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Muscle Imbalances From Touring

Old 12-24-20, 06:10 AM
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Muscle Imbalances From Touring

Nobody can dispute that cycling is a phenomenal exercise. Top tier, mostly on account of it's low impact. Living outside, drinking tons of water, rising and going to bed with the sun, all these things are great. The combination makes bike touring transitional, for the body and mind.

The problem is, when you ride, you use certain muscles much more that others. For instance, hip flexors, quads, and calves. What I've noticed, is when I get back and to the gym, those muscles take over and do the work other muscles should be doing. This can lead to injuries. It's hard to unwind this, as such a ridiculous amount riding--and often little else-- makes for tough, dense, tight, stubborn muscles.

To counteract this effect, I decided to stretch more at night, but most especially, exercise muscles that most need it: hamstrings, glutes min., med., and max, and abs mostly, along with some lateral movements, since riding is a north-south enterprise.

The gyms are closed, so it's somewhat hard to be sure, because I'm doing different things and can't do a direct comparison to previous years, but it seems to have made an enormous difference. I feel much more limber and mobile than normal. Has anyone else incorporated other exercises into their touring routine?
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Old 12-24-20, 06:19 AM
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I have a basic stretching routine I do one to three times a day on tour, as well as push ups, triceps bends, sit-ups and pull ups usually in the middle of the day.

I have trained and taught martial arts for the greater part of my life and have found that stretching after (and/or before) exercise makes me feel better and aids recovery, but there are others who find no benefit at all.
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Old 12-24-20, 06:42 AM
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Originally Posted by imi View Post
I have a basic stretching routine I do one to three times a day on tour, as well as push ups, triceps bends, sit-ups and pull ups usually in the middle of the day.

I have trained and taught martial arts for the greater part of my life and have found that stretching after (and/or before) exercise makes me feel better and aids recovery, but there are others who find no benefit at all.
I regret not doing my upper body. My thought was that all of those muscles degraded at the same rate, so at least I wouldn't suffer imbalances. My thought being that if I increased the mobility of my shoulders and lats, that along with a good baseline of fitness, I could easily fast-track the rest. The main problem I had (just got back) was limited daylight. Had to stretch in the dark most times.
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Old 12-24-20, 07:31 AM
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It is well known that cyclists have weak bones from insufficient weight training.

When I get home from a long bike tour where I have not done any weight training for weeks, my first trip to the gym makes it really clear that I have lost a lot of non-leg strength.

In summer when I go to the gym, I get plenty of biking so the gym is 90 percent for lower back, abdomen, shoulder and arm muscles. The other 10 percent is strength (weight) training in my legs for bone strength.

In winter (I live in an area where biking in winter is less than pleasant) I also add cardio at the gym, usually on an exercise bike but occasionally wear my hiking boots with ankle weights on the stair master.

But with Covid, I have not been to a gym since early Mar 2020.

I can't comment much on imbalance in any leg muscles. But hiking on rough ground, especially backpacking where you are carrying more weight clearly uses all your leg muscles differently than cycling where you have repeated motion without much side to side movement. My first few days wearing a backpack on rough ground on a backpacking trip reminds me that it is quite different than cycling. That also is good for balance training.

If I have a backpacking trip on the calendar a month away, I will spend some time on the stairmaster. That still does not give much exercise for full range of movement, but the extra strength is needed for climbing around things or uphills.

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Old 12-24-20, 07:58 AM
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I used to have issues possibly related to comparatively weaker hamstrings as compared to my quads. It got so bad it became impossible for me to run without cramping up. I could ride mile after mile, but couldn't run even a half mile. It'd become especially noticeable after I'd come off of a trip. I had my electrolytes checked and other tests done with no issues found. Doctors said it was probably due to a muscle imbalance.
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Old 12-24-20, 08:52 AM
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After riding exclusively for 6-months, I was alarmed how unfit I felt when I went for a hike. I now try to put in as much time walking/hiking as I do biking, both for the use of different muscles, and for the impact. Also do pushups, situps, and stretching (but currently not enough stretching - always room for improvement).
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Old 12-24-20, 10:20 AM
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Originally Posted by timdow View Post
After riding exclusively for 6-months, I was alarmed how unfit I felt when I went for a hike. I now try to put in as much time walking/hiking as I do biking, both for the use of different muscles, and for the impact. Also do pushups, situps, and stretching (but currently not enough stretching - always room for improvement).
True statement about always needing room for improvement. I think just about everyone probably is at least a little deficient when it comes to stretching. I'm curious how you're able to hike that much? The reason I ask is because I hardly feel like I ever in an area where I can leave my stuff and not worry about it.

Last October, I was able to hike because I stayed two days at Gaviota S.P (S. California) because it was empty on account of Covid (they let cyclists still camp, even though it was technically closed for camping). Soon as I headed up the mountain, I could tell how weak my ankles were. It was much harder than it would have been had I been mostly sedentary and just walked to the store.

