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tips for not getting sore on descents

Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

tips for not getting sore on descents

Old 06-27-09, 09:42 PM
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n8tron
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tips for not getting sore on descents

Whenever I have a fair size descent my back and shoulders just KILL after awhile. Today i had to pull over and stretch out it was getting so bad. I usually getting a bit sore from a ride, but nothing to extreme depending on length. I'm wondering if it has to do with stance? or the bike? I know my bike (streetfire) is pretty stiff, but it shouldn't be this bad...

any tips?
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Old 06-27-09, 10:15 PM
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That pain is mostly caused by supporting the weight of your upper body with your arms. It causes the muscles in your shoulders and neck to flex in a way they're not used to, thus muscle fatigue. While it may seem unusual at first, the trick is to allow the back muscles to support your upper body weight. Not that the back is doing all the work, but the combination of the back, plus the arms helps to keep that pressure away from your neck and shoulders. The idea is to rotate your hips back in such a way that they're approximating you sitting up in the seat, then roll your lower back forward.* This keeps more of your body weight over the saddle. If you look at many pros, they ride in a position where the arms are considerably flexed at the elbow while holding onto the hoods. They're riding like that to avoid the very pain you're dealing with. It's also a more efficient way of pedaling over long distances.

*The rolling your body forward at your hips is the same idea as being able to touch your toes. The more flexible your hamstring muscles are, the easier it is to touch your toes, and find that saddle centered body position.

If you ride a lot, it should be easy to adopt a new position over time. But, for your infrequent descents (an assumption on my part), making a conscious effort to change your body position and relax your arms more while descending will go a long way toward eliminating that pain.
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Old 06-28-09, 09:12 AM
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awesome, thanks for the very detailed info. Can't wait to test out some new positions. I feel like I'm trying to constantly adjust going down to avoid the same painful position, I think its a cross between getting it right and also those muscles getting stronger over time (hopefully). I generally do 1 solid descent on my longer weekend rides. Hopefully that will be enough.

(just saw your location as topanga canyon... that's becoming one of my favorite weekend rides!)
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Old 06-28-09, 09:42 AM
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Originally Posted by n8tron View Post
Can't wait to test out some new positions.
this represents my emotions 24 hours a day
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Old 06-28-09, 09:47 AM
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what is this "descent" thing you speak of???
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Old 06-28-09, 09:54 AM
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Are your hands on the drops or the tops of the handlebars? I think the drops are much more comfortable on descents (and also easier to handle the bike and control the brakes).
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Old 06-28-09, 11:12 AM
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You are tensing up your arms and shoulders. Ride relaxed, with your elbows slightly bent. If you can't flap your elbows like a chicken then you aren't relaxed enough. One good way to ride down hill relaxed is to look farther up the road. That gives you more time to deal with things, so the same speed seems more leisurely.

I will disagre with KidSisko about rotating your pelvis back. That makes you hunch your back which puts you in a face down position, so you have to crane your neck to see. If you rotate your pelvis forward your back is straighter and you don't have to angle your neck quite as much.

Make sure that there are no impediments to your vision that make you have to tip your head back more than is required, like a helmet visor or glasses whose frames are low on your face. That will require you to tip your head back farther just to see down the road, which will make your neck and shoulders and back hurt.

Your saddle should be back far enough that your knee is over the pedal spindle or behind it 0-2cm (search for KOPS). If the saddle is too far forward you will have more weight on the bars, which makes everything get tired.
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Old 06-28-09, 11:18 AM
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Some things that have helped me with the 5-10 mile descents we have around here are doing the seated row machine (and other machines that strenthen the upper back) at the gym, and doing stretches.


Originally Posted by Pharmr View Post
what is this "descent" thing you speak of???
The reward you get after another foreign term to you: climb
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Old 06-28-09, 12:28 PM
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If your back needs a break, try riding with one leg extended down, one leg at the top of the pedal stroke, and rest your chest on the "up" leg. Where the descent is fairly straight or predictable this is a good way to give your muscles a break without a trade-off in speed or control.
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Old 06-28-09, 12:52 PM
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Originally Posted by Pharmr View Post
what is this "descent" thing you speak of???
It's the 2 minute hair raising thriller that comes after the four hour "climb until you pass out" part of the ride.
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Old 06-28-09, 01:11 PM
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I am so happy and pumped on most decents that I dont think about getting sore. I guess I dont have that many though. Its usually after a climb and I get to rest on the way down.
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Old 06-28-09, 01:13 PM
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You improve a bit after a few 45 min descents. My poor deafened ears.
I rotate my pelvis forward a bit and keep my weight distributed between my saddle, arms, and feet. That and shift around a bit.
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Old 06-28-09, 01:32 PM
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Originally Posted by ericm979 View Post
I will disagre with KidSisko about rotating your pelvis back. That makes you hunch your back which puts you in a face down position, so you have to crane your neck to see. If you rotate your pelvis forward your back is straighter and you don't have to angle your neck quite as much.

