By Laurel-Lea Shannon
If after cycling 50 km (30 miles) your shoulders and neck start to stiffen up and hurt, and by 70 km (40 miles) you’re screaming “uncle,” it’s a sign that something is wrong. A long bike ride shouldn’t be an ordeal. Here’s how to get comfortable:
The first thing you’ve got to check is your bike fit. No matter how much you paid for your bike, it’s surprisingly easy to end up with one that isn’t adjusted properly to fit your body. As long as you’ve got the right size frame, additional adjustments to the seat, handlebars, and stem can easily be made and will make all the difference. Ask your cycling buddies or a local cycling club to recommend a good bike shop. If you didn’t buy your bike there, you’ll probably need to pay for the bike fit but it will be worth every penny.
If you’re confident that your bike is properly set up for you, and that isn’t the problem, read on. There are other steps you can take to eliminate neck and shoulder pain.
Strengthen Your Core
Many cyclists are like M&Ms—solid on the outside (your glutes, quads, calves), soft in the centre (your abs and lower back). A weak core will cause no end of grief on a bike. Core strength forms the foundation of your bike posture. Without a strong base, your back will be rounded and your shoulders hunched forward, and you’ll place too much body weight on your arms. After several hours on the bike, your shoulders will be up around your ears howling in discomfort.
Do 10 to 15 minutes of core strengthening exercises 3 times a week [you can find core exercises here]. This will give you a stronger sitting base on the bike, reducing shoulder and neck pain.
Improve Your On-Bike Posture
Once you’ve strengthened your core, it’s time to fine-tune your on-bike posture.
When you’re riding your bike, go through the following check list:
1) Relax your Grip
You don’t need a stranglehold on your handlebars. Ease off. Your grip should be relaxed and at the ready so you can quickly change gears or brake as needed.
2) Bend Your Elbows
Locked elbows send road impact straight up to your neck and shoulders. Your elbows should be slightly bent. They are shock absorbers for bumps and jolts on rough roads.
3) Create Space Between Your Shoulders and Your Ears
To prevent your shoulders from slowly creeping up to your ears, think of creating space between your ears and your shoulders. This will automatically draw your shoulders down. Try it now. It works.
4) Imagine a V-Shape
Imagine a V-shape. The top of the V is your left and right shoulders. The bottom of the V is your mid-back. Gently pull your shoulders (the top of the V) toward your mid-back (the bottom of the V). Try this on your next ride. You won’t be able to hold that position for long, but slowly build up the frequency and the length of time you hold it.
As you improve your on-bike posture, you’ll cycle faster, more efficiently, and with greater ease.
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