Avoid Hamstring / Achilles Injury Cycle

March 29, 2018

After a long, cold, snowy winter (is it actually over yet?), it’ll be nice to get back to some outside cycling. Whether you are a mountain biker or a road cyclist, because of the nature of cycling, it is important that you use your hamstrings and calf muscles to help get strong pedal strokes, but many cyclists develop recurring thigh or calf injuries.

The proper seat height should decrease the risk of developing Achilles tendonitis (if the seat is too high, your ankle has to excessively push “down” at the bottom of each stroke and can lead to one type of overuse—see Jenn’s article for tips to avoid others) or hamstring pulls. But, if your muscles are too inflexible, even with a proper seat height they may be overstrained with each stroke, leading to injury and an interrupted, abbreviated, or unenjoyable cycling season. If you had good flexibility previously and cycled indoors all winter, chances are you are still fine. If you slacked off during the winter, or were never flexible in the first place, the chances are that they are inflexible now and you are an accident waiting to happen.

To test if your calves are tight, stand facing a wall with the end of your toes 10 cm (~ 4 inches) from the wall. While keeping your heels on the floor, bend your knees (either one at a time or both together) until they hit the wall. If so, congratulations! If not, and your knees can’t touch the wall without your heels coming up, your calves are too tight.
To test if your hamstrings are tight, lie on your back with your legs straight out and then flex one hip to 90 degrees and hold it there with your hands. Try to straighten your knee. If you can’t get your knee to within 20 degrees of straight up, your hamstrings are too tight.

There are numerous ways to stretch these muscle groups, but the easiest ways are essentially to stretch them the same way you tested them. Get into the same position for the tests but hold the position for 20-30 seconds. Repeat three times on each leg, ideally when the muscles are warm such as after a brisk walk (or cycling session). After a few weeks, you should start to notice improved motion.

*For additional stretching ideas, check out the STRETCHING section here.

By Tom Fontana, MSPT

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