There are many things the human was not genetically designed to do; fly, rocket into space, go on rollercoasters and ride bikes. But we do them anyway, because we can and because they are wildly fun and rewarding.
We do need to be diligent about these activities though to make sure we do these things in the safest way possible.
When it comes to cycling, it’s all about body balance. Our body is designed to walk on two legs, an amazing feat when you consider how top heavy we are, so bent over a bike with our weight in the saddle and our legs in constant rotation throws our natural alignment and balance out a bit.
This puts considerable pressure on our necks, which, long and thin, are fully responsible for supporting the immense weight of our head. On a cycling angle we reduce the added support our body is supposed to receive from our back muscles which means for those in the wrong riding position, we are going to feel tension in those neck muscles that causes neck pain, fatigue and irritation. In severe cases, on a long distance ride your neck muscles might even switch off altogether.
Prevention is the best cure. Being aware of your riding posture can make all the difference to the amount of strain you put on your neck. If you can make adjustments to your position as soon as you notice a niggle or slight pain then you will avoid putting yourself through serious injury or discomfort and keep your body healthier longer, which means more time on the bike.
Make sure your bike is set up correctly. While it might not be a natural motion, cycling should feel comfortable and free of pain. Unlike other sports, like running, cycling has a low impact on your body joints and is considered to be a friendly form of exercise. If you are feeling any discomfort, you need to check your bike set up, frame size and position. If you don’t know exactly what to look for this article on bike positioning can help or a professional at a bike shop will be happy to check everything over and give you some guidance.
Over extension is the most common cause of neck strain and this can come from having handlebar settings too far away or too low.
The handlebars that come with your bike frame might not be the best ones for your body type so be prepared to buy stem spacers, a tilted stem or new bar, like a compact-drop bar, to get your position on the bike perfected. The money spent here is worth the health and comfort benefits, especially for long distance rides.
Warm up exercises
Most people like to go for a ride first thing in the morning, this is the best time for traffic but the worst for your muscles which are still probably half asleep in a nice soft bed. No matter what time of day you are on the bike you need to warm up and cool down to ease your muscles into and out of the motion of cycling.
Some easy exercises that take no time at all and help to support your neck will give you huge long term benefits.
With your eyes and chin slightly down slowly turn your head to the left to look at your left shoulder. Then slowly turn your head to the right to look at your right shoulder. Repeat three times each way. The movement from left to right should take more than three seconds to complete.
Rolling your shoulders back a few times (4-5 times) is also good for activating the muscles around your neck and preparing them for work.
Yoga stretches are a great all over body workout to prepare you for cycling. Just remember to take it easy and not to overwork the muscles before you even get on the bike.
As always stay safe and be kind to yourself on the road. The healthier you are the more you can ride.
Cycling without any pain? That’s freedom!