, raised further to place finger tips on the temples or to increase the intensity further use an incline bench.