Indoor trainer sessions are notorious for suffer fests... there is even a Suffer Fest Video Series. But this is not the type of pain I am referring. I am talking about pain in the knees, back, and butt to name just a few. I receive numerous requests to address cyclist's and multi sport athlete's pain while riding on trainers during winter months. So what is going on? What are some causes of these discomfort issues? Here is my point of view.
First... What is going on? Well for one, the conditions have changed. Athletes are riding their machines that are locked into a fixed vertical position (unless they are riding on rollers or a Kinetic Rock and Roll trainer). Another factor is sitting on the bike while attached to a trainer is different than when riding on the road... pressure points are different on the saddle while on the trainer. Also, the riding sessions on trainers typically involve high intensity efforts, just after athletes jump out of their cars, setting up the bike, and doing a very short warm up. Also, athletes are running more and riding less this time of year. These conditions are much different than the typical cycling and tri season.
What has not changed is the athlete's bike fit... in short the rider has a closed hip position on the bike. Handlebars are low, saddles are back, and typically lower than they actually should be (old school fit with plumb bob, etc.). My view is based on the typical positions I see when the client is visiting me for pain relief.
So the first cause for discomfort is poor bike fit. Another cause is the bike is in a fixed position and there is no lateral movement of the machine. Lateral movement is needed since most folks have some form of pelvic malalignment, muscle asymmetry, and range of motion issues.
So what should the athlete do to reduce pain?
Well for starters... warm up on the bike. Even stop and stretch after a 10 or 15 minute spin. Focus on stretching hip flexors, hamstrings, calves at the very minimum.
Next make sure you have a solid core. A weak core inhibits stability on the bike and I guarantee your stronger leg will pull you off axis.
To address asymmetries get a Functional Movement Screen from a certified FMS practioner. These folks can help you get even very effectively. If no one is in your area then try some turkish get ups (TGUs). TGU's are a great way to work on stability and mobility. You will figure out very easily were your weak areas are. Just start with very light weights. Even a can of veggies would be a recommended starting point. Another exercise is bulgarian bag swings. Both of these exercises will help significantly with muscle imbalances. The Bulgarian bags swings will also help with upper body strength and keeps the guys from looking like a pussy.
Triathletes!!! On the days you are running long distances ride your bike for about 30 minutes prior and another 15 to 20 minutes as a cool down. This will help greatly for future cycling ventures. I have many triathletes see me around March because they have shortened hamstrings from mostly running in the winter. As well, they think they can ride a bunch of miles with only tri shorts... don't do this. It's a bad idea.
Finally, you guest it. Get a bike fit and assessment to address your poor postion on the bike.