Cyclists of all levels suffer from cycling-related injuries, but this need not be the case. Cycling is a low-impact sport, an enjoyable and effective way to increase cardiovascular fitness, and certainly shouldn’t lead to problems if you follow these guidelines to protect yourself from unnecessary injuries and pain. Below, personal trainer and triathlon coach Walter Keating Jr. shares his tips on how to make sure you use a bike safely.
Pick the Right Bike
The first thing to get right is the bike itself – different bikes are suited to different people who are using their bikes for different things.
For example, if the only cycling you intend to do is a short commute to work each day then you will want a very different bike to someone who plans to enter and be competitive in long races. Using a bike designed for a completely different purpose is just asking for trouble. If you’re unsure what kind of bike is most suited to you and your needs, ask a specialist at your local bike shop and they should be happy to help.
Get Your Bike Professionally Fitted
Next, you want to ensure that your bike fits you properly. This can take a lot of time and trial and error to get it right on your own, but getting your bike professionally fitted at a local store should guarantee a perfect fit for your body, and is often much more reasonably priced than you might expect.
A good fit prevents any part of your body from overstretching or being cramped up and also prevents pain and discomfort from cycling in an inefficient position. You may find that you still want to make one or two small adjustments from time to time e.g. to the height or angle of the saddle, and this can then be done with minimal fuss until everything feels just right.
Start Slow And Build Up Gradually
When it comes to actual cycling, it’s important to start slow and build up gradually, especially if you’re new to cycling or haven’t done any for a long time. This gives your body time to get used to the new strains it must cope with so that you don’t run the risk of hurting yourself after just a few rides.
Even for those who have been cycling for a long time, it is still recommended to only increase speed and distance slowly – generally no more than 10-12% each week – both in terms of total distance and the distance for each ride. Remember, tendons and ligaments take much longer to adapt than muscles, and an injury here could put you out of action for months.
Cycle With a High Cadence
During a ride, try to cycle with a high cadence i.e. cycle in a lower gear at a faster rate. This reduces the pressure on your legs and knees and protects them from damage. It also makes your heart and lungs work harder instead. This rapidly increases your fitness level, so that soon you’ll be able to go further and faster than ever before.
Stay Fuelled and Hydrated
You should also try to stay warm, fuelled, and hydrated. If it’s chilly or raining outside, make sure your knees are covered and have a lightweight cycling jacket as the cold can increase your chances of injury. Aim to drink regularly throughout the ride (you become dehydrated before you feel thirsty) and have some food available for long rides or to help you push through when you feel like you have nothing left.
Now get on your bike and enjoy the sun on your face and the wind in your hair! Taking these simple steps should protect your body from injury and allow you to keep cycling for years to come. After all, why would you want to stop?
About Walter Keating Jr.
Walter Keating Jr. is a Toronto-based fitness coach specializing in triathlon coaching and corrective exercise training. He graduated from the Fitness and Lifestyle Management Program at George Brown College and immediately started his professional career. Mr. Keating has worked as an endurance coach, personal trainer, spinning instructor, and corrective exercise trainer.