Ask the physio
Cycling specialist Phil Burt has a fix for every niggle
I’ve been told by numerous physios that my glutes don’t work very well, but no matter how many exercises I do, I can’t seem to improve their action on the bike. What would you suggest?
This is a real bugbear of mine. An all too easily trotted out line from physios and a catch-all for all problems is, “your glutes aren’t working”. Though glute dysfunction and rehab can be the solution to many back, pelvic and lower limb issues, it’s too often a lazy reason to give for more complicated issues.
If you’re not seeing results, consider whether your glutes could indeed contribute more to your cycling. Too low or far back a saddle position will negate hip extension, which is the main job for the glutes – a major contributor to your optimal power. If you’re seated in a biomechanically inefficient position, it doesn’t matter how many glute exercises you do, your glutes won’t be able to contribute fully.
I seem to suffer from knee pain and niggles when switching from MTB to road cycling. What’s the most likely reason?
Usually this issue is caused by the difference in the stance width or ‘Q factor’ between MTB and road bikes. The bottom bracket on an MTB (or e-bike) is wider than that of a road bike, and therefore the stance width is wider. Switching to a narrower road bike can cause ITB tightness to develop, pulling the patella laterally, which can cause niggles or pain.
The good news that in the majority of people this passes after a few rides. If it doesn’t, get your ITB massaged or use self-release methods with a foam roller. Alternatively, you could standardise your stance width by using shorter-spindle pedals on a MTB or longer ones on your road bike.
No matter what I do, my cadence remains apparently too low and I can’t seem to increase it.
Some people are natural ‘grinders’, but I find that too often position is inhibiting cadence rather than the rider. The most common cause, and an easy one to fix, is crank length. Too long a crank length forces a rider to sit further back to accommodate it, and this closes up the hip, acting like a brake over top dead centre of the pedal stroke. Decreasing crank length enables you to get up and more over the bottom bracket and pedals and open up the hip. Of course, a shorter crank is a smaller circle, so for the same gear the cadence will increase due to simple physics.
I get neck pain after riding on the road but I’m fine on the turbo – even though I’m on the same bike and position. Why?
Riding on the road demands that we extend the neck in order to look up for a good view of the road ahead. It’s an issue of neck extension. Assuming you don’t have a neck pathology or injury, the most common cause is a stiff or inflexible thoracic or mid-spine. Each part of the multi-segmental spine is meant to do its bit and contribute to the movement. However, the sustained flexed posture of cycling often leads to a stiff mid-spine, leaving the neck to do all the work in terms of extension. A simple solution is to improve your mid-spine flexibility using a foam roller.
I often get leg numbness and loss of power during TTS or long intervals, but this disappears within minutes of stopping.
A classic presentation. This type of issue is due to either neural (nerves) or vascular (blood supply) compromise. It can be very hard to diagnose which one, but in this case, the sudden relief would suggest a vascular issue. If it were neural, it probably wouldn’t disappear straight away, as nerves once irritated stay that way for quite some time.
Once a vascular compromise – a blockage or kinking is removed – reperfusion to the limb occurs immediately. Common causes are too closed a hip position cutting off the blood flow to the leg, which tends to build up as numbness and then a burning time pain. Some people are predisposed to this issue, with their large veins returning from the leg becoming kinked in the front of the hip. There is a small chance you may be experiencing iliac artery endofibrosis – Google the symptoms.
Decrease crank length to increase cadence