How To Do Cycling Without Pain

Neck, bottom, hands, knees: many cyclists are familiar with these problem areas. What are the reasons behind this and how to properly sit on the bike?

The longer the tour, the more uncomfortable it becomes: the bottom hurts, the neck becomes stiff, the fingers tingle. The body vehemently reports to the brain: Change something in the situation! Instinctively, you sit down differently, try to loosen your limbs or take a break. After all, cycling should be fun.

Studies show that between 50 and 90 per cent of all cyclists are familiar with such problems. “The most common pain is the buttocks,” says Dr Achim Schmidt, a sports scientist at the German Sport University Cologne and himself a racing cyclist and mountain biker. According to Schmidt, cyclists are second most likely to complain of pain in their necks and hands, followed by knee problems.

Overused muscles

The buttocks and genital area are often affected because a large part of the body weight rests on them, depending on the type of bike. A lot of pressure is applied to the tissue. The comparatively static posture on the saddle does the rest. If legs, back, neck or shoulders report, this is primarily due to overstrained muscles, says cycling expert Schmidt. Especially on a more extended tour, the forces push many cyclists to their limits. The result: the muscles tire, start to burn and cramp up.

If a numb feeling creeps into the fingers, there is probably too much pressure on the palm, or the wrist is lying unfavourably on the handlebars. “This pinches nerves, which leads to tingling and numbness,” explains Schmidt. In addition to too much pressure or overloaded muscles, illnesses such as knee osteoarthritis or a herniated disc can also trigger pain.

If there is no illness behind it, perhaps too little training is to blame for the symptoms. Or is the wheel not adjusted correctly? Both can play a role. “The less you cycle, the less trained your body is and the more likely you are to experience pain,” says Schmidt. “Often it is also due to the wrong saddle height, an unfavourable seating position or a handlebar that is too high,” explains René Filippek from the General German Bicycle Club (ADFC). If you sit too low, you put a lot of strain on your knees. According to the expert, there is more pressure on the buttocks if the saddle is too high. If the distance between the saddle and the handlebars is too great, your arms are bound to be stretched out. Then they exert a lot of pressure on the hands. A crooked back puts a strain on the spine, Can cause back pain.

How to properly sit on the bike 

The correct position depends on the type of bike and its geometry. According to sports scientist Schmidt, trekking bikes are the most popular. Ideally, the driver sits on it with a forward-leaning upper body and a straight back. He bends his arms slightly at the elbows and keeps the wrist as an extension of the forearms, so don’t bend it too much. Pedals are stepped with the ball of the foot, not the metatarsus or heel. When you press the pedal, your legs are slightly bent, not fully extended. With the pedals in a horizontal position, the knee should be perpendicular to the pedal axis.

This advice also applies in a very similar way to other types of bikes. The position on a Dutch bike, for example, is more upright. Fans of the classic motorcycle should also make sure not to slump and round their backs but rather to sit as straight as possible. Mountain bike or racing bike riders inevitably have to bend further forward. The same applies here: keep your back straight, do not bend.

Saddle height, sitting position, handlebars: adjust the bike correctly

To be able to sit on the bike optimally and as pain-free as possible, you should check the following settings on the bike:

Saddle height: Sit on the bike and lean against a wall or have a helper hold it down so that you don’t lose your balance. Move a pedal down and place your foot on it with your heel. If the leg is straight and the knee is explicit in this position, the saddle height is correct. If you step on the pedal with the ball of your ball, as usual, the knee is slightly bent.

Saddle position: Stabilize the bike again. Bring the pedals in a horizontal position so that they are at the same height. Step on the pedals with the balls of your feet. The kneecap of the front leg should ideally be at the same height as the pedal axis, i.e. at the point where the pedals are attached to the crank. If you have to bend your knee forward in this position, the saddle is too far ahead. If the knee is behind the pedal axis, the saddle is too far back.

Handlebars: Grasp the handlebars so that the transition between forearm and hand is almost straight, so you do not have to bend your wrist too much. In addition, the arms should be slightly bent. If you have to stretch this through to get to the handlebars, this may be due to the wrong saddle or handlebar height.

Necessary: “Do not adjust everything at once. Just adjust the saddle height or position at first”. In this way, you can test whether a new setting might resolve the complaints.

Which type of saddle suits you best depends on various factors. “There is no such thing as one ideal saddle,” says Schmidt. Anyone who owns a Dutch bike usually prefers a large, well-padded saddle. More athletic cyclists use narrow, more complex saddles. Schmidt advises: “Try out different saddles at your specialist dealer and take the one you feel most comfortable with.” Some dealers allow you to try the saddle for a few days and then – if it doesn’t fit – to return it.

If your buttocks, neck, or hands are painful, check your cycling outfit even if you are sitting correctly on the bike. Cycling shorts with unique padding cushion the pressure on the buttocks. Necessary: Do not put on underpants underneath. Otherwise, it will rub between the unique textiles. Gloves with inserts on the palm relieve the palms. Handlebar ends, so-called bar ends, allow you to grip the handlebars differently and to reduce your hands, arms and shoulders from time to time.

Change your sitting position again and again

You can also cycle dynamically. Change your sitting position more often, get up in between, push your back through, and shake your arms out. Choose smaller corridors instead of too large. This relieves the knee joints and, at the same time, leads to a more significant training effect. In general, according to sports scientist Schmidt: “The more often you cycle, the more muscles and tissues get used to the stress and the fewer problems arise.”

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