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Should I Get a Bike FIt?

Neil Poulton

Bike Fitter

“Do I need a bike fit and if so, when should I get a bike fit?”

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Do i need a bike fit?

This is an excellent question and not always easy to answer. I remember reading the Cyclist Training Bible by Joe Friel (which is an awesome book!) and he recommended not only getting a bike fit, but getting one every year. The rationale being that things change and what works one year may not the next. At the high end of performance I can see this, but it may be hard to justify at a more recreational level, especially if things haven’t really changed.

I think that is really the key to answering this question, is there a good reason for getting a bike fit? In the next section I’ve outlined the reasons that may lead you to consider a bike fit, take a look and see how you fit in.

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When Should I get a bke fit?

Given the cost of cycling as a whole, adding a bike fit into the set up really isn’t a big expense, certainly not compared to the cost of physio to recover from an injury or the time of the bike that an injury might cause.

There are a couple of reasons that would start signalling me towards recommending a bike fit:

  • You are New to Cycling:
    • If you are new to cycling, getting a basic fit will be a great way to get comfortable and avoiding potential pitfalls of a bad fit and the pain and discomfort this may cause.
    • A basic bike fit will get you a long way. Over the months/years as your riding experience and mileage increases you may find yourself fitting into another of these categories and another fit may be required to refine your position.
  • Pain or Discomfort on the bike:
    • This is probably the most urgent reason. I see lost of posts on Facebook groups asking how to solve pain and discomfort on a bike. This is a tough challenge at any time, let alone asking random strangers for the solution. If you are asking around for advice, you need a bike fit.
    • Cycling is a sport that embraces suffering, so we often dig in for too long before we admit we need to sort out our injuries. If you have pain, discomfort, pins and needles, numbness, etc it is time to seek the advice of someone that can take a look at the big picture and help you get back to enjoying riding your bike.
  • Niggly Issues:
    • This is a tricky one, because we can often ‘manage’. But if niggly issues are creeping in it may be time for a fit/re-fit. A good example is starting to get pain/discomfort towards the ends of rides, that over time starts to creep in earlier and earlier in the ride. It’s only a matter of time before this problem is limiting your training, so consider a fit for niggles that appear and become persistent.
  • Change of bike/Type of Bike:
    • This can apply to anyone, but if you started cycling, had a fit and increase your cycling over a few years. You now go out and buy a new bike, try to get it into the same position, but that is a lot easier said than done.
    • This is a great time to get a bike fit. Bikes all have slightly different geometry and getting comfy on a new bike can be tricky. A bike fit can get you in a good position on your new bike and get you out enjoying it avoiding the discomfort a big change might have caused.
    • If you change type of bike, for example, from a sportive type road bike to a more aggressive racing machine or from a road bike to a time trial bike it is inevitable that your fit will be different. A bike fit would be highly recommended in this case.
  • Something Changes or Forces a Change:
    • This could be anything from feeling stiffer as you get a bit older, making your normal position uncomfortable.
    • Or it could be an injury has forced you to sit/ride differently or is making it impossible to hold your normal poison.
    • It could be that you’ve started doing a few triathlons and you want a different fit to help you in the bike/run transition.
    • If something changes and you are finding it hard to adapt, maybe the bike needs to adapt to you a bit, so a bike fit is indicated.

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when don’t i need one?

Pain is the most common reason for needing a bike fit and it’s a bit of a no-brainer, if pain is limiting your riding or your enjoyment of riding, it’s time to get it sorted.

There are seemingly a lot of reasons to get a bike fit, probably plenty more than I’ve outlined above. However, not everyone is going to be needing constant bike fitting. If you are confident and comfortable on the bike and you are able to complete your riding with no issues then I wouldn’t rush out and try and change things…there has to be a good reason.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend going looking for changes that are not necessary, so if all is good, just enjoy your riding.

 

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Everything is logged somewhere already

In this day and age almost everything is logged on internet-based programmes like Strava or Garmin Connect. Personally, I enjoy everything being logged, I like seeing my ride route and a few details of the ride. However, this is not a training diary. You could use it as a training diary, but it doesn’t tell you about how you felt.

