As Cyclist I think we all know how to put in the necessary work to get good at cycling. We perform our threshold work, hill repeats, unbearable base miles on the trainer, we Zwift, we chart data, we do it season after season… The place in all of this where I personally fall down is in keeping balance. I don’t mean that I can’t hold a line or that I always take the easy “B” lines. No, I mean in life and in body.
Finishing out this last cyclocross season was a bit of a chore. I have been fighting hamstring issues on and off for the last two seasons. As part of pushing to perform in cyclocross and finish out the season I took it to the near breaking point.
Based on last season I knew what the problem was, but I was not provided sufficient information from the medical community to understand how to prevent it from returning. I was out of balance. That was leading to pain and the inability to perform as I want. In looking at the hamstrings in their role in cycling, I’ve found it phrased best here:
As we bend forwards on the saddle to reach the bars cycling affects your hamstrings in the following ways;
The upper hamstrings at your hips are stretched, so can become relatively ‘loose’ and weak. The lower hamstrings at the knee, remain bent. This can lead to a tendency for the lower portion to become shortened and tight Overall, this imbalance between the ‘tone’ in the two ends of the muscle can lead to problems and stress and strain.
– Jo Mcrae
As a disclaimer, I’m not a doctor. I’m an engineer. I’ve taken a medical diagnose of hamstring tendonitis and used my powers of research and data analysis to arrive at these conclusions. I feel like medicine is a place where if you don’t help yourself, you may not get the help you need (unfortunately). Short message, take this with a grain of salt. Do your own research and absolutely seek medical attention if you are injured or are in pain.
After exhaustive research of medical journal studies and articles from sources where I can validate the quality of the source, I’ve arrived at some conclusions.
What have I learned and what do I need to work on?
1. Large amounts of time sitting has largely made our glutes stop working as intended. That in turn taxes our hamstrings as they work to make up for our glutes.
- Retrain and reactivate the glutes to remove the additional burden from the hamstring. Leg bridges of both the single and double leg variety can help activate glutes, stabilize our core, and strengthen our hamstrings.
2. Cycling has created a muscle Imbalance between the quads and hamstrings in addition to an imbalance in the hamstring muscles from end to end.
- Create balance between the quads and hamstrings and internal to the hamstring by specifically training the hamstrings off the bike. Swedish hamstring curls are money for this and require little equipment.
3. Focus on hamstring exercises that are eccentric in nature as part of rehab for a hamstring injury.
- Most of the load based activity our hamstrings experience are concentric in nature. Concentric muscle contraction causes additional stress on the cells that make up the tendon and muscle tissue. To rehabilitate those cells a full eccentric contraction with a controlled concentric release of the muscle is better than a running or walking movement where the muscle is primarily loaded during the concentric portion of the leg stroke.
4. Keep that core strong. A strong core is the foundation of good health and performance.
- A strong core will benefit performance on the bike. It will stabilize and protect our spine.
How do we get back in balance? We get there with cross training. Specializing will create adaptation and that adaptation will make us stronger on the bike, but it takes more than that. As part of my 2017 goals for cycling I’ve committed to continue with the stretching and flexibility goals of 2016, but I’m also adding in a cross training regimen. In the off season I’ll mix this in three time a week. When we are in high season, I’ll mix it in at least once per week.
Here’s the foundation of what that cross training will look like:
Step back lunges
Squats (with some suplamental weight)
Swedish ball hamstring curl (similar to a leg or glute bridge) with a hamstring curl.
Single/double leg /glute bridges (you’ll see this and variations of it all over).
Of course as I get further in to it, this will be adapted as I see results and understand what works best for me.