We just wanted to note Jim’s article that he wrote for the Canberra Cyclist magazine late last year. It is a great read for any cyclist who wants to improve their lower limb strength and their cycling. Jim covers the main areas of the Calf muscles, Quadriceps, Gluteal muscles and the Hamstrings. He’s also included easy exercises to help you improve your lower limb strength.
We are pretty spoilt in Canberra with great bike paths and world class mountain bike facilities. Many cyclists are happy to pick up a new bike fresh from the store and ride it blissfully unaware whether or not they are in the optimum position to maximise efficiency and minimising injury. There are many factors that in combination, will help you to find the best bike position for cycling.
There have been many studies into optimal seat height to increase pedaling efficiency, most based on oxygen consumption with little regard to the biomechanical features of the cyclist. These studies typically do not consider the cleat position nor the pedaling technique of the rider in determining pedalling efficiency. There is also no regard to saddle compression which can make a difference to optimal seat height by a few millimetres, a small amount indeed but by no means insignificant in terms of the optimal bike position.
Such things as leg length differences (anatomical and functional), muscle shortness, foot and leg alignment, upper leg (femur) versus lower leg (tibia) length, pelvic alignment (especially rotations) and hip flexibility can all influence the optimal seat height position achieved by the rider.
What tends to work best is achieving as close to the optimal seat height with respect to the biomechanics of the rider – in short fitting the bike to the biomechanics of the rider. Having the seat too high can lead to low back and sciatic pain, too low can bring on knee issues.
One of the easiest ways to make you faster on a bike is to become more aerodynamic. It has been shown that as you increase in speed, wind resistance increases exponentially whilst rolling resistance remains constant. Consequently, at 30 km/h wind resistance is approximately 90% of the total resistance a rider must overcome to move forward. This doesn’t mean you need find a helmet that was designed by NASA, or lycra that would look less tight if it was painted on, but it would be helpful to get your body position right.
I recently attended a conference on cycling biomechanics. A physiotherapist that spent several years working with the Australian Olympic Cycling Team presented that the optimal body angle to decrease wind resistance without compromising pedalling efficiency was found to be 20 degrees to the horizontal whilst keeping the spine in neutral. Sadly, unless you are Tony Martin or Fabian Cancellara this will be hard to maintain. Often we need to alter this position to look after achy backs or tight hamstrings. I certainly wouldn’t be able to adopt this position on my bike for long without previously undertaking a year’s worth of yoga. If a cyclist is too tight through their hamstrings then they will not have the flexibility to get into a more aerodynamic position with a neutral spine. Also, as Craig Honeybrook from Sport & Spinal Physiotherapy outlined on 12 February 2014 in his article “Core Stability and Cycling” there is a considerable amount of strength and core control required to hold this position.
One of the tools we use at Sport & Spinal Physiotherapy during our bike fittings is a sizing stem which allows us to adjust head stem angle and length. This means we can easily figure out how close to the ideal upper body position a cyclist can tolerate.
An essential part of bike fitting is also fitting the rider to the bike. Thus, I always look at prescribing exercises to the rider that will allow them to develop the strength and/or flexibility to attain the ideal position on the bike and maintain an efficient and safe pedalling technique.
The best advice I could give regarding bike setup is if you want to be happy and healthy on your bike is to get yourself a thorough assessment by a physiotherapist. Whilst your local bike shop may have a thorough understanding of bikes, they will not be able to assess and diagnose biomechanical issues in the rider that could significantly affect the overall position. Most bike shops will get you in an acceptable range and if you don’t have any biomechanical issues then it may in fact it may be very close. However, in my experience nearly all the riders I see have some biomechanical problems (even professional cyclists). Indeed, I would estimate that about 9 out of 10 cyclists we fit to bikes require a shim for an anatomical or a functional leg length difference. Also a physio can help prescribe exercises to help the cyclist achieve that ideal position. At Sport & Spinal Physiotherapy, we not only fit the bike to you, but we also fit you to your bike.
Call Sport and Spinal Physiotherapy on 62624464 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire about a full bike assessment or a cycling related injury.
Improving your core stability can vastly improve your cycling performance. Although the concept of core stability has been embraced by the majority of health professionals for some time now, it is worth pointing out its importance with different sporting and training activities. A recent study printed in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” looked at the relationship between core stability and cycling performance.
The US researchers recorded data on pedal force and hip, knee and ankle joint motion of 15 competitive cyclists during bouts on a high speed treadmill cycling. In between the treadmill cycling bouts the cyclists where taken through a 30 minute workout designed to fatigue the core stabilizers – basically the researchers where interested in the effects of CORE fatigue on cycling technique and performance.
The CORE fatigue workout involved a circuit style session of 40secs on and 20secs off with a combination of seated upper torso rotations with a medicine ball, side bends with weighted plates, standing torso rotations with pulleys (like a woodchopper) and incline sit-ups with weighted plates.
The results showed that core fatigue did affect and alter cycling mechanics – especially in regards to knee motion – in a way that may increase the risk of injury. Indeed, a particular study found that if knee excursion moved more than 2.2cm away from the midline, cyclists were 3 times more likely to experience anterior knee pain. Not only does excessive translation away from the midline predispose the cyclist to knee pain, but it will also be a less effective force production on the pedals compared to driving directly upon the pedals.This study promotes the need for improved core stability and endurance to ensure correct alignment is maintained during extended cycling sessions.
In our bike fitting assessments at Sport & Spinal Physiotherapy in Gungahlin and Canberra, we have often found that cyclists with poor core stability will have excessive pelvic rocking during the pedalling. The goal is to have sufficient core stability to have what is known as “silent hips”. This is where there is little to no movement of the pelvis during pedalling whilst maintain a neutral spine or flat back providing the cyclist an optimum platform in which to activate the gluteals and drive the pedals. The analogy we provide to Canberra cyclists to understand the concept is –“imagine running on soft sand and the higher energy output required to move forward on this unstable platform, well consider the same applies to the other end (of your leg motion) if your core is unstable. Furthermore, not only will an optimum core result in improved performance but it will also minimise the risk of injury, particularly with knee and back pain.
Although this particular study looked more so at the abdominal group, the gluteals (maximus and minimus) need to be looked at as well to make sure the cyclist is applying the optimum force to the pedals. This commonly is noted as excessive medial translation of the knee towards the top tube during long training sessions or hill work. Some cyclists even comment that their knee will actually hit the top tube.
So in summary, make sure your abdominal group, back muscles and your gluteal group are activating optimally during cycling as this will help improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. Indeed, when I was training for the 2010 World 24 hour Mountain Biking Championships in Canberra my training routine included 2-3 sessions per week of core work and gluteal strengthening. Make sure you too include some core work and gluteal strengthening into your training program.
If you have any issues with cycling in Canberra and would like to improve your cycling performance AND/OR help with any cycling related back or knee pain – CALL SPORT & SPINAL PHYSIO NOW ON 6262 4464. Our physios can help get you back on the bike FAST. A bike fitting session can also help you get the most out of your bike.