Cycling is a versatile activity - one that can be done casually as a form of transportation, a weekend hobby, or one that can be done competitively. Cycling, whether for competition or for pleasure, has the potential for serious injury, sensory motor amnesia and a host of painful muscular conditions. The most frequent problems facing cyclists are accidents, knee problems, iliotibial band pain, low back pain and hamstring strains.
In cycling there is a high risk of trauma.
When you lose your balance on a bike, the consequences can be long-lasting. A bike crash instantly invokes the Trauma Reflex – the somatic reflex of contraction, and retraction of the trunk rotators of your body in response to a sudden loss of balance and the need to avoid further injury. The waist muscles contract unevenly on one side of the body, and the result is a slight twisting and side bending of the torso. A cyclist who experiences Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) in the form of a Trauma Reflex will develop a pelvic imbalance, altered gait (or cadence on the bike), hip joint tightness, uneven weight distribution, and compromised balance.
Cyclists round forward in a hunched posture for long periods of time.
The rounded posture of cyclists is a pattern of muscular habituation that is useful for efficiency, power, and speed. However, this rounded posture of cycling is a classic Red Light Reflex - the front of the body is contracted, the shoulders are tight and rounded forward and the back is lengthened, yet tight.
There's a "co-contraction" between the front and back of the body - an agreement of sorts - that makes this useful form of Sensory Motor Amnesia great for cycling, but inconvenient and potentially painful for everyday life. The constant co-contraction of the abdominals and lower back can cause chronic lower back pain.
There is limited hip movement in cycling as leg movement comes from the hip joints.
In cycling, the muscles of the quadriceps (thighs) are recruited and developed more than the gluteal muscles. Because of the repetitive and powerful churning of the legs, there is little movement of the hips in cycling. As I wrote in my post on running, limited hip movement contributes to iliotibial band syndrome, back pain, hip joint pain and hamstring strains. SMA can occur in the hamstrings due to habituation; the legs are never fully lengthened, so the hamstrings learn to stay contracted in order to coordinate with the quadriceps. The knees bend, but the leg never fully extends. Both the quadriceps and hamstrings maintain a specific muscle length in order to "get the job done" well.
Try these Somatic Exercises as a warm-up before you ride:
- Arch and flatten
- Arch and curl with cactus arms (to release the upper chest and shoulders - from Pain-Free Neck & Shoulders)
- Side bend or washrag (to lengthen the waist muscles and regain pelvic balance)
- Hip lift and reach (to release the hips and across the front of the body - from Pain-Free Leg & Hip Joints)
Try these Somatic Exercises to cool down afterward:
- Back lift (to release the back muscles - from Pain Relief Through Movement)
- cross lateral arch and curl (to lengthen the back muscles on the diagonal)
- Flower (to release the muscles of the front of the body from the "red light" reflex)
- steeple twist or washrag (from Pain Relief Through Movement)
- Hamstrings and quadriceps pandiculations (from Pain-Free Athletes)
Contact Martha to find out how Hanna Somatics can complement and strengthen your current athletic training program.