Over the last decade, cycling has evolved as a cardiovascular activity of choice.
Cycling can be adapted to any budget or level of fitness and the low weight bearing nature of the sport makes it more accessible than ever. More than half of the Canadian population practices cycling, whether it be for leisure, transportation, fitness or competitive sport. Whatever the case may be, no cyclist is completely safe from cycling related injuries, which is why bike fitting is so important.
When injuries occur, it usually takes more volume and intensity compared to other sports, such as running, before the first signs of discomfort appear. For example, let’s say a “neo cyclist” can ride for an hour before beginning to experience discomfort in improper conditions. The same individual as a “neo runner” would run for 20 minutes and perceive the same level of discomfort. Nevertheless, biomechanics, posture, mechanical adjustments, training volume and intensity are, in cycling, as important as they are in other sports. They just have a more insidious impact in the genesis of a pathology. That said, like a runner who ties his laces before a run, bike fitting is an essential component for safe cycling. The need for a bike fit is independent of the level of fitness. At some point, every cyclist will require bike adjustments that respect his personal characteristics and some biomechanical basics.
What is a bike fit?
In order to optimize the interaction of the rider with his bicycle, it is a standardized process that will lead to the adjustment of the three contact points a cyclist has with his bike. These three contact points include the feet on the pedals, the buttock on the saddle and the hands on the handlebars. They will be influenced by many factors such as the individual’s physical characteristics (height, flexibility, history of previous injuries etc), the rider’s habits and experience, the existence of an actual pathology or not and the type of cycling practiced (road, mountain biking, commuting etc). Although a good bike fit can help reduce injuries, it cannot ensure a 100% pain free ride. An individual still needs to have proper body biomechanics, muscular stability/flexibility and adequate joint range of motion independently of the cycling practice. The opposite is also true. An inadequate bike fit could result in a recurrent cycling injury even if a rider has good muscular stability/flexibility and joint range of motion.
How manual therapy can help
In this context, a CAMPT certified therapist uses manual therapy with the same goal in the treatment of musculoskeletal pathology: to optimize the interaction of every joint so the body can function as a whole. This is why manual therapy is the missing link in bike fitting! It fulfills the essential prerequisites to fully benefit from a bike fit: muscular stability/flexibility and adequate joint range of motion. For instance, it can reestablish a knee joint restriction or hamstring flexibility in order to get the right saddle height adjustment during a bike fit. It can also increase trunk stability so a cyclist can develop more power during the pedal stroke. And much more!
The essential components of a bike fitting
Please note that the omission of one of these steps makes the process helpful, but not optimal. A good bike fit session can last anywhere from 60 minutes to 3 hours depending on needs, expected training volume and cyclist reaction during the adjustment process.
- Cleat positioning according to foot length, leg length discrepancy, rotational leg resting position and adequate base of support (how far apart are the feet together).
- Saddle height and fore-aft adjustments in order to reach approximately 25 to 35 degrees of static knee flexion.
- Saddle width selection according to pelvic bones distance and perceived riding comfort.
- Cockpit adjustments in regards of reach, height and width.
Quick tips to improve your cycling experience
- An improper saddle height will either provoke knee pain of back pain by increasing pelvic rocking.
- A lack of foot stability can increase knee pain.
- A low cockpit can facilitate low back pain.
- Saddle width is an important component in pelvic health. A saddle to narrow will increase pressure on your perineal area.
- Lack of hamstring flexibility will influence your lower limbs ability to generate power during the pedal stroke.
This sport is an exceptional tool in promoting an active lifestyle. Take advantage of the winter weather to prepare for your cycling season and focus on the two essentials: getting a good bike fit and looking for a CAMPT certified therapist who will optimize your body biomechanics function. Actually, some CAMPT certified therapists can even do both!
About Samuel Blanchette
Samuel Blanchette is a CAMPT-certified Physiotherapist since 2014. He currently practices in the Quebec City area and has developed a treatment approach marrying bike fitting and manual therapy. He promotes his services through La Clinique Vélo Physio.