Your saddle should be back far enough that your knee is over the pedal spindle or behind it 0-2cm (search for KOPS). If the saddle is too far forward you will have more weight on the bars, which makes everything get tired.
Hi Eric. Just so you know, the center of gravity/pelvis issue was brought to my attention during a professional fitting at my LBS in Woodland hills. What specifically intrigued me most about it was how that position relieves the tension in the neck and shoulders. After the fitting, I made a conscious effort to adapt that position just to see what I'd notice. Despite not having the most flexible hamstrings to be able to easily fold over at the hips the way the pros do, I did find that it does ease the tension in the shoulders and neck. So now I adopt that position when needed, and in general ride more consciously about keeping the arms flexed.

The forward neck craning issue was one of the reasons why I rarely rode in the drops for so long. With time though, I've built up the neck muscles and can now comfortably ride in the drops on the flats or while descending.

The saddle position re KOPS was also a key adjustment during my fitting, and it very much is crucial to the issue of center of gravity and weight over the bars, as you pointed out.
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Old 06-28-09, 01:38 PM
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Originally Posted by n8tron View Post
awesome, thanks for the very detailed info. Can't wait to test out some new positions. I feel like I'm trying to constantly adjust going down to avoid the same painful position, I think its a cross between getting it right and also those muscles getting stronger over time (hopefully). I generally do 1 solid descent on my longer weekend rides. Hopefully that will be enough.

(just saw your location as topanga canyon... that's becoming one of my favorite weekend rides!)
Very true about the muscles adapting and getting stronger. Just don't let the nagging discomfort issues stop you from riding as you build up your strength.

You ride up Topanga from the coast? I haven't done that in maybe 15 years. I live in the canyon, but I rarely go up TCB. Down to the coast then west along PCH, yes, but then I'll take one of the Malibu routes up to Mulholland to head back home. That traffic along the bottom section of TCB during the day, and especially the weekend, is nasty business!
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Old 06-28-09, 01:43 PM
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We have a ride with 4 long descents and I used to get tired of descending. First,I just started sitting up for part of it to give the back a rest.
I'm a little more used to it now partly because I got a different bike with the bars a bit higher and also I hold the ends of the drops part of the time with my arms bent quite a bit.
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Old 06-28-09, 02:05 PM
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Originally Posted by KiddSisko View Post
Very true about the muscles adapting and getting stronger. Just don't let the nagging discomfort issues stop you from riding as you build up your strength.

You ride up Topanga from the coast? I haven't done that in maybe 15 years. I live in the canyon, but I rarely go up TCB. Down to the coast then west along PCH, yes, but then I'll take one of the Malibu routes up to Mulholland to head back home. That traffic along the bottom section of TCB during the day, and especially the weekend, is nasty business!
actually I usually come down it too... i start in west la, go up sepulveda... over on ventura, then down on topanga.

this last ride i went west on mulholland to kanan and went down on latigo. that latigo descent was what got me sore... that was a long way down!

any favorite climbs coming back up to mulholland from the coast? I'm new to the area and have been exploring for new routes.

...i think i'm de-railing my own thread...
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Old 06-28-09, 02:45 PM
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Originally Posted by n8tron View Post
actually I usually come down it too... i start in west la, go up sepulveda... over on ventura, then down on topanga.

this last ride i went west on mulholland to kanan and went down on latigo. that latigo descent was what got me sore... that was a long way down!

any favorite climbs coming back up to mulholland from the coast? I'm new to the area and have been exploring for new routes.

...i think i'm de-railing my own thread...
Officially derailed.

If I head to the coast, I'm either going for a longer ride with Latigo as the up route, or a short but challenging climb up Las Flores. Malibu Canyon Rd is also an option, but it's usually traffic choked.
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Old 06-28-09, 04:01 PM
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You should move out east. Nobody has those problems around here.
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