From that point forward, I got serious. Started doing sand agility drills for basketball: slide steps uphill, broad jumps with sprints, exc. My primary focus, though, was single-leg RDLs. I don't know of a more effective exercise you can do to counteract cycling. I did isometric holds and some sets of 6-7, just bodyweight. Fires up a lot of stabilizing muscles and puts a substantial amount of tension in the hamstrings/glutes, which is the the crux of it. It's a good core workout too.
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Old 12-24-20, 10:55 AM
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Most of the hiking is done while I am living my normal life. My goal is to commute or ride recreationally 100 miles a week, and hike/walk 20 (I make the riding goal most of the time, the walking/hiking not so much).

I do hike while touring, but pretty much only after I have made camp.

Good to know about Gaviota... I have passed it up to stay at El Cap. several times.

Originally Posted by Comfort is King View Post
True statement about always needing room for improvement. I think just about everyone probably is at least a little deficient when it comes to stretching. I'm curious how you're able to hike that much? The reason I ask is because I hardly feel like I ever in an area where I can leave my stuff and not worry about it.

Last October, I was able to hike because I stayed two days at Gaviota S.P (S. California) because it was empty on account of Covid (they let cyclists still camp, even though it was technically closed for camping). Soon as I headed up the mountain, I could tell how weak my ankles were. It was much harder than it would have been had I been mostly sedentary and just walked to the store.

From that point forward, I got serious. Started doing sand agility drills for basketball: slide steps uphill, broad jumps with sprints, exc. My primary focus, though, was single-leg RDLs. I don't know of a more effective exercise you can do to counteract cycling. I did isometric holds and some sets of 6-7, just bodyweight. Fires up a lot of stabilizing muscles and puts a substantial amount of tension in the hamstrings/glutes, which is the the crux of it. It's a good core workout too.
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Old 12-25-20, 11:33 AM
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I'm not sure what the premise of the thread is. That extended cycling creates some muscle imbalance or that it is worse than being sedentary?

Of course any singular activity will create an imbalance of sorts but not to the extent of putting one in a worse position than doing nothing at all. I can't believe cycling gives one weaker ankles than just sitting on the couch. One is still working the muscles and improving cardio regardless, even if not optimally.

Surely one would anticipate some difficulty/effort when doing a new activity for the first time, as well as some DOMS. That is normal. I wouldn't necessarily attribute that to weakness from cycling though. I like to XC ski but only do it a couple of times a year now that I don't live in the mountains. Each year the first day is challenging, but that's not because I cycle excessively

I mix trail running and kayak/sup paddling (occasionally river or lake swimming) with mountain and road biking to get a better overall physical workout. I do those things to also improve my free/scuba diving. The goal is overall fitness which I define as the ability to do a variety of activities adequately.

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Old 12-28-20, 01:16 PM
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Originally Posted by mtnbud View Post
I used to have issues possibly related to comparatively weaker hamstrings as compared to my quads. It got so bad it became impossible for me to run without cramping up. I could ride mile after mile, but couldn't run even a half mile. It'd become especially noticeable after I'd come off of a trip. I had my electrolytes checked and other tests done with no issues found. Doctors said it was probably due to a muscle imbalance.
Muscle imbalance is *very* common in cyclists and it's the hamstrings that suffer.

I also had cramping problems - vitamin B solved most of it. Electrolytes didn't touch it. That's worth a try too.

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Old 12-29-20, 09:52 AM
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well Mr Comfort is King touring dude with reasonable takes on stuff, you do realize that for most regular people, adults who ride bikes around (bikes are for kids right?) let alone adults who actually travel by bicycle, are fundamentally unbalanced, so therein lies the problem.
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Old 12-30-20, 06:42 AM
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Originally Posted by Happy Feet View Post
I'm not sure what the premise of the thread is. That extended cycling creates some muscle imbalance or that it is worse than being sedentary?

Of course any singular activity will create an imbalance of sorts but not to the extent of putting one in a worse position than doing nothing at all. I can't believe cycling gives one weaker ankles than just sitting on the couch. One is still working the muscles and improving cardio regardless, even if not optimally.

Surely one would anticipate some difficulty/effort when doing a new activity for the first time, as well as some DOMS. That is normal. I wouldn't necessarily attribute that to weakness from cycling though. I like to XC ski but only do it a couple of times a year now that I don't live in the mountains. Each year the first day is challenging, but that's not because I cycle excessively

I mix trail running and kayak/sup paddling (occasionally river or lake swimming) with mountain and road biking to get a better overall physical workout. I do those things to also improve my free/scuba diving. The goal is overall fitness which I define as the ability to do a variety of activities adequately.
I think you misconstrued my premise. Yes, it true, you are better off, overall, being active--even, perhaps, over active--compared to sitting on the couch all day, as a general rule. The thing is, when you walk two miles to the store, then carry groceries back, you use the same muscles as hiking. Its the same thing, minus some of the climbing. Walking is an underrated exercise. It's what we're meant to do. We didn't evolve in the saddle.

