How to prevent injuries from Peloton and other indoor cycling programs

Dr. Sender Deutsch is a well-respected Toronto Chiropractor, Sports Therapist, Personal Fitness Trainer and co-founder of SHAPE Health & Wellness Centres Toronto.

Ever wonder if there are negatives associated with the growing Peloton and at-home cycling revolution?  I have seen more of my patients coming in with acute and chronic injuries as a result of spinning out of control.

Our bodies were meant to move but not be fixated on a bike that goes nowhere.  As the pandemic has grown, I have seen an increase in patients with painful conditions from cycling too much at home. Not enough focus has been spent on balancing out their bodies with other strength training exercises such as walking lunges, reverse lunges, chin-ups, dumbbell rows, etc. that focus on improving the posterior chain muscles that are often neglected from cycling and cause imbalances in the body.

Unless you are living under a rock, you know that people across the world are obsessed with Peloton and other indoor cycling programs. With limited access to gyms and fitness studios coupled with people feeling unsafe, this has been the ideal time for at-home exercise platforms to flourish.

Peloton is great, I love that they are dominating the pandemic and I respect the community vibes, but let’s not forget the importance of other forms of exercise too.

People are focussed on pedaling in endless circles, staring at a screen, getting “shout outs”, and burning calories while hitting personal bests, but they may not realize the potential painful injuries they are creating by this repetitive motion where their bodies are locked into a machine rather than training through natural human movements. There are lots of positives, but the problem with being hooked on indoor cycling is that most of us already sit and stare at a screen way too much throughout the day.  Thus, this has led to an increase of patients that are seeing repetitive stress injuries such as neck and low back pain.

Ask any health professional and they will agree that cycling should not be your only form of exercise. Why do you think Peloton also offers strength, yoga, meditation, stretching, Pilates and barre classes on their platform? It is crucial for both men and women to incorporate strength training a minimum of twice a week and ideally three times a week to maintain and enhance muscle mass and bone density. Cycling will burn calories, but the repeated pattern of pedalling can do harm on your posture and back, plus it will not help with your muscle mass, balance, and stability while sitting on a bike.

Cycling, just like anything has both positives and negatives, there are good and bad results.  The repetitive motion of cycling can contribute and cause painful and overuse injuries including:

  • Low Back Pain from prolonged sitting on the bike can cause compression and overuses your hip flexors, specifically your psoas muscle which attaches to your low back. As well, many indoor cyclists don’t take enough breaks to stand up on the bike and take micro-breaks as you would when outdoors cycling. Furthermore, sitting on the bike that is not specifically tailored to your body measurements like purchasing an outdoor road bike may cause you to be hunched over which will further stress the muscles and ligaments of your low back. A recent research paper further concluded that sitting for prolonged periods of time increase your risk of low back pain. To avoid developing back pain make sure to start and finish your ride with a series of walking lunges 20 or more to open up your hips and stretch your low back and make sure to do this daily. Stand every 5 minutes on the bike to break up the repetitive motion for 10-20 seconds at minimum.
  • Knee Pain can result from overdeveloping your quadricep muscles and causing stiffness in your IT band which will pull the patella (knee cap) laterally. Cycling can also create friction from the tension and compression of the IT band leading to knee pain and inflammation. Make sure to strengthen your hamstrings, posterior chain and stretch your quads on alternating cycling days to balance out your body.
  • Neck Pain can result from your neck going into extension so often from being hunched over on the handlebars and looking up at the screen. This posture can cause compression of your cervical vertebrae which can often lead to a pinched nerve. To prevent this injury, make sure your head remains neutral and stretch your trapezius muscles after your ride. On your strength days, work to build up your mid-back muscles which help to support your head and neck.
  • Wrist Pain can result from overuse in one position while riding. It is recommended to alternate different hand positions on the handlebars. Take breaks from and sit up without holding on every 15 to 20 minutes and stretch your wrists and try to reduce the grip when riding. You could also use gel padded gloves as you would outdoors.
  • Pelvic Pain can be caused from not having a proper fit to bike, saddle that is not the right size for your pelvis and of course from sitting too long. Make sure to have a thorough assessment of your bike fit and invest in a properly fitted seat that is best for you and your body. Don’t just use the seat that comes with the bike. Wear padded cycling shorts to reduce irritation, change your position often on the seat like you would outdoors, and take the time to stand up like you would on your bike outdoors when doing your class.   

To prevent potential injuries associated with indoor cycling, add more variety to your workouts. Stand more throughout the day. Add some resistance training. Take 10 minutes to stretch daily and foam roll your back and quadricep muscles. Include weight training and strengthen your posterior chain, back, and hamstring muscles. Skip rope. The next time you go for a walk, add some lunges.

Much respect to Peloton and other indoor cycling programs, love the growing fitness communities motivating people to exercise and feel empowered. Nothing makes me happier than seeing the world embrace fitness and want to improve their overall health. Ask any health professional about the key to healthy eating and exercise, they would agree “use common sense and moderation”. That’s right, burn some calories on the Peloton, cycle away, but also lift some weights, skip some rope, and go for a walk.

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