Real Advice: Preventing Fatigue On A Long Ride
Watching someone get into cycling is one of the real joys of cycling. Watching them learn how to avoid cars, bunny hop, or fall over stuck to their clipless pedals can be heartwarming. A common question we have all asked at one time is “how do I stop _________ from hurting on a longer ride”? Here are a couple of tips to keep your body feeling fresh as the miles pile up progressing from head to toe.
Especially on road riding, neck pain can be a real issue on longer rides. Without resorting to a Michael Shermer-style neck brace, you can alleviate some minor discomfort with some gentle stretching and rotation. While riding, rotate your head from side to side while keeping your eyes facing forward. This will shift the strain between your neck muscles allowing some of them to relax and loosen up for a moment. It won’t take away all of the pain, but can help you make it home from a ride.
Check your handlebar width. If you’ve got a lot of pain in your shoulders, make sure you are using the right bars and don’t forget to stretch. Using bars that are too narrow can impact your ability to use your full lung capacity while bars that are too wide can put undo stress on your shoulders and upper back.
Try to think about proper arm position when riding. Your elbows should not be locked. This allows your arms to absorb some of the bumps of the road or trail. When your arms start to get fatigued, let one hang down and shake it out. Then trade arms. Sometimes getting a little blood flowing can help your arms make it back home.
Numbness or tingling in the hands can be a sign of improper fit. Check with your local cycling fit specialist to talk about some adjustments you can make to relieve some of the pressure your hands are experiencing. For minor discomfort, a good pair of padded gloves can help on the road while shaped grips like Ergons can make a big difference on the mountain bike; for a road bike, a thicker bar tape like Lizard Skins DP 2.5mm tape can help alleviate pressure points. Change your hand position every now and then to keep blood flowing.
5. Lower back
Both roadies and mountain bikers alike suffer from lower back strain. Proper stretching before and after a ride can help tremendously. Check out this great article from pro mountain biker Sonya Looney. This is one that preventative care is going to be the most important thing. Don’t wait for your back to give out, take care of it!
6. “Saddle area”
Simply recommending a good pair of padded shorts doesn’t really cover all of your bases here-- but it might. Even if you’re wearing Performance Ultra Bib Shorts, you could still experience some tenderness down there after a long ride. Like many of these areas, this is something you’ll eventually build up some tolerance to, but until you do you might want to consider a few pointers. First, check out your saddle. Saddles can be a very personal thing and trying out a saddle with a cutout or with a wider or narrower tail bone section might be just the ticket for you. The other thing to consider is chamois cream. Chamois cream can reduce friction, provide a cooling effect (“euro style”) and prevent saddle sore causing bacteria.
Your legs are supposed to be sore, you’re riding a bicycle. Still, if you’ve been properly stretching, your legs can still get sore while riding and being able to loosen them up on the bike can help you cross that finish line strong. Unclip one leg and letting it hang down, shake it out. This can promote blood flow. If you’ve spend time watching the Tour De France, you’ll have seen cyclists doing this a couple miles before the sprint. You can also leave your foot clipped in and press your heel down toward the pavement to stretch your calves while coasting. With either of these methods, make sure to practice in a safe environment before you attempt it at high speed. Riding on a trainer can be a great chance to practice stretching.
Make sure that your shoes aren’t too constricting. Remember that in the heat of the summer, your feet can swell, making your normal buckle settings just a little too tight. Give your feet the chance to flex, especially around the toe box, and you’ll have a much more pleasant ride. Wear breathable socks and keep your shoes and socks clean. Using a cycling shoe with a very stiff sole can help spread the pressure caused by cycling out over your whole foot, alleviating pressure points.
If you have specific recurring pains, talk to a specialist like a bike fitter or a physical therapist. It’s much better to seek treatment before problems get out of hand. Cycling should be a comfortable, enjoyable experience for many miles.