Pedalling efficiency and Gluteal Strength – the key to cycling injury prevention

As long as you are keeping your bike rubber side down then  overuse injuries make up the largest proportion of cycling injuries with the most prevelant being the knee and lumbar spine which is not surprising given the number of hours cyclists can spend in the saddle. Hence preventative measures should concentrate on these areas. Maintaining or restoring precise movement of specific segments of the body, especially the low back and legs is key to preventing or correcting cycling injuries and your Physiotherapist is the best placed clinician for the assessment and management of a cyclists movement pattern.

The most efficient cycling technique is where power is maintained at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke avoiding the "deadspots" in the pedal cycle. Given that peak power is produced around the 3 o’clock position mainitaining power at the top and bottom of the pedal becomes a challenge of co-ordination and activation of power muscles (gluts/quads) and co-ordination muscles (hamstrings, calfs and hip flexors). An increase in work done by the power muscles relative to the co-ordination muscles is a common theme with increased workloads and fatigued states. This state of hard riding is often when musculoskeletal pain presents in the cyclist.

As long as you are keeping your bike rubber side down then overuse injuries make up the largest proportion of cycling injuries with the most prevalent being the knee and lumbar spine which is not surprising given the long hours that cyclist’s can spend in the saddle. Hence preventative measures should focus on these areas. Maintaining or restoring precise movement of specific segments of the body, especially the low back and legs is key to preventing or correcting cycling injuries and your Physiotherapist is the best placed clinician for the assessment and management of a cyclists movement patterns.

 
The most efficient cycling technique is where power is maintained at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke avoiding the “deadspots” in the pedal cycle. Given that peak power is produced around the 3 o’clock position maintaining power at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke becomes a challenge of co-ordination and activation between the power muscles (gluteals/quads) and co-ordination muscles (hamstrings, calf and hip flexors). An increase in work done by the power muscles relative to the co-ordination muscles is a common theme with increased workloads and fatigued states. This state of hard riding is often when musculoskeletal pain presents in the cyclist.
 
The higher the workload the more dominant the power muscles become resulting in a more vertical and less efficient pedal stroke. If the power muscles are weak then the other muscles must fill the gap as workload and fatigue increases. Riders with poorer pedalling coordination will recruit the power muscles more at lower loads resulting in earlier fatigue, reduced pedalling efficiency and greater potential for adverse movement patterns and injury.  Riders with weak gluteal’s (buttock muscles) will compensate by the quadriceps having to work harder which is a common theme observed in recreational cyclists, which of course is less efficient and overloads the quadriceps. The higher the quadriceps force, the higher the patello-femoral joint compression forces and over thousands of pedal strokes an increased risk of patellofemoral pain syndrome occurs, the most debilitating injury in cycling. With poor pedalling technique generally, the power muscles will fatigue and other muscles that will be recruited to help extend the hip and knee (tensor fascia latae, medial hamstring, adductor magnus) further resulting disturbances to the normal pedalling technique such as dynamic knee valgus and lateral pelvic tilt with a likely sequale of patellofemoral  or lumbar pain.
 
Increasing your gluteal strength with a specific off the bike strengthening program and improving your pedalling technique with cadence based cycling drills can give great improvements in mechanical efficiency and injury prevention.
 
For more information on either please contact Campbell at SquareOne Physiotherapy 9968 3424