You can add details into the ride descriptions that could cover the subjective details of a ride, however, when you review your recent training this becomes very difficult to read and is not very user friendly. There is a lot of clicking and waiting for pages to reload!

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What about training software?

In common use for most endurance athletes is training software such as Training Peaks, Todays Plan or Golden Cheetah. These programmes go way beyond just logging rides and try to make use of the data to guide future training. With metrics developed (in Training Peaks I believe) like Acute Training Load, Chronic Training Load and Training Stress Balance you can get a good idea of your fitness and form. However, what you don’t get is how you feel about it. There have been times where the numbers looked great, but I felt totally trashed, unmotivated and unable to produce the performances on race day.

It doesn’t matter how sophisticated your algorithm in the software, it can’t tell how you feel. They introduced a nice smiley face rating for perceived session exertion and that can be used for a more subjective measure, but it’s not as user friendly as a simple diary. Especially when looking back to review recent weeks/months of training.

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What works best as a training diary?

Really what works best is what helps you get the most out in the easiest way possible. Online/on the computer makes the most sense these days as they are so easy to use. Spreadsheets work the best for me. Either using Excel or Google Sheets is a great option.

Having a table set up that records your session and then a space for writing down how you felt is the key to this. If they then colour code the session as green/amber/red by colour filling the cell, the ease of use is incredible. This set-up means you can see a month on one tab and see where the rides fit together, any gaps, any intense periods and then the colour coding lets you know where to dig deeper.

If your athlete is normally (hopefully) consistently posting green rides and suddenly there are a couple of amber, red or missed sessions (hopefully addressed before you get to red/missed sessions!) you can easily see the pattern of where and when this occurred and start seeing what caused it.

Writing a few lines about how you felt about a session goes a long way, it is a great habit to get into. The most obvious benefit comes from the fact that the coach can get a read on how the sessions are going and how the athlete feels about them. Perhaps an unseen benefit from this habit is that it makes the athlete sit for a minute or two and actually think about how they feel. You will be shocked how many people unconsciously get themselves over-reaching/overtraining and only realising when it is late in the day and the recovery time is greatly extended. If you are in the habit of checking in with yourself after each session you are more consciously engaged with your training and will spot any signs of a problem in time to correct course.

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hip mobility in cycling

 

 

With spending a lot of time around cyclist recently, you see all kinds of styles and movement patterns on the bike. Like most coaches and physios, you naturally watch how people move. Hip Mobility is an important part of bit fit and how able someone is able to adapt to a position. I’ve been obsessed by gait as a basis for movement for many years. More recently, I’ve been looking more at cyclists with a similar curiosity. That’s why I completed my bike fitting qualifications.

In some of the course material there was talk about the cleat position and I mentioned a month or so ago about their desire to get the knee going up and down in a straight line over the foot. I’m not yet convinced this is always going to be the best strategy.

 

 

 

However, one thing it’s hard to ignore is when you are behind a cyclist and you see the knees markedly moving laterally at the top of the pedal stroke. It doesn’t make me think cleat position, it makes me think hip ROM.

In a purely non scientific, observational way I’ve seen this pattern of movement is more common in men and gets increasingly common with increasing age and weight. When I see this pattern it immediately reminds me of when you are looking at hips in non-weight bearing in the clinic.

 

 

If you passively move this type of hip into flexion you will feel that the closer you get to 90 degrees the more the hip will want to move into external rotation and abduction. You see it all the time with people who complain of low back or hip pain when they put their socks on or tie their shoes.

For me, altering the bike in this type of case may be required, but should not be your only solution. This lack of mobility may be successfully accommodated in the short term, but it’s likely the lack of mobility will progress until the new position is causing the same problem.

 

Altering the position might be a great short term or long term solution, as long as you are not ignoring the underlying cause. If lack of mobility is the underlying cause, this need be addressed.

