How to get the most out of cycling: preparation and recovery 

Regular cycling is a low-impact way to exercise your whole body, especially if you struggle with weight-bearing exercise (eg running or walking). It helps strengthen your muscles, as well as having health benefits for your heart, lungs and metabolism. 

What to consider before you cycle

Not everyone needs to perform an official warm-up before cycling, as some gentle cycling before your ride can help prepare your body for activity. However, if you feel a little stiff, or struggle to initially settle into your riding position then dynamic stretches and warming up your body can help. 

Short distances or efforts may not require a fueling strategy, but if you are planning to cycle for approximately 60 minutes or more, you may wish to take some food to help you maintain energy levels during your activity.

When it comes to cycling clothing, lycra is not a necessity; your own clothes are more than adequate. However, if cycling longer distances then wearing some clothing with a suitable chamois will help improve your comfort. Tight-fitting clothing will help reduce the likelihood of your legs getting caught in the chainset.

If you experience saddle discomfort, then wearing suitable clothing with a chamois can help, but it is also important to find a saddle that facilitates a comfortable riding experience. As a rule of thumb, the more upright you are, the wider your saddle needs to be. Gel cushions and the like are not always helpful and can create more problems.

If you prefer not to clip into your pedals, you can use flat pedals with trainers. 

There are multiple things you can adjust on your bike to improve comfort, aside from the saddle. This might include adjusting your handlebar height and reach, or setting the saddle height to reduce pressure through your knees. If in doubt, consult with a practitioner who specialises in bike fitting to help you achieve your desired position.

What to do after your ride 

Recovering after your ride depends on the intensity of your ride, how often you ride and how you feel. Not everyone needs to stretch, but if you feel that it helps you, then feel free to stretch after your ride. If you’ve had an intense ride, make sure you refuel with carbohydrates and protein. 

It’s also important to pay attention to any discomfort. It is common to experience knee ache or back ache if you’re new to cycling or haven’t cycled in a while. You need to gradually increase your cycling activity to minimise the likelihood of these problems occurring — stretching will not stop them.

However, if your discomfort doesn’t improve with your fitness and/or is sudden and lingering or severe, you should seek medical help. This may involve seeing a physiotherapist

Cycling with a medical condition

If you’re generally in good health, you can dive straight into cycling, making sure that you gradually increase the intensity of your rides. Cycling is a strengthening exercise and as you become a more experienced cyclist, your muscles, in particular your leg muscles, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and core, will get stronger.

However, if you have certain medical conditions, you may need to make extra preparations before getting into cycling. If you have a condition that affects your pelvic area (eg prostate cancer or an enlarged prostate), saddle pressure mapping can determine the optimum positioning of your saddle to reduce potential discomfort when cycling. 

Similarly, you may need to pay more attention to the set-up of your bicycle if you have had a hip or knee replacement to ensure that your bike position is compatible with your range of motion.

Whether you’re an amateur or athletic cyclist, are in good health or have a medical condition, if you develop sudden, severe or persistent pain, do not cycle through it. Reduce your activity, allow your body time for symptoms to reduce and/or resolve, and if they do not, then seek appropriate help from a medical professional and/or a bicycle fitting specialist. 

Author biography

Miss Bianca Broadbent is a sports physiotherapist at Spire Little Aston Hospital, specialising in sports injury rehabilitation, cycling medicine, bike positioning and post-operative rehabilitation (eg recovery after hip and knee replacements). She has over 10 years of experience and previously worked in a lead capacity at the Boardman Performance Centre, working with elite and amateur cyclists and triathletes. 

We hope you've found this article useful, however, it cannot be a substitute for a consultation with a specialist

If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.

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