Cycling Performance & Injury Prevention

Did you know when riding that you can complete around 5400 revolutions of the pedal cycle each hour? To prevent overuse and postural injuries, and maximise your performance, correct alignment technique is essential.

With this is mind we can look at how we interact with the bike, our cycling posture, as well as muscle activation and technique while riding.

The Body-Bike Interface

There are three interfaces in which our body makes contact with the bike.

  • Shoe – Cleat – Pedal interface
  • Pelvis – Saddle interface
  • Hands – Handlebars interface

How our body interacts with these areas plays a significant role in our aerodynamics, cycling economy and comfort, whether we are looking at performance or recreation.

Shoe – cleat – pedal interface

Research has shown that an increased change in foot position, where the cyclist loses their ability to plant their foot on the pedal, is seen in cyclists as they fatigue. This results in less power being transferred into the crank thus decreasing performance. In higher level cyclists this foot position change is far less, minimising the detrimental effect.  Improving our ankle stability, and therefore the ability to maintain correct foot position under load, will minimise the amount of power lost and improving riding efficiency.

Pelvis-Saddle interface

Looking at the second two interfaces we begin to look more at postural control, and therefore injury prevention. It is no surprise when looking at how cyclists are positioned during riding that lower back pain is the most commonly reported injury. Around the pelvis – saddle interface our ability to anterior pelvic tilt (tilt the pelvis forward) is key. Being able to maintain a forward pelvic tilt allows the rider to minimise the rounding of the lower back often associated with lower back pain. Often cyclists will find factors such as tight hamstrings make this position near impossible, but with the correct strength, flexibility and body awareness this can be significantly improved.

Hand-Handlebar Interface

Correct upper-body and lower-back posture is vital in order to hold an aerodynamic position and prevent injury. When riding over 25km per hour around 80% of energy used is to overcome air resistance. In order to do this, cyclists require adequate stabilisation of the neck and shoulders. As the neck remains in an extended position (eyes looking ahead) the arms work to counter the power generated from the lower limbs. Therefore adequate strength and stability of muscles attaching to the shoulder blades and neck is required to maximise efficiency and minimise risk of potential injuries.

Muscle Activation

Apart from ensuring you have correcting technique and optimal bike-body interfaces, Pilates can play a major role in optimising muscle activation and contraction. By more efficiently engaging the hip flexors, quads, hamstring and calf musculature will increase performance (cadence & speed) and makes cycling easier for the every day commuter.

Research shows a significant difference between the muscle activation of higher level cyclists and amateur cyclists. Higher level cyclists are able to recruit and utilise muscles such as the hip flexors during the pedalling stoke that amateur and recreational cyclists do not. This allows additional force to be produced as the hip “pulls” one pedal while simultaneously the quads and glutes of the other leg “push” the other pedal.

Of the power delivered to the crank while cycling around 55% is provided by the gluteus maximus. This is an important factor considering how quadricep dominant the average cyclist usually is. By correctly cueing technique and activation during Pilates sessions we can improve the power produced not only by increasing the strength of muscles but also by improving our bodies ability to recruit and utilise the muscles during cycling.

With a few simple changes to our ability to hold the correct position and recruit the correct muscles, we can make significant improvements to our cycling performance, along with decreasing our risk of injury.

Why not ask you Pilates practitioner to add some cycling specific exercises to you session?