Though it may seem logical that in cycling the place to look is in the sagittal plane, those who have been reading my blogs a long time will know, that may be a mistake too! Most commonly, a severe lack of internal rotation is often the key, with lack of adduction next. If you only go after flexion you are likely to run into a problem, where the patient complains of hip impingement type symptoms.

As with all things you are working with an individual and so need to work with what will best help them. There could be structural issues, muscular, capsular, neural etc… so you have to figure out how you are going to help and how much change you can expect to make. However, if you assess for the underlying cause you will will be able to work to address that and get the best result you can for the individual.

I will post something up about assessing and treating hips shortly.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the cause of your injury

It’s common to think ‘I have knee pain because there is something wrong with my knee’. However, with cycling injuries there are areas of the body that are more likely to be injured (the bullied!) and areas that are more likely to be the course (THE BULLIES).

Today we will try to get to the bottom of your cycling injuries.

The Bullies

The hips

the thoracic spine

the foot and ankle

 

The Bullied

the Low back

the neck

the knees

The shoulders

the wrist and hand

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The hips

The hips are a bully because they are so stable and so powerful!

If your hips are stiff and unable to achieve the required range of motion they are so powerful and stable they will tend to send the force/compensation on to other joints. As a result it forces the bullied joints to adapt.  For example, A lack of ROM in the hips will pass their compensation on to the knees and lower back.

This does. not mean a  bully can’t get injured, it can. However, if you are having knee pain you may need to concentrate your efforts somewhere other than the knee.

 

THe Thoracic spine

Now you know the idea from the hips, it’s a similar story with the thoracic spine.

The thoracic spine is hugely stable and powerful because of the shape and size of the rib cage and the amount/size of muscles attached.

Due to the position we adopt when cycling and the time we spend there increasing the thoracic curve can be a real problem if it leads to stiffness.

Also, there is not much movement stimulus for the thoracic while we are on the bike, so we can get stiff in rotation and lateral flexion. Not a major problem on the bike, but could be causing us problems off the bike.

As you can imagine, if your thoracic isn’t able to get the range we need, it will force its’ adjacent joints to compensate for it. In this case it will most likely that the neck and the lower back will bear the brunt. Though never rule out its knock on effects to things like shoulder, wrist or hand pain.

 

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THe Foot and Ankle

I would usually put the foot and ankle as number 1 bully for most sports, but not for cycling. Because of the low impact I think the foot has slightly less influence than it will compared to a sport like running.

That doesn’t mean it’s not important though. When I bike fit the cleat position is a really important aspect.

The way the foot engages with the shoe/pedal can cause problems for the knee.

If I fit someone with knee. pain there will be options to address this through the cleat position and also using wedges.

If the cleat position is good and there are still problems, looking at inserts within the shoe can be a real help in getting the foot stable and engaging with the shoe more.

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So what to do about it?

The approach you take to solving any cycling injuries will always depend a lot on the individual, so its difficult to give a blanket approach. However, I would split it into two areas to work on.

  1. Do we need to adapt the bike fit?
  2. Do we need to adapt the body?

Everyone is individual, so what is required will be different for everyone. Some will benefit more from changing the bike, some from working on strength and mobility in their body. Some may need a bit of both, the key is to figure out what is the root cause of the symptoms and make sure that is being addressed.

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Hip Mobility issues are really common in cycling. If you’ve read my blog for a while then you’ll know the most important thing is to find out the root cause of any issue before you propose a solution. However, when it comes to things I most commonly see there are some quick hitters that are great for home exercises. The Hips are one of the

Bullies of the Body (Click to Find out More)

 
and as such can be found to be the root cause of a fair few issues. So today we will be looking at my top 3 Hip Mobility Exercises. The 3 hip movements I see most commonly requiring some mobility work are:
  • Hip Flexion
  • Hip Extension
  • Hip Internal Rotation
Though clearly it’s commonly a combination of planes, we’ll look at them 1 by 1 to make life a bit easier. For all of these examples we will assume it is the patients RIGHT HIP that is the one we are treating.

