You don't have to log thousands of miles to gain rewards from riding a bike. You don’t need an expensive bike, special clothes or a high degree of fitness to experience the benefits of riding a bike. Whether you're ride a fancy new carbon bike or an old reliable one, bike riding is a great workout with the fun to keep you going. Riding a bike can add a fitness activity into your day even if you don't have time for a traditional workout. And, of course, cycling is a great way to improve your overall cardiovascular fitness.
Cycling, the Good and the Bad
We fell in love with a sport that provides endless hours of impact-free adventure, competition, stress relief, and cardiovascular health. Cycling is also gentle on our joints and can relieve muscle strain, foot problems, knee troubles, back pain or impact-related injuries caused by running, jogging or walking.
But what makes the bike an incredible form of exercise is likely to contribute to our frailty in the game of life. Unfortunately, riding a bike is more likely to cause muscular imbalances and postural changes then either running or walking.
Cycling does wonders for our aerobic system but does little to enhance our muscular power. Bike riding is an activity performed in constant flexion, with singularly sagittal movements, and constant repetitive action performed through a limited range of motion. The areas that are universally tight include quads, hip ﬂexors, hamstrings and lower backs. Additionally, the flexed, forward-leaning position results in rounded shoulders and closed chest muscles.
Cycling has a variety of health benefits; however, it doesn’t support building strong bones. In fact, depending on the amount of cycling you do, it may decrease your bone density.
You may have heard sitting is the new smoking. The media is full of warnings about sitting too much. We aren’t designed to sit for six to eight hours a day. Almost every fitness device or app provides options to remind you to stand up periodically. If you think about it, riding a bike may include hours of being positioned in a crouched, seated position. Even on bikes where you are more upright, you are still sitting.
But everything we do every day, in our workouts and day-to-day tasks, makes our body tighten up. Moving is our key to health. At the same time, the phrase “no pain, no gain” can be a dangerous refrain to live by. Chronic tension can reduce flexibility and cause pain.
Here’s the bad news about the havoc cycling can cause to our bodies:
- Pedaling stresses our calves, causes our feet to flatten and stresses the heel cord, plantar fascia and knees.
- Miles of cycling in the bent over cycling position creates tightness in the quadriceps and the psoas (hip flexors), pulling the pelvis into a forward tilt and increased lower back arch, weakening the abdominals.
- Tightness and over-activation of glutes causes weak and under-active hip extensors. As a result, the hamstrings get over worked and become tight.
- Riding with a rounded back. causes the shoulder blades to elevate and protract, tightening the muscles in the chest and upper trapezius. Tight upper traps are a major contributor to neck tension and pain.
- Cycling posture pulls the head forward, leading to tight neck flexors and weak extensors, which results in neck pain and tension headaches.
- A weak core and rhomboids (back) reduce the ability to control the upper torso and can result in extensive pressure placed on hands and wrists, leading to numbness.
If we want to enjoy our preferred sports activity, we need to include correct training. For cycling that means correct positioning of back and head while riding. It includes paying attention to breathing and strengthening core muscles. With correct form, we’ll remain pain free and less tired.
Our muscles are pretty cool, responsible for every movement we do. Supporting layers of fibrous tissue help muscles contract and relax. But our body has a hard time adapting when things are out of order. If our knee or shoulder hurts from running or bike riding, we may associate the pain with age or mileage. However, when our answer to the question “Does it hurt?” is yes, we should stop. Any hedging in the question is a yes. “After I warm up, it goes away” is still a yes answer. It’s common sense. Exercise should not cause pain. This seems basic, but we ignore pain all the time. Discomfort is normal, but it is not pain. Discomfort should only last two days and be limited to our muscles, not felt in our joints.
We risk getting injured whether walking down the street or picking objects off the floor. We should talk about injury reduction, instead of injury prevention. Injuries are a huge topic. Injuries stop us from participating in activities we enjoy and limit our quality of life. No matter what we do, we will more than likely get hurt from time to time. Every activity has its hazards. We can’t prevent injury, but we can reduce our exposure to injurious situations. To keep things in perspective: even when we do get injured, we can recover.
Improving Our Bike Experience
Weight-bearing is any activity you do that pits your bones and muscles against gravity. Weight-bearing exercise will strengthen bones and slow or prevent bone loss. Weight bearing is achievable with our own bodyweight as well as by adding resistance.
Examples of weight-bearing exercises:
- Brisk walking and hiking
- Jumping rope
- Resistance exercises
- Stair climbing
- Team sports, such as basketball, soccer, and volleyball
- Tennis, badminton, and ping pong
More intense effort is more efficient and effective at improving bone density. That means Jitterbug dance rather than waltzing. And an after-dinner stroll is great for digestion but won’t do much for your fitness level.
The key to riding a bike pain free is in its simplicity. We must focus on moving better to ride better. It isn’t about lifting the heaviest weight. It’s about enjoying movement. We have to understand that strength training is not only about body builders and gyms. Fitness training also gives us the ability to manage injuries and chronic conditions. Our body is a remarkable piece of equipment. When we move, we combine balance, strength, and power. Too often, when we go to the gym, we only focus on burning calories. Instead, we can take a flexible approach to an independent, healthy, and active life.
About Jacqueline Gikow
I’ve been a member of 5BBC since 2015, starting with Happy Face rides and developing my riding skills. In 2020 I became a ride leader with 5BBC. I also lead rides for (the other club).
I’ve been practicing as a fitness pro since 2014, supporting clients to alleviate ongoing pain from injuries and chronic conditions, and restore natural movement ability. I’m a certified Movement Coach & Rehab Specialist (NASM, ATRI, FAS) and National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach (NBHWC).
Through my fitness practice, Audacious Living NYC™, I offer an approach to safe, effective movement that supports you to get stronger and prevent re-injury, so you can play, travel, and work with more energy.
Download this free, quick routine to start your day moving better: Kickstart Your Day
Find out about me and working with me: Audacious Living NYC™