|Bodies, Brains, and Confidence: 3 Ways Bicycling is Good for You
We know bicycling is good for us. The biggest, most all-encompassing metric there is — how long you live — shows the cycling literally gives you more life. A Dutch study found that every hour spent cycling adds another hour to your life. A study by the Journal of Sports Medicine showed that the more you cycle, the more longevity you receive; Tour De France cyclists live eight years longer than average. But cycling isn’t just about living more, but better. Here are three ways cycling makes life qualitatively better.
A Better Body
|A Better Brain
A funny thing happened during a study on schoolchildren’s performance that was focused on the impacts of breakfast and lunch — almost as an afterthought, scientists also looked at how kids got to school. It turned out it had a bigger impact than even what the kids ate: those who cycled to school performed markedly better than those who rode in cars. “As a third-grade pupil, if you exercise and bike to school, your ability to concentrate increases to the equivalent of someone half a year further in their studies,” said Niels Egelund, a co-author of the study. This extrapolates to adulthood: several studies demonstrate boosted brainpower in adults, so much so that cycling has been shown to prevent Alzheimer’s in the elderly.More Love Life
So it only follows if you’ve got a better brain and a better body, your love life is likely to also be a bit busier. A Mindlab study showed that cyclists are regarded by others as 13 percent more intelligent, 13 percent cooler, and 10 percent more kind — and a whopping 23 percent said they’d rather go a date with cyclist versus a runner, soccer player, or tennis player.
Written by Morgan Sliff
How does cycling impact your knees?
A big advantage of cycling is that it’s a low impact sport. This means it is easy on your joints attracting people of all ages. Repetitively spinning your leg over and over again takes its toll. Knee pain is the most frequent injuries in cycling, from professionals all the way to amateurs. So, how does low impact exercise cause this? In this article we explore some of the main causes of bad knees, and ways to fix them to keep you cycling.
Too far too quickly
Trying to do too much, too quickly can cause knee pain. The knee is supported by connective tissue. If you push yourself too much, by rapidly increasing your distance, speed or climbing, then you are putting added pressure on your knees. They will not be acclimatised to dealing with the added load. The result is inflammation of the knee, triggering pain. Just like building up muscles, you need to gradually let your knee joints get acclimate to the added load; only increase ride lengths or times by 20% when you first start cycling. Furthermore, always warm up which gets the connective tissue in your knees ready for load bearing; start out with each ride with gentle cycle at high cadence to get the blood flowing to your joints and muscles.
Poor fitting saddle
Having a bad fitting bike can cause all sorts of misgivings. Too long of a stem is bad for your back, however, for knee pain, the biggest culprit is saddle fitting. If the front of your knee is the problem, try raising the saddle a bit or moving it back in relation to the handlebars. If the back of your knee hurts, try lowering the saddle a bit or moving it forward a bit in relation to the handlebars. Imagine pedal motion is the arm of a clock; you can check positioning by placing your pedals in the 6-o’clock and 12-o’clock positions and rest your heel on the lower pedal. Your leg should be straight, which equates to a 20- to 25-degree knee bend when clipped in. When both feet are positioned parallel to the floor (3 o’clock and 9 o’clock), the forward knee should be over the ball of your foot.
If you find pain persists, we recommend getting a professional bicycle fitting. This will ensure you have a bicycle set up which puts you in the best position to eliminate pain.
Cycling works specific muscle group, primarily quadriceps. If cycling is your main exercise, it is likely you have overdeveloped quadriceps and underdeveloped glutes and hamstrings. This imbalance can put pressure on your knees, which require an equal balance for support. Cyclists should rectify this imbalance; strengthen all muscles groups, by doing resistance-training exercises for all muscles in your legs, core and back. There are cyclist’s specific routines, and also tailored to specific goals, such as longer endurance or more powerful sprinting. British Cycling and Training Peaks are good resources to find a routine to support your needs.
Too high gear
A common mistake by cyclists, particularly those starting out, is to cycle in too high a gear. It often seems that a higher gear is faster. However a faster cadence in a lower gear is now considered better. ‘Mashing’ gears with cadence below 70rpm puts a lot of strain on the knee joint. The school thought is that higher cadence gives you better endurance as you rely more on the aerobic system, which can recover faster than the muscular system. A cadence sensor may be a useful training aid to help you understand correct cycling gears. This fits ether on the crank or wheel, with a computer display in the handlebar. This displays live cadence data during the ride, so you know if to change gear, and also post ride data to analyse your pedal habits.
Core is not just about strong abs; your core, is actually group of muscles including abs, hip and glutes. These help stabilise and support body movements. The core supports riders in the saddle providing a platform to push off and balance. Over a long ride, just as leg muscles fatigue, so do core muscles. A weakened core results in less support and cyclist legs becoming lazy and moving side to side while pedalling.
It is important to train your core off the bike. You can find specific training exercises for cyclists, aimed at core strength. You should train your core at least once a week, and ideally when you have time away from the saddle to allow sufficient recovery.
Throughout the pedalling rotation, leg muscles remain slightly contracted, and not at full stretch. Over time, this shortens the muscles and connective tissue, causing reduced flexibility. If you have poor range of motion, your pedalling may end up causing pain as your kneecap is unable to track in a healthy fashion. You can minimise this by doing a warm down stretch after every cycle. Additionally, foam rolling all leg muscles can keep legs feeling flexible. If you have long standing pain, getting a sports massage can help break any knots or tensions areas in your legs.
Where you put your feet on your pedals has a big effect on your knees. Cleats should be positioned so the ball of your foot is directly over or even a bit behind the pedal axle. Your cleat angles should be aligned with the natural angle of your heels, since unnaturally toeing in or out can stress your knees. Road cleats can also have float adjusted. This is the amount the shoe can move before unclipping; too little and the knee can be forced into painful positions too much float allows the knees to toggle all over the place which not only wastes watts, but stresses your joints. Nikola Innovation Pedals have taken this a step further with revolutionary ZIVO technology by allowing your legs and knees move in their intended position.
Feel free to give us a call or drop a note if you have additional questions or comments on your knee health.
Each year over 100 million bicycles are sold to cyclists with a wide range of skill levels and conditioning. The number of riders grows for many reasons, including good health practices, affordability, and just for the pure fun of riding.
The increase in the cycling population also brings a range of injuries. Among the most common are:
Stiffness in hip rotator muscles
Repetitive stress injury (RSI) affecting the Iliotibial Band
Strains of the quadriceps and hamstrings muscles due to over-training
The image below, courtesy of Stephen Lardson (USA Cycling Coach), diagrams the muscles used and when they are activated in the pedal cycle. It’s not surprising that your hips can be sore or injured while cycling given the extensive use of muscle power.
Three quick stretching and strengthening exercises I do almost daily help my hips tremendously and are easy to do at work or at home.
Walk backwards- This simple yet effective activity strengthens muscles like tibialis anterior and gastro Achilles, benefiting your knees and hips. It takes a bit of getting used to in terms of coordination and awareness, but it feels great after a few days. Additional benefits for walking backwards may be found at this site.
Stretch your hips- My left hip hurts most often, likely a result of my love of golf. Swinging a club brings tremendous torque on your hips. For right- hand golfers your left hip is prone to soreness; the opposite for lefties.
I stretch my hips by sitting upright in a chair without supporting my back with both feet flat on the ground. I raise and place place one leg crossed over the other so my ankle is resting on my other knee. Gently I bend at my waist, slowly moving forward, stretching the piriformis muscle in my hip. Perform 5 or 6 times and repeat for the other leg.
Step Exercises- A variety of ways to accomplish step aerobics like using a simple plastic step block found at most gyms:
Taking stairs instead of elevators wherever possible Most smart phones have the ability to track your stair activity. Track your stair climbing for a week and see how your legs and backside feel.
Squats are another great method of strengthening muscle groups in and around the hips. Starting with no weights, begin practicing the motion. Once comfortable with the motion and balance, add a small amount of weight increasing each week and you’ll gradually see and feel the benefits.