I’m a cyclist. What good is Sports Massage for me?

As a cyclist, you know about spending money on getting a better bike, lighter components and more aerodynamic wheels. It all makes you go faster.
That’s all defined by materials and mechanics, if someone else buys the same thing as you, they can go just as fast. What if you could get something unique that could make you go faster and be a more efficient and less injury prone cyclist?

No, I’m not talking about EPO, I’m talking about Sports Massage.

We know that the pro’s use it on a day to day basis – and they know the performance enhancing benefits that it brings- so lets just break it down a bit to give you an idea of why they use it, and how it can be used to benefit you.

The general complaint I see from cyclists – as with runners is pain running down the ITB, there have been a few of the more hardy souls who want it “stripped” so that the pain goes away- which is particularly painful, and is something to do if you want quick relief, but not actually treat the cause of the pain. If you have ITB syndrome then there is a previous blog post that you might want to have a look at.

Cyclists are generally plagued with overuse injuries. It’s not generally a sport in which something suddenly hurts, and hurts badly – (unless you hit a tree), it is a sport in which things gradually ache, you get used to them, and then, over a long period of time, you start breaking down. The main areas are knee pain, foot and ankle injuries, neck and back pain, hip pain and hand and wrist injuries. I’m not going to include fractures and impact injuries, though they do happen, and massage can help the recovery of them in the long term… but it’s not really a modality which stops you from blunt force trauma. I’m not going to talk about correct bike set up, though a badly fitting bike can  lead to all kinds of issues.

Maintenance massage- what does it do?
Much like checking over your bike for wear and tear, the drive-chain, the gears, brakes, bearings etc, everything needs replacing from time to time. A maintenance massage is just that. Checking over the various muscle groups throughout the body for excessive tension, inefficient muscles, imbalances which make your body more prone to fatigue, flushing waste products through muscles and generally assessing the well being and health of the body for the ongoing challenge that is cycling.

Imbalances? Are you saying I’m unbalanced?
Yes. but not mentally. obviously.
Muscles work on a reciprocal basis – agonists and antagonists. When one of those is being used, the other is neurologically inhibited (it automatically relaxes). So when you use the quads, the hamstrings will automatically relax, its hardwired into your nerves to do that. This is great – until you consider something else, all the time the quads are engaged, the hamstrings CANNOT switch on – they are neurologically inhibited by the nerves. If you have huge quads and they are constantly tight – always switched on even when you “relax”, the resting tone of your hamstrings is very lax. They become wasted and inefficient and you become over reliant upon the muscles at the front of your legs. That’s just a brief example of a muscle imbalance – and it can happen anywhere in the body – which will affect posture and your ability to pedal for long periods of time – so muscle imbalances are something to look out for.

Ok – so what other muscles might be affected?
Well, we’ve already talked about quads and hamstrings, another contender for most ignored muscle of the year award for cyclists is the glutes. Gluteus maximus, medius and minimus, all working around the hips and hip joint to stabilise the pelvis and make sure the leg – and by extension – the knee – are working in harmony. Again, its the quads which can end up being very dominant, and the glutes end up wasting away, not being called upon to do what they are meant to do. This may not have much effect on the power of your pedalling, but if the muscles don’t work in terms of their stabilising role, the legs are going to start being less efficient in their stroke, excess side to side (lateral) movement may result and over time, that chronic overuse injury to the knee may well result. Not a good thing.
The same could well be said for the Piriformis muscle – not being stretched out – ends up with a chronically over tight lateral rotator, and then hip is thrown out of whack – ending up with – you guessed it, an overuse injury at the knee.

Funnily, the glutes are connected with another issue – the back. As they get weaker and more atrophied, the movements which rely on Glute power (one of the biggest, if not the biggest muscles of the body) begin to find other muscles to use in order to make movements which it is used to. Raising the leg behind you is meant to use the Glute max as a prime mover – in a number of back ache cases, the Glute max isn’t being used in that capacity – its the lower back muscles which are being used as the main muscles, followed by the hamstrings, and THEN the glutes. No wonder their backs hurt! Small muscles which are meant to be used for postural changes are being used by the body to power movement – because the glutes are lazy – which has come about because the quads are permanently too tense.

All of a sudden, your lower back pain is being indirectly caused by tight quads. What about that.
Might it be worth getting those quads looked at – see if they need a maintenance massage?

Hours of sitting on a bike can cause havoc with the upper body posture – especially when its combined with the average “desk jockey” position. A great aerodynamic position is with the shoulders tucked in. Elbows in, head down and looking – in essence – up. Pectorals are shortened, Lat dorsi is shortened, trapezius is short, scalenes and SCM (muscles in your neck) are tight and holding the head at an angle which is definitely sub-optimal for muscular endurance – however, all these muscles are also having the same things done to them as you sit at your computer at work. Your glutes, which aren’t working on the bike so much, barely get a look in when you are sitting down, and it’s the quads which are mainly used in the action of standing up and sitting down.

So all the things that are bad for you at work (if you’re predominantly sitting at a desk) appear to be compounded by riding the bike.

Yes, riding is a fantastic and very healthy thing to be doing, but its not actually getting your posture any better, and it’s not giving your body a break from the position its in all day anyway.

A final note about efficiency of muscles.
We all know that when we exercise, the muscles break down. It is during rest that the muscles build back up again and become stronger. They do this through tissue being laid down in a haphazard fashion within the muscles. This haphazard pattern becomes aligned to lines of stress.
However, the tissue that is laid down in the muscles is a sticky collagen substance – it’s so sticky that it doesn’t just lay down in individual muscles, it forms cross-bridges between them – and without care, can bind muscles together – which will make them perform sub-optimally.
Imagine if your quadriceps (sorry to keep going back to them, but they are generally a pretty good example) which are 4 individual muscles, which contract at different rates and different times according to what you want them to do were bound together – forming what is essentially a single muscle – a unicep if you will – each time an individual muscle wanted to contract, all 4 of them have to do so, using up valuable energy, sapping your power instead of that one muscle working efficiently, and leaving the others to rest until they are needed. (simplistic and, in this case slightly unrealistic, but I hope you see my point). If your muscles are bound together they are inefficient and are wasting your energy.

How can I stop this?
Get a foam roller, do some intelligent stretching (to counter the effects of the cycling posture) and book yourself in for a massage.
Foam rollering going to hurt the first few times you do it, but the more it hurts the less efficient your muscles have been – and the more you need it.
I know there are more reasons and more things to talk about, but I think I’ve drivelled on enough for the moment.

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