If I were to sprint up the mountain at Gaviota, I'd be much faster mid-tour than mid-winter supposing I didn't go to the gym. When I did hike it, I was deer going up, at least at times. When I went downhill, though, I felt extraordinary clunky. The problem is this: most injuries occur during deceleration. Your muscles and/or ligaments can't absorb the forces and subsequently tear.

As a consequence of severe imbalances, joints undergo more wear and strain because the requisite muscles aren't doing their job well enough up the kinetic chain. So, in this case, though my condition was great and I could fly up with relative easy, because I used the same muscles I had been training, when I had to call upon my glutes/hamstrings to decelerate, or my ankles to shift direction, they weren't strong enough to do what they should have been doing. That's why I felt clunky.

While I didn't get injured, because it's a very controlled environment compared to basketball, which I play as much as my body allows, it reaffirmed how I end up so. Things like baker's cysts in my knee, IT band syndrome, and tendinitis. This is because when I go to the gym fresh off a tour, certain muscles can't keep up: they can't absorb their proper share of the newfound power combined with good cardio; or, as I indicated in the op, the strong muscles take over movements, which makes it worse. Maybe even worse than starting from zero--a few months of slacking. Since the gyms are closed, I'll let you know once spring comes and I start over. No matter what, nobody should get DOMS from walking several miles--one of our most fundamental movements. The fact that I did, though just a little, gave me a somber lesson how little I'd used certain parts of my lower body.

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Old 12-30-20, 09:56 AM
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That clarification is good

I am a physical rehab assistant by trade, with therapeutic walking (due to age or hip/pelvic fractures) being a daily task so those issues are understandable to me.

Muscle imbalances can occur in many areas and I think, should be anticipated whenever a new activity occurs or when pain is present. A couple of years ago, when I started upping my mileage substantially, I had knee pain diagnosed (by a physio) to be VMO weakness (VMO is one of the Quadriceps muscles). That weakness was causing my kneecap to track wrong. I did some therapy and targeted training and the problem resolved.

Hiking downhill after a long lay off, or at an increased angle/speed, is almost guaranteed to feel clunky, as you say, or cause DOMS. I actively trail run and have just suffered through two days of severe DOMS from running up and down a trail here called the Abby Grind. At the time I felt excellent, probably one of my best runs in a while, but my quads were not used to the deceleration and impact. The quads almost always act in a concentric way to move the lower leg into extension but downhill they act eccentrically to stop gravity from forcing the leg into flexion.

That said, yes I think pure cycling would create an imbalance in your posterior chain of muscles. A gym exercise that would specifically target those muscles as a counter balance to cycling would be rowing. I prefer activities to gym training so I do SUP paddling, which I now prefer to kayaking because it engages the legs and overall balance as well. But, if I were to buy a piece of equipment, other than a cycle trainer, it would be a rowing machine.

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Old 12-30-20, 11:46 AM
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I don't suffer from hamstring or calf weakness simply because it's my habit to pedal circles. My hams are at least as large as my quads and my butt while not large is certainly hard. Gyms being closed, I don't have a squat rack anymore, but I do have dumbbells and dumbbell deadlifts are not a problem. My bike is the best back work I do because I work the whole posterior chain on it. I'd quit Alpine skiing in my late twenties. When I took it up again in my mid-50s after doing cycle training for a few years, I was astonished to see how fit for skiing I was. I expected to be a duffer and there I was skiing bumps. Maybe long distance tours are different. When went on 2-week tours on our tandem, we came back really fit, but maybe that's because of our prep - we were fairly fit when we left and so didn't lose too much, but I can't think of where we would have lost it. I have some mountain day hike notes saying, "Yay for tandeming!" The reason we went to the gym was to have the strength to ride. No other purpose. All the strength work we did there was focused on building strength to do long, hilly rides.

A really quick and simple cross-train is to go out once a week and walk an hour at a steady 4 mph or so. I use a GPS watch to help me pace. Fix you right up. Of course for hiking and backpacking in the mountains, nothing is really the same, a big issue being simply foot placement, so it's more than just good legs and lungs.

I might be a little unusual, but I think not. Pre-Covid, we did an hour at the gym 2 days a week, most weeks, that is. Before we turned 70, we took a spin class first and then lifted. We use dumbbells once or twice a week now. We ride 4-5 days/week, mostly indoors these last few months. I can do pretty much anything I want on any given day. I can't remember the last time I cramped. Yes, I'm a fitness nut. I'm going to go take a calcium pill with my start-up drink and hit my rollers for a couple hours.
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Old 01-07-21, 04:02 PM
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When I'm on tour I walk every day, pushing the bike equally from each side, for around 45 mins. this seems to do the trick, making the rest of my body engage in the touring process. I also do some quick yoga style stretching that my daughter, a yoga teacher, showed me.

I try to pick what I think will be the most scenic part of the days journey to walk. On some days, when I know there's a dangerous stretch of road, I'll walk that instead. It's amazing how much more you see when you don't have to deal with the act of navigating a fully loaded touring bike.

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Old 01-13-21, 05:24 AM
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I no longer race triathlons but I still occasionally ride my tri bike because the forward positioning works different muscles than a normal road bike.
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