As we enter the New Year people everywhere are jumping on their bikes to lose their excess holiday weight. Cycling is one of the easiest ways to fit exercise into your routine, because it can be used as an alternative method of transport to driving or walking. Not only will cycling help you shed the pounds- someone who weights 80kg will burn more than 650 calories after an hour on the bike- but it is also great for your health. Regular cycling reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. It is also easier on the joints than some aerobic activities like running.
But whilst cycling is great for your long-term health, without taking proper precautions it can also lead to acute and chronic injuries. Here are some important steps to take to avoid common cycling related problems.
Be road savvy:
If you’ve never ridden a bike on the roads, or if you’re just a bit rusty, then it might be worth checking your local council to see if they run any training sessions for novice cyclists. These training sessions, similar to cycling proficiency tests, don’t cost much, and will help you stay safe when traveling from A to B.
Choose the right bike:
There are many different types of bike to choose from, including road bikes, touring bikes, mountain bikes, BMX bikes, hybrids, folding bikes, tandem bikes… the list goes on!
If you are buying a new bike then a specialist shop will be able to find you one that suits your needs and budget. Specialists will also adjust your bike to your body shape, preventing long-term pain and injury.
If you are using an old bike, or buying one second hand, get it serviced to make sure it is safe to use on the road.
One of the most important pieces of equipment you need when cycling is a helmet. Wearing a bike helmet is recommended to reduce the risk of serious head injury if you have an accident. Your helmet should meet the criteria set by the British standard, and should always be secured on your head with straps. Don’t buy a second hand helmet- it may be damaged.
It is also compulsory to have lights for your bike when riding at night or when visibility is poor. You will need to use a white front light, a red rear light, a red rear reflector, amber pedal reflectors on the front and back of each pedal, and reflectors fitted to the front and the spokes. The higher your visibility, the lower your chances of an accident.
Whether you are going on a short ride or a long distance one it is essential that you give yourself time to stretch. Stretching improves flexibility and range of motion, as well as protecting your body from injury and muscle soreness. The longer muscles and joints can perform without failure under stress, the longer you can cycle at your optimum speed.
Hydrate well and don’t go hungry:
When cycling it is important to keep well hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids like water or sports drinks before, during and after a ride. Avoid caffeine and alcohol- these will actually leave you less hydrated.
If you do not ingest enough carbohydrates during a long bike ride you run the risk of ‘bonking’. ‘Bonking’ is what cyclists call hypoglycaemia, the medical term for abnormally low levels of blood glucose. Make sure you carry snacks with you on a ride to prevent bonking- good foods include dried fruit, energy bars and energy gels.
Seek treatment for injuries:
Common injuries for cyclists include knee pain, abrasions and road rash, hand numbness, muscle cramps, sprains and strains, iliotibial band syndrome, broken shoulders, Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis.
Most cyclists will need to see a physiotherapist at some stage in their life for unresolved injuries. Physiotherapy can be expensive, but with private medical insurance you will be covered for the cost of consultations and treatment.
So what are you waiting for- go out on your bike!