MAMIL aka middle aged men in lycra. We’ve all heard the phrase before and rightly so since cycling has become a hugely popular sport in recent years. We are seeing less of people going off to have a round of golf and instead people of all ages, shapes and sizes jumping on a bike and going for a ride.
Benefits to cycling
There are huge advantages to cycling especially the cardiovascular benefits. The heart works harder if more major muscle groups are worked during exercise. Therefore cycling is a fantastic cardio work out because the major leg muscles are involved. This makes the heart worker harder and pump more blood, giving you better cardio benefits for the workout.
The other advantage is that it is a form of non impact exercise, to give those creaky joints a break!
What to watch out for
One issue to be aware of is the position you are in and the problems this contributes to for people with back pain and for office workers. As you are in a bent forward position on the bike, your hip flexor muscle is held in a very short position. This will make the hip flexor tighter.
As with sitting in a chair, your hip flexor muscle is held in a shortened position and again this will make the hip flexor tighter.
Anatomy review of the hip flexor
The hip flexor muscle runs from the front side of your lower back, passes through the pelvis and attaches onto the front part of your hip. See the pictures below, looking front on at the hip flexor. As you can imagine, when you sit at work or are on a bike this muscle is held in a shortened position, which over a period of time makes the muscle tight and overactive.
The problem with your hip flexor being tight is that it can:
- contribute to lower back and hip joint stiffness.
- It will start to cause muscle imbalances. As your hip flexor becomes tighter and more overactive, surrounding muscles such as the buttock and deep core muscles get weaker and start to switch off. This can then place more load and start to cause pain in your hip joint and lower back.
Should you still cycle?
Of course! The cardio benefits of this non impact exercise far outweigh the idea of a muscle getting tight. However, follow the tips below to get the most out of cycling without causing too much tightening of the hip flexor:
- Stretch the hip flexor EVERYDAY, no matter whether you have cycled or not. As mentioned above, this muscle gets tight even while you are sitting. Stretch 3 times per day for 30-45 sec each side. And after a cycle stretch for longer.
- Lean back! With sitting at work or being on a bike you are in a bent forwards position, so do some stretching EVERYDAY to take you into the opposite position and help iron you out. Do the below standing stretch (pictured on the left) for 30 seconds every 1-2 hours while you are sitting at your desk. Do the prone stretch (pictured on the right) every night for 1-2 minutes. Do either option as well for 1-2 mins immediately after you finish a ride.
- Keep strengthening your gluts and deep core to correct any muscle imbalances.
- Vary your exercise. Don’t just use cycling as your only cardio exercise, but vary your routine so you can place your spine and body in different positions – this can be achieved with adding in some other exercise such as walking, running and swimming.