Pushing through the burn is part of a great, indoor cycling sweat session. There’s a big difference between that ‘hurts so good’ feeling and real pain. If you’ve ever left a class with a killer workout under your belt, but an aching body, here are some suggestions to stop the pain, and why it could be happening.
Everybody and every “body” is different. Pain from cycling can be related to several different factors including improper bike setup, poor form, the muscles used in the workout itself, overuse, or a combination of these factors.
The standard cycling position—strapped in and leaned forward is not a comfortable positions in itself. It can stress the lumbar spine (lower back), and because you’re not outdoors on the road using your core to turn, steer, or coordinate the bike, you can wind up putting even more pressure on your back.
Compounding this issue, since most of us sit at a desk all day, our hip flexors are already predisposed to shortening and tightening. If you consider the actual mechanics of an indoor cycling workout- a form of sitting as you bring your knees up and down, while we may not be actively engaging the hip flexors throughout the movement, they are still shortening and contracting. Resulting in tight hip flexors which can contribute to lower back pain.
How to fix the pain and prevent it later
Avoiding pain comes down to mastering good form—and the fundamental aspect is a straight spine. I have been teaching cycling for over 10 years and I see it all the time, as participants push through a hard class, they have a tendency to slump and crunch down. This is why I am always cueing my class to tuck their belly buttons in to support their spines, and to pull their shoulders back.
Proper bike setup also sets you up for pain-free success. What to check for? Make sure your knees aren’t coming up too high and your extended leg should have a slight bend in the knee so you don’t feel like your reaching for the pedals. A seat that is too low or too high can result in pain behind or above the knee. As for the bike itself? The handle bars should be a few inches higher than the saddle, but ultimately the height should be based on comfort and posture. How far forward or behind you are from the pedals is also crucial. When you’re at the front of your pedal stroke, your knee should line up with your shoe laces, it SHOULD NOT extend over your toes.
Your instructor probably already includes stretches at the end of class, this is the key to longevity in any sport. If you aren’t already incorporating these 3 stretches try adding them into your post cycling routine.
Kneeling Hip-Flexor Stretch
Kneel on right knee, with toes down, and place left foot flat on the floor in front of you, knee bent and aligned with ankle. Place hands on left thigh. Press hips forward until you feel tension in the front of your right thigh. Extend arms overhead, with elbows close to head and palms facing each other, and slightly arch your back while keeping your chin parallel to the ground. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
Stand slightly in front of a doorway and place arms on either side of doorway or adjacent wall. Bend elbows at 90 degrees, keeping upper arm parallel to the floor. Lean forward and hold this position for 30 seconds.
Modified Lizard Pose with Quad Stretch
Turn left foot out at a forty-five-degree angle and roll onto the outer edge of the foot. Use left hand to push against inner left thigh, opening up hip. Hold for a few breaths. Bend right knee and catch the pinky toe edge of the right foot with the left hand. Pull to stretch the quad.