Cycling is a versatile exercise that requires all muscles of your body to align well and work properly. Not only are all of your body muscles used when you’re riding a bicycle, but cycling also improves your stamina, vitality, and longevity in the long run.
One of the fascinating things about cycling is that it can be enjoyed by people of all ages, including children and older folks.
According to Statista, a German company that keeps records of marketing and consumer data, in 2020, approximately 7.5 million people participated in cycling in the UK alone. The data comprises those that ride a bicycle either for sport, leisure, or travel. The number is likely to grow as more and more people become environmentally conscious and try to reduce carbon emissions.
What muscles get used in cycling?
As we already said, cycling is a full-body exercise that utilizes all of your major muscle groups. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all muscles have to contribute equally. Indeed, certain muscle sets are overused during cycling. Here is a list of some of the major muscle groups used when you ride a bike.
Gluteus maximus or the glute is the largest of the three gluteal muscles in each buttock that moves the thigh. It’s the force behind your strokes as you press down on the pedal.
Hamstrings are any of the three posterior thigh muscles that run from your hip down your knee. Hamstrings aid both the push-down and pull-up movements of the pedal.
It’s a large muscle that is located on the front of your thigh. As the name suggests, it’s divided into four distinct portions and acts to extend the leg. Quadriceps are responsible for pedaling (pedal stroke).
These muscles are found in the back of the leg. Calf muscles are responsible for strong downward force on the pedals.
The shin muscle or the anterior tibialis muscle is located in the front part of the shin bone of your lower leg. The muscle runs from just below your knee down the front of your shin bone. It ultimately attaches to the front of your foot. The Shin muscle is responsible for drawing the foot upward after the ‘push down’ pedal stroke.
Alongside these major muscle groups, some other muscles also get used in cycling. These muscles help you keep balance and maintain posture, and are the following:
- The biceps and triceps of the arm.
- Deltoids, the powers of the shoulder.
- The muscles of the upper and lower abdomen that make up the trunk.
Why does cycling cause leg pain?
Cycling is a dynamic and deceptive exercise. Slight changes in the wind direction or road gradient can immensely affect the experience. This is especially true if you’re cycling on uneven, unpaved roads or going uphill.
One of the most critical reasons muscles become sore during cycling, ultimately leading to leg pain, is lactic acid build-up.
When you’re cycling at an average pace, your muscles receive plenty of oxygen from your blood. As the intensity increases, the oxygen demand also increases. In this case, due to low oxygen supply, instead of converting glucose to pyruvate, your body starts producing lactate. (For practical purposes, lactate and lactic acid are pretty much the same things.)
If your cycling intensity is higher than the rate at which your body can consume lactate, you pass your lactate threshold, leading to lactate build-up in muscles used during cycling. Lactic acid build-up causes a painful and unpleasant sensation in the legs.
What causes lasting leg pain after a ride?
Leg pain due to cycling is usually temporary and fades off within hours, if not minutes. But sometimes, the condition can last longer and needs to be addressed by a physiotherapist or sports massage therapist.
Microscopic tears in the muscle fibers cause lasting leg pain. It’s a normal process that muscles undergo to grow and develop. (Growth and development are biologically two different things, the former having to do with the physical increase in size while the latter involves complexity, differentiation, and specialization.)
If adequate rest, good nutrition, and proper hydration don’t help, it’s time for you to consult a cycling massage therapist.
Can sports massage for cyclists lessen leg pain?
Cycling is too serious a business for lazy people. Most cyclists have a high degree of perseverance, not finding any time to rest. However, getting back on the saddle for many consecutive days can cause discomfort to even the most fastidious ones. For these reasons, most cyclists turn to sports massage as an effective way of recovery. But the question is, how can sports massage help you recover, rehabilitate sore muscles, and lessen leg pain?
Two of the most common problems faced by cyclists are muscle tightness and joint pain. These two not only impact performance but can also affect posture. The main areas of injury or discomfort for cyclists, in this regard, are the following:
- Hip flexors
- Lower back
Receiving sports massage therapy can help cyclists by:
- Relieving stiffness of joints, restriction of movements, spasms, and contractions.
- Making muscles flexible and reinforcing strength in them.
- Increasing blood flow into the muscles.
- Directly or indirectly, removing the waste products in muscles.
- Psychologically benefitting the cyclist, such as reducing stress and promoting a sense of relaxation and calmness.
As the massage therapist slides their hands over the muscles, the blood vessels open, and waste products channel away. It also reduces the pressure after a strenuous ride or practice session. Researchers in Chicago discovered this phenomenon by asking volunteers to work their quads and hamstrings until they broke down. Half of them then received a sports massage. The results showed that muscle tenderness and blood flow improved in the group that received the massage.
