By Gillian Scobie
Some of you have been slogging away all winter on your trainers. Others have been skiing, skating or running. Now it looks like spring is finally here. Time to get back on your bike—outside! I talked to Jenny Brown, owner of Reactivated Personal Training and Coaching, about the best way to ease your transition back onto your bike.
Make haste slowly
The most important thing to remember is that you have to build your base slowly. How many hours a week have you been exercising over the winter? If it’s 3 hours, you can cycle for 3 hours a week to begin with. To increase your time, add on 20 percent more time per week, or another half hour if you’re starting at 3 hours. Without that base, you have a higher risk of injury. But it takes discipline not to tear off and go out for a lot longer. The weather is warm and inviting. You just can’t wait to get out there. So be careful.
Before you set out on your bike for the first time, determine how fit you are by measuring your resting heart rate (RHR). A level of 75 or above is not aerobically fit and it will take you longer to increase your fitness level. Start out slowly. A RHR of 50 to 60 is excellent, meaning you can train much harder right from the outset.
If you’ve been getting most of your exercise through the winter from skiing or some sport other than cycling, remember that you’ll be using different muscles to cycle, even if your fitness level is high. The most common areas of tightness or even injury when you start cycling again are the neck and legs. Here are some exercises you can do to help.
The most common thing people notice when they first get back on their bikes is a stiff neck. Caution: Do not do head rolls if your neck is stiff — they present a high risk of neck injury. It’s safer to work in the planes of movement (up and down and side to side) instead or to use the full range of motion, especially if you have poor posture. Hold all of these positions for less than 10 seconds. Otherwise you may experience dizziness from the pressure on the nervous system.
- Do a forward head tilt. This works the up and down planes.
- Tilt your head from side to side, ear to shoulder. Move your head only.
- Do the funky pigeon! Tilt your chin back. This stretches out the neck muscles that have been flexed and reduces tension. This is a great exercise to do in the car, leaning against the headrest.
- Do the shoulder shrug. Bring the shoulders up to the ears and then lower them. Become aware of this muscle group. Cyclists often keep their shoulders up too high, a natural reflex when exerting the legs. It can also be a sign of emotional tension. Lowering the shoulders relieves tension.
When you start cycling your hip flexors can get stiff and your calves tighten up because you’re pulling up your legs more than you do when you’re skiing (for instance). Just take it easy when you start out and enable your legs to get used again to the pedalling motion.
Because cyclists keep their knees bent, knees can bear the brunt of some common injuries, especially patella syndrome and jumper’s knee, from too much load on the knee joint. Also, if you’ve been using your trainer over the winter without much tension, your knees might react to the increased tension when you’re pedalling outside. If your knees start to hurt or ache at all, get off your bike immediately and do this stretch:
- Stand on one leg and, holding onto your other ankle, bring that leg up to your bum. This lengthens the tendon and helps the knee to stretch out. It also reduces inflammation that could occur. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds.
It is also vital to keep your knees warm. If you have a previous knee injury and your knees aren’t covered, the cold air can create a knee ache because blood is being shunted away from the knees.
It’s not as warm as you think
Here’s another thing to remember when you first cycle outside again. It’s really not that warm. The tendency is to feel the sunshine and not the air temperature, and dress for warmer weather than is actually happening. And don’t forget the windchill. A temperature of 10C is often accompanied by a wind chill of –2 or –3. This is often a factor in early spring rides. You don’t realize this until you’re zooming along the road in your shorts and the wind suddenly whips bitingly through your thin clothes. Especially when you’re out of the sun.
If you’re not dressed warmly enough, any initial neck pain you have can increase and your muscles can tighten up trying to keep warm against the cold. So make sure you dress more warmly than you think you have to.
Follow these simple guidelines and you should have a fun and injury-free spring of cycling!
Jenny Brown is the owner of REACTIVATED!
Personal Training and Coaching
Find out more about Jenny’s training and coaching programs at her website: http://www.reactivated.ca