Hip Flexion – Forward reach on a step

Hip flexion is really commonly limited. Whether there is a structural, a sensitivity or a combination issue my main goal here is to get the patient comfortable taking the hip through range and as close to end range as they can manage.

Starting Position

I like to use a step for this one. Even though someone may have limited hip flexion, there is still a fair amount of it. Getting someone with their right foot on the step will take up a fair bit of the range and allow you to work closer to the end range. The height of the step can vary depending on the level of restriction, but as it’s planned to be a home exercise too, yo really have the choice of 1 or 2 stairs for the height.

Movement

To start with just rocking back and fore, taking the hip into more flexion gets you going. As the patient can self determine the range they use they can usually keep it pain free. Once they’ve done a few sets of that you can start changing things to create more comfort/range in the hip.

Progressions

A simple way to progress is to add a forward reach. This increases the hips flexion quite a bit and again, start small range and increase as the patient feels comfortable. Then you can start changing the forward reach to add in a bit of lateral movement. If the anterior reach is reaching towards 12 O’clock you can ask them to start reaching to 11, or 10 O’clock to change the feel. Often they will have a bit more freedom this way (remember it’s a right hip we are treating). Or if you ask to go 1, 2 O’clock they may feel a bit more blocked up. This is neither good or bad, but it gives them a chance to explore their hip range in a safe way and may add to your assessment and guide future treatment/exercise.

Hip Extension – 3D hip flexor stretch

This is easily the most powerful of the 3 we are talking about today…so. I. suggest. taking it easy to start with.

Starting Position

Again I use a step for this one, but this time the patient has their back to the step and their right foot on the step. If. they are really limited or have difficulty with the balance of this, then start without the step.

Movement

Once they are in position I like to start with the simple rocking again. Rocking forward and back with the left knee will create a nice hip extension mobility exercise. I like to go. 3-D with this one, so once they have complete the forward and back reps, try rocking the pelvis side to side. To finish off rotate the pelvis left and right. This is all done the right foot on the step.

Right Hip Extension

Progressions

Simply increasing the speed/range is enough of a progression with this. It’s pretty powerful so you don’t actually need much. I do like to use hand drivers sometimes as it creates a more whole-body exercise of it. So for the 3 different directions, the hands drivers would look like this:
  • Both hands reaching backwards over head as you rock forward
  • Both hands reaching left lateral and right lateral overhead
  • Both hands reaching into left and right rotation at shoulder height

Hip Internal Rotation – Rotation Pivot

Though it’s the last one on this post, it’s probably one of the most commonly restricted movements. You tend to have to really work into this one to get any results…can be very stubborn!!

Starting Position

Start with right foot forward in stride stance. This starts you in external rotation, which I really like, because it gives you more range to move into. Some people are really restricted in IR, so unlike the other 2 exercises where you deliberately take up range, here you want to create space to move into.

Movement

If you are working on your right hip you will keep your right foot still and pivot around it. You do this by swinging the left foot around the right. I like to tell the patients to imagine their right foot is at the centre of a clock face and to swing their left leg around the numbers. This exaggerates the rotation and creates a really nice internal rotation stress on the hip. The range will depend on the patient, but commonly they will be looking at taking the left foot from 6 O’clock to 2 O’clock. What you really want to see is the pelvis rotating around the right leg creating the hip internal rotation.

Pivot for Right hip Internal Rotation

Progressions

Range and speed are probably the easiest and most common ways of progressing. I would say that most patients will naturally progress as they feel more comfortable.

If I want to create a greater internal rotation stress I add in the arms. A bi-lateral right rotation arm driver at shoulder height works great. So as they swing their left leg around to the right they drive the arms further around to the right.

Hip Mobility Summary

Probably the longest blog I’ve written in a while!! Could definitely use some videos…so I will try and get them all done at some point this week.

The main idea with these is to help hip mobility by creating a movement that is not stressful and is under the control of the patient. I find if they can be successful with a simple movement you can build on that really quickly and progress can start being made.

It’s important to note that all of these are movements, not stretches. You move through the range to end and straight back out. I feel this gives a far greater result than any stretch can give.