The massaged group had increased blood flow and was pain-free 90 minutes after exercise, while the group that did nothing was still limping the next day. Dr. Shane A. Phillips of the University of Illinois at Chicago explains: “Increased blood flow speeds muscle recovery by supplying nutrients to the tissues and facilitating the elimination of waste products.
Sports massage also has a rejuvenating effect. When a muscle is overloaded, the fibers covering it suffer microscopic injuries. When the fibers recover after a massage, the muscle becomes more robust. The deep pressure of the therapist also breaks down adhesions, leaving you feeling fresh and ready for the next race.
When should you get a massage for cyclists?
Pro cyclists prefer to have pre-ride and post-ride massages. A pre-ride sports massage prepares you for the main cycling event and is likely to enhance your performance. Post-ride massages are meant for quicker recovery. However, one can also go for regular and random massages.
Some cyclists visit their sports massage therapist when they get injured, suffer from sore muscles, or have complaints of leg pain. It’s always preferable to go to your therapist if you feel difficulty in movement caused by tightness of joints. In these kinds of scenarios, you can get a short treatment. The massage therapist will focus mainly on your trouble spots, and the treatment will span over half an hour. Most cycling injuries are related to either knee pain or lower back pain, so ask your therapist to focus more on these areas.
Another option is to undergo a thorough massage treatment. You should ideally receive a complete massage after a week or two of hard riding. In this case, you can either get a deep tissue massage or sports as both do the job of breaking down all that scar tissue and help recover your body.
The idea that you shouldn’t receive the massage a day before the event is wrong and misleading. You can even get a massage right before the event, and it’ll improve your performance.
Where do I get a massage?
Massage therapists are often located in the expo area at the finish line at major cycling and triathlon events, where you can receive an on-the-spot recovery massage. Regardless of whether you choose to have a massage onsite or not, you can locate a massage therapist on the internet to find out where their massage clinic is and whether they offer onsite service so that you can schedule a future session.
Doctors and chiropractors will also be able to refer you to a massage therapist. Other cyclists and friends may also be able to tell you who they use for their sports massage.
How to get a self-massage after cycling?
Sports massages are inexpensive. But if you want them regularly or frequently, they can take a toll on your pocket. You also want to get a sports massage and can afford it, but there’s no massage therapist available in your London area. In this case, getting a self-massage can help.
A self-massage doesn’t require much equipment. If you know self-kneading techniques and have a massage stick, you can get a self-massage quickly. However, it’s better if you have a foam roller too. You can try these simple techniques in a self-massage.
Outer hips and thighs
To perform self-massage on your outer hips and thighs, you need to lie on your side with the foam roller under your hip. Slowly roll up from the hips to the knees and back down. Switch sides.
Sit with your left leg straight, your hands resting on the floor behind you, and your right knee slightly above the ground. Roll up and down from the knee to just below the cheek of the left buttock. Then work your way down the other leg.
Lie facedown with the roller under your upper legs. Lean over your left leg and roll it up and down from the hip to the knee. Switch legs.
Please do note that these techniques are not alternatives to sports massage therapy. However, you can use them to get moving between your massage appointments.
What form of massage is best for cyclists?
Sports massage is the best form of massage for cyclists. It’s because sports massage focuses on specific areas that have a chance to get injured in sports. One of the incredible benefits of sports massage is that the therapist can customize and personalize it based on the client’s body needs. Remember that sports massage uses a more targeted approach and is not a full-body massage.
Cyclists can also go for a deep tissue massage if they need a full-body massage that repairs their damaged tissue. Note that sports massage uses a more targeted approach and is not a full-body massage.
How do cycling massages work?
When a muscle is overloaded, the fascia fibers covering the muscle are damaged in microscopic ways. As they heal, the fascia fibers become more potent, but scar tissue, called adhesions, can form, limiting the range of movement and causing discomfort.
When the therapist applies deep pressure to the fascia, these adhesions are broken down. In addition, blood vessels open, and waste products flow out, reducing the stress after a hard ride or workout. The increased blood flow allows the tissues to be nourished and speeds up recovery from muscle damage.
Tips for getting a cyclic-specific massage from a sports massage therapist
These are some tips to help you gain the maximum advantage out of a sports massage from your massage therapist:
Most people think of a sports massage as some deep-pressure technique. However, deep-tissue work isn’t always necessary. Long, lengthening strokes do the best for cyclists. The purpose of a sports massage is to make your muscles feel relaxed.
Cyclic-specific sports massage is all about focusing on your lower body. Glutes are the primary parts that need the work. As these are important muscles in cycling, ask your therapist to focus on them significantly. If you’re shy about your glutes, ask them to use a drape or sheet.
Allow your therapist to work with your body in a variety of positions. Most massages come in two postures: upward and downward. However, getting a massage on your side can help open up tight hip joints. Healthy hip flexors always aid in hill climbing.
You can tell your massage therapist about your areas of weakness or the parts that feel the most sore. This way, they’ll be able to personalize a sports massage for you.