As we all know cycling is a great way to improve your overall cardiovascular fitness. However, what you may not know is that over time the demands of cycling can lead to muscular imbalances which can limit the body's ability to perform at peak level and dramatically increase chance of both over-use injury and chronic pain.
To get a clearer idea of how these imbalances can occur we'll take a look at the riding posture starting from the feet and moving up to the head:
Pedaling places a lot of stress on the calves. Tight calves can cause the feet to flatten and place undue stress on the heel cord, plantar fascia and knees. The major muscles involved in cycling are the quadriceps. You can see that by looking at any professional cyclist. However, miles of cycling in the bent over cycling position can create tightness in the quadriceps and the psoas (hip flexors). These tight quads and hip flexors pull the pelvis out of optimal position into a forward tilt. This anterior tilt of the pelvis sets in motion a cascade of muscle imbalance. The forward tilt of the pelvis causes an increased arching of the lower back. This over loads the muscles of the lumbar spine while at the same time lengthens and weakens the abdominals. Another muscle group negatively affected by these dominant quads and hip flexors are the gluteals. The glutes are a major pelvic stabilizer and the main hip extensors of the body. Tightness and over-activation of their opposing hip flexors cause the glutes to become weak and under-active. In this situation, because the glutes cannot effectively extend the hip, the hamstrings must pick up the slack. As a result, the hamstrings get over worked and become tight.
Moving up to the shoulders and mid-back, we see the back rounded. A rounded upper back causes the shoulder blades to elevate and protract. As a result, the muscles in the chest and upper trapezius become tight leaving the shoulders hiked up and pulled forward. Tight pecs major and upper traps weaken the mid-back and scapula stabilizers. Weak scapula stabilizers can place undue stress in the shoulder joint during overhead movements while tight upper Traps are a major contributor to neck tension and pain.
The last body part to look at is the head. Cycling posture pulls the head forward. The cervical spine was designed to efficiently support the head and evenly distribute its weight among the seven cervical vertebrae. As the head is pulled forward the distribution of its weight shifts and more force is placed on the vertebrae at the base of the neck. This can lead to calcium deposits and arthritic changes in the cervical vertebrae. A forward head also leads to tightness of the neck flexors and weakening of the neck extensors. This places undue stress on the muscles in the back of the neck and commonly results in neck pain and tension head aches.
As you can see, cycling can cause some serious muscle imbalances that can lead to pain in the body. The next article will look at how to correct these imbalances using an integrated training approach that encompasses muscle balance, postural efficiency, core stability and flexibility.
Dave Radin, CSCS, NASM-CPT, is a personal trainer with Precision Fitness. Precision Fitness is located in the Lake Norman area of Charlotte, North Carolina. Check out their website at http://www.lakenormanfitness.com. You can contact Dave at Precision Fitness at 704-662-8664, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.