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CYCLING + SPINAL AWARENESS

With the Olympic games fresh in our minds, it’s worth consideration to analyze and examine the classic Sports. Of particular interest is Cycling technique, and, posture. Although the posture and form of most olympic, elite-level cyclists give them advantages in terms of speed, they should NOT be replicated by casual cyclists. If you do try and model this technique you have no doubt discovered a painful downside. This article will examine the spinal positioning of cyclists combined with movements used by elite level competitive cyclists and why they are not recommended for the average, everyday cyclist.

The reality is that this population of elite cyclists depict an unhealthy posture during competitive events. They are renown for excessively leaning forward and significantly flexing the lumbar spine (low back). Observers should be able to also see a cautionary disclaimer.

PAIN IN THE NECK

Lumbar flexion is one of the biggest contributors to cycling injuries. It can only be avoided if you’re aware. Chronic or repetitive flexion of the lumbar spine is a common cause for disc herniation and a major indicator of lower back pain. This posture also disengages the core putting further strain on the lower back. Another spinal issue is while leaning forward many road cyclists often look up and forward hyper-extending the cervical spine or neck. Cervical hyper-extension can lead to neck pain and pinching of nerves in and around the neck. Furthermore, competitive cyclists often elevate and internally round their shoulders during a race. This can lead to the upper trapezius and shoulder muscles becoming tight and hyper-tonic, while the rhomboids, mid and lower trapezius become weak and inhibited.

This muscular imbalance can lead to upper cross syndrome, a condition in which a person excessively rounds at the shoulders due to tight overactive chest, latissimus dorsi and upper trapezius muscles and inhibited rhomboids, mid and lower trapezius muscles. Ironically this defective posture gives cyclist an advantage during a race by making them more aerodynamic. The posture and technique modeled by competitive touring cyclists isn’t ideal for most of the population aka casual cyclists.

BEING UPRIGHT IN THE SADDLE

The ideal posture for casual cyclists is to keep the back straight like a board, while hinging at the hip. This allows the cyclist to lean forward while keeping the back in a neutral-straight position. The core should be engaged, supporting the lower back. This posture will also allow the cyclist to look forward without hyper-extending the neck. Cyclists should keep their shoulders neutral and avoid elevating or rounding them forward. Although this posture is less aerodynamic, it’s healthier and ideal for the everyday exerciser.

A useful tip when cycling is to use ankle or foot straps. When cycling without foot straps the cyclist is engaging only his or her quadriceps to do the work. However, using foot straps allows the hamstrings to contribute to the task as well. Utilizing both the quadriceps and the hamstrings allows the cyclist to develop the major muscles of the femur and around the knee in a more balanced manner. This decreases the likelihood of developing muscle imbalances and overuse injuries in the lower body. Using foot or ankle straps will allow the cyclist to exercise more efficiently and for longer periods with higher exercise intensities, resulting in a cyclist burning more calories and promoting weight loss.

So, what can we learn by avoiding the olympic cyclist ride? Well, investing the time to learn appropriate level riding is time well spent. Also, it may seem like a cool idea in the moment to be like the olympian and push yourself, but remember that you’ll likely be leaving yourself open to risk of injury.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Heavypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Thomas Stuglik,  Team InsideOut