It's common for cyclists to experience pains and ailments during training or recreational riding, but it's not always easy to figure out the cause. Blair Martin, a physiotherapist and bike fit specialist at The Body Mechanic, a Sydney-based practice, suggests that while multiple factors may be at play, it's often worth looking for the simplest solution first.
If you're reading this, then it's quite likely you are statistically defined as an ‘average’ cyclist… that's a degree-qualified male approaching his forties! Which leads me to ask, what type of advice will most readily serve you?
Will reading about the training and racing schedule of elite level athletes improve your enjoyment and performance on the bike? Will studying the Strava statistics, adopting the pre-race diet, and following the post season 'detraining' philosophies of a WorldTour cyclist help you achieve your riding goals?
The answer is likely to be 'no'. Therefore the purpose of this series of articles is to provide you, the 'average' cyclist, with simple and practical tips you can implement to get an immediate improvement in your cycling enjoyment.
Now I recently had an 'average' cyclist present to our workshop complaining of knee pain which he had been experiencing for the past couple of weeks. We had worked on his riding position a number of months ago with good success, but he was concerned that in the past few weeks 'something must have moved' on his bike. Yet when we reviewed his riding position, nothing had changed – except for the installation of a power meter.
Power meters are a great training tool, but be wary of chasing a number
When I asked him about his recent riding, he excitedly explained how his next Audax was going to be much faster now that his coach had him 'focusing on power'. However, he had also been preparing for an overseas hiking and mountaineering trip – with his 'training' consisting of repetitions up a local staircase, taking the steps three at a time.
There are multiple factors we need to consider when addressing issues such as knee pain, because injuries are seldom solely attributable to one glaring issue.
With this rider we could have taken a physiotherapist's approach: working on improving his pelvic stability and teaching him to reduce the use of his overactive quadriceps and hip flexor muscles.
Or maybe we could have approached his problem from a bike fitter and biomechanist's perspective: reviewing his pedal choice, considering insoles or wedges in his footwear to affect limb alignment, or even investigating the relevance of any leg length discrepancies*. All of these would have some merit, to varying degrees.
Removing the cause of pain is a quick way to solving the issue
However, the most important, glaring issue was simply how he was structuring his training. With this in mind, we advised him to keep his cadence above 90rpm when he pedals, and to take the staircases one stair at a time. This allowed for a significant reduction in stress on his quadriceps and knees, therefore reducing his knee pain.
Now for the purpose of this story. We humans have a tendency to over-complicate things – we seem to like looking for the obscure or unusual diagnosis, rather than the obvious stuff. Our experience is that by sorting out the obvious things first (in this case reducing overload on his knees by increasing his pedaling cadence and taking one stair at a time), many issues will be well on their way to resolution.
If you've had any injuries or niggles recently on the bike, have a think about whether you have done anything significantly different lately. Have you changed your cleats? Played sport with the kids? Done six hours of gardening on Sunday? Maybe your injury doesn't need surgery, just a bit of short-term tender loving care and slightly less gardening?
*Note regarding 'leg length discrepancies'. They are like belly buttons – we all have one!
The Body Mechanic series will be published monthly on BikeRadar and cover topics from bike fit, injury prevention, and to how your component selections actually affect you.
The Body Mechanic is a Sydney-based workshop dedicated to helping cyclists, triathletes and runners make their start line. Established in 2008 by physiotherapist and former NSW elite state road cycling champion Blair Martin, TBM offers physiotherapy, bike fitting, bike mechanic service, running technique analysis, and strength training for all athletes, ranging from commuters to elite racers.