biking

It's All In The Hips

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Boosting Hip Strength for Cyclists

We’re all aware that cycling has a great effect on our physical health but as research is consistently proving, it also has a positive effect on our mental health too. While some of us cycle to get fit, for many of us, we ride simply because it makes us happy and helps improve our mood. Whatever the reason you enjoy cycling, it’s likely that you feel pain or tightness after a ride so if you want a fitter, stronger and leaner body, it’s important to keep all your muscles toned.

The stiffness that is often felt originates from the hip rotator muscles which are hidden under the glutes and is down to our hips never being open while we’re on a bike: as our legs go up and down, we never straighten enough to open up our hip joints. Subsequently, the strength in our hips are paramount to boost cycling power and limiting the strain on the lower back so it’s beneficial to do stretches to improve our physique and contribute to our well being..

Incorporating these exercises into any hip-flexor fitness regime to loosen tight hips will help develop your strength to generate maximum power with minimum strain.

#1 Activating the glutes muscles

Due to us spending a great deal of time sitting down, our glute muscles have a tendency to not function as well as they could. A reaction to this is that other muscles, namely our lumbar extensors and hamstrings, are called upon to the job of hip extension.

Lie down on the floor on your back with your legs bent and raise one leg. Pushing your hips from the floor, focus on contracting the muscles of your glutes while keeping the toes of your lifted leg upwards. Alternate legs as a pre-warm up.

#2 Power Bridge

This is designed to stretch the hip flexors whereby the bridge strengthens the connection between your glutes and lower back.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your heels close to your glutes. Arms should be at your sides with your palms down. Push your hips off the floor, tighten your glutes and push up from your heels. Keep toes raised and lower yourself downwards to complete the rep. Hold for a couple of seconds and repeat.

#3 The low lunge

This exercise is an important stretch for hip flexors and also effectively works for stretching the upper thighs.Position yourself on all fours - you might like to place cushions under your knees. Step up your right leg between your hand and raise your upper body. With your bottom tucked in, slowly slide forwards into the lunge position. When you can feel the stretch - at the top of the leg where it joins the front of the hip - stop and repeat.

Needless to say, stretching is paramount, so make sure to never skip this part. Here’s to many more great bike rides.

 

Have any hip strengthening exercises that have worked for you? Share below!

You + Biking = Happiness

Vancouver based Momentum Mag featured an article on seven mental health benefits of bike riding. Author Hillary Angus explores the impact of cycling on mental, as well as physical, health in her article - Pedaling Towards Happiness: 7 Mental Health Benefits of Riding Bikes.

Photo by  Clem Onojeghuo  

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo 

... The link between exercise and improved mental health is not new, many studies over the years have made the connection the two. But as the body of research grows, it becomes clear that regular exercise – especially physical activity outdoors – should not simply be a supplementary method to improve our mood, but a key part of any strategy to combat depression, anxiety, and the general stress of daily life.

While some people ride to get fit, there are many who ride bikes simply because it makes them happy, and happiness is not trivial. How you feel about yourself, your life, and the world is just as important as the mechanical workings of your body. In fact, science suggests that mental health may even be a stronger predictor of life expectancy than physical health, or even heavy smoking.

See the full article here

Everyday Cadence: A CycLing Tale

Welcome to Everyday Cadence - our first person account of daily rhythms on two wheels. 

Join Dara on her tube travels through time and space in and around NYC. Read what's on her mind and join the conversation with your own cadence recollection. 

And in a snap, my “professional” co-ed weekend football career ended. My upcoming snowboard trip (after I’d just bought a board!) - canceled.

While catching a game-winning interception, and juking to avoid the intense recreational competition ahead, I tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament - my ACL, the small ligament that stabilizes the knee and is attached from the femur to the tibia.

My teammates cringed when they saw me go down. They knew.

I, on the other hand, had no idea that I’d just destroyed the tiny piece of flesh that basically attaches one part of the knee to the other for the very important goal of catching a football. I also didn’t know that while I’d just ended my promising weekend pastime, I’d soon adopt a new obsession; biking.

Photo by  Sandro Schuh

Photo by Sandro Schuh

The next day, my knee blew up to the size of a cantaloupe as I hobbled around to work and to several doctors (apparently, this happens when you rupture a ligament). I can’t tell you how many people asked me if I heard a “pop” (I hadn’t).  I learned quickly about ACLs. They break a lot. And yes, we can live without them, but many athletes who have torn theirs choose to operate and later return to their sport. Also, it seems, women are more prone to these tears, with thanks in part to our wider hips, and how we land. Yay for us.

When the doctors recommended reconstructive surgery for me using my own tendon, it seemed like the sensible choice. I could go snowboarding with my newly-purchased board, and rejoin my team, I thought. Plus, I would finally be bionic (sorta).

Well, needless to say, years after the surgery, I am in no way bionic. And I’ve contemplated converting my snowboard into a bench. But the reconstruction (and some forced introspection) did re-jigger my life.

Immediately following the surgery, my muscle atrophied, shrinking my right thigh to the circumference of a 14-year-old version of little me. The range of motion in my marshmallow-like extremity was obviously limited, and for the first time in my memory, I was unable to do some things by myself, and without intense pain.

This would all pass, but the rehab process was intense and slower than I’d hoped. It also came with some mild depression and severe tear-swallowing.

Forced to slow down, I had to rethink