• Just riding along (Allan Jamal)Source: Allan Jamal
Prevention is better than cure, they say. So does Kath Bicknell.
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3 Nov 2016 - 12:43 PM  UPDATED 3 Nov 2016 - 12:44 PM

One of my favourite things about cycling is you’re always learning something new. Over the last seven months, I’ve been learning more things away from the bike than on it, the by-product of an injury that spiraled into something much bigger than the initial blow.

Every person’s injury is as unique as the person who is experiencing it. It’s not unusual for the healing process to reveal a string other things that are tight, tense or overused from spending a lot of time in the saddle, at the computer, or doing other repetitive activities, which can impact recovery.

In my case, and for a little context, avoiding chairs for a few months after a bad bone bruise set off a series of compensation injuries that had the ironic effect of making it impossible to sit on chairs for a few more. In unravelling these, a series of bodily compensation strategies that had evolved over 18 years of cycling also emerged.

This article isn’t a list of expert tips. It’s a list of prompts that give you a stable base to work from at any point in your cycling life. These are things that I learned, and am learning, through this particular injury journey that applies as much to any cycling body as they do to the specifics of my own.

If something strikes a chord, take steps to learn more about it. There’s so much more to riding well than spending time in the saddle. 

Simple strategies for decreasing injuries and increasing your riding abilities

1. Learn to breathe 

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But is your breathing shallow or deep? Does it travel into your diaphragm and expand your rib cage like the handle on a bucket? Or is it confined to your chest? Try breathing in through your nose and see if it helps.

Learn to breathe well and you’ll do more than just ride better. You’ll sing better, speak better, have better posture, more energy and support your lymph system.

2. Give yoga a go

I started yoga classes as a way to release energy when I couldn’t ride. I also started them as a caretaking practice. I’ve had so many injuries over the years and am blown away each time a health professional teaches me stretching and strengthening exercises that make a massive difference to that particular spot. But why wait ‘til it gets that bad? Besides, stretching only helps so much unless you have good technique.

One of the things I like best about yoga is learning a whole stack of stretching and strengthening postures that help areas I didn’t know were tense (before they twang out and send me back to the physio). The increased bodily awareness and a general feeling of post-class wellness are fairly addictive too. So is smashing mountain bike PBs because you have more strength in your upper body and core since last time you rode the trails. (Just saying.)

3. Learn what a neutral posture feels like

Scan your body. Is the weight spread evenly on both feet? Is it forward through the ball of your foot, back through the heels, or somewhere in front of your ankles? Is it more to the left or right? Are your hips centred, stacked and even, are they slightly twisted, or tilted forward or backwards? What about the curves in your back and the position of your shoulders?

Do some Googling about correct posture for cycling, for standing and for computer work and see what you discover. A neutral posture is strong without effort. If yours is out, there’s a good chance something will be sore.

Incidentally, when I got back on my bike with improved posture, I learned that the old one constricted my diaphragm and meant I couldn’t breathe properly. Try breathing as a way into finding a good cycling posture too.

4. Learn to rest 

By rest, I don’t mean have time off the bike and do four hours of yoga, finish a bunch of chores and have dinner half way across town with friends. By rest I mean give yourself space to do things without a time limit or mental drive, to relax your body and your mind, to chill out without guilt about missing out, to wake up without an alarm, and to go to bed before you’re staggering around the house like your auditioning for the latest movie about a zombie apocalypse. 

In general, most committed cyclists, or other exercise addicts, are appalling at resting. Even when we understand the value of rest and recovery, we preach about it to others but do a terrible job of practising it ourselves.

5. Get a bike fit

It’s fairly well known now that getting a bike fit can make a massive difference to your comfort, performance and experience on a bike. But as an extra fee on top of a sport that already has many of us budgeting for the next five things, it’s something that we often put off or overlook.

Fits can cost anywhere between $50 and a few hundred depending on time, detail and new parts. This can seem like a lot in the short term, but rehab appointments and time away from your favourite things costs more.

According to Anthony Challinor at Velofix, Rozelle, who I was recommended to see for said fit, he only made small changes to my set up. According to me, he made massive ones and helped me separate industry hype and marketing messages from the particularities of my own riding style, body and goals. At the end of the fit, he summed up the changes that would reduce load and strain on my body, independently hitting on things that I’d been managing for years, as well as muscles that had fired their distress beacons in recent months.

If something feels like it can feel better on the bike, it probably can. And no, you don’t have to be racing the world champs, or even riding a whole lot each week, to get the benefit.

6. Learn to pedal

Apparently, there are two types of cyclists: those who use their glutes and those who don’t. Of the people I’ve spoken to in recent weeks, most of those who use their glutes do so because they had to consciously learn to.

Having learned to breathe, rest, stretch, strengthen, stand, and walk again, and having a bike set up that’s tweaked to my own peculiarities, I’m understandably pretty excited about relearning to pedal. And I say ‘relearning’ because the last few months have given me a whole new blueprint from which to start from. Having pedalled with only half the available muscles for about half my life, I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what happens when I’m back out on the road and hit some of my favourite hills. 

With luck, you know all the above tips already, but if you don’t, experiment a little to recalibrate what you think is normal, or track down someone wiser than you are in an area you’d like to learn more about. You might be surprised by the postitive impact it has on your own experiences both on and off the bike.