Indoor cycling is a workout that can be enjoyed by almost any fitness level, age or body type. The high-intensity workout is a great alternative to other workouts, such as running without the impact. Sometimes instructors and participants forget that less impact does not decrease the chance for injury. They often forgo proper setup and preparation, choose contraindicated skills and drills, and neglect recovery and maintenance. Over time, overuse injuries may occur, especially in the knees. Pedaling produces a great deal of force on the knees, so if the seat or foot is not in the right position, the incorrect distribution of load can result in knee pain from general weakness or tightness in the muscles of the lower body, poor bike setup and overuse.
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You Have The Power
Strengthening and stretching the lower body prior to your indoor group cycling class can help prevent knee injuries. Reverse lunges target the hamstrings, quads, glutes and calves. Begin with your left knee up in front of you. Step back to the ball of your left foot, then kneel down toward the floor, no lower than 90 degrees. Return to the starting position. Complete 12 to 15 repetitions, then change sides. Next, stand with your feet hip width apart. Walk your hands down your legs, then forward on the floor until your hands are in front of your shoulders, pressing your weight into your heels. Hold the hamstring and calf stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, then walk your hands back toward the feet and up the legs. Repeat two to three times, keeping the legs straight.
The saddle of indoor cycling bikes may be uncomfortable at first, causing some participants to sacrifice proper body mechanics for comfort. The saddle height should be adjusted so you have approximately 25 to 30 degrees of knee flexion at the bottom of the pedal stroke with a neutral foot. When setting the fore/aft of the saddle, visualize a line that intersects the knee, ball of the foot and the pedal’s axle. Set the handlebars at an appropriate height for comfort. You should be able to reach them and feel upper-body support without strain in the lower back, shoulders and neck.
Check Before You Wreck
Many indoor cycling knee injuries can be avoided with routine bicycle maintenance, cadence control and correct resistance. Make sure the bike you are using for class is secure. The handlebars, saddle, pedals and shoe cages should not be loose. During class, your cadence should between 80 to 110 rpm on a flat terrain, 60 to 80 rpm during climbing segments. Too little resistance can be just as harmful to the knees as too much. The warmup and cool-down of the class help prevent injury by getting the body ready for the high intensity workout, then allowing it to recover safely.
The Early Bird Stays Safe
Arrive at class at least five to 10 minutes before class to inspect your bike and set up. Ask the instructor if you are not sure about your body position and let her know if the bike is in need of repairs. Use the recommended amount of resistance for the warm up, drills and cool down. Participate in the stretches off the bike at the end of class. If you do start to have knee pain during or after class, take a day off between classes and RICE -- rest, ice, compression and elevation -- until the pain from the inflammation subsides. Cross train on alternate days with walking or the elliptical. Consult a sports medicine physician if the knee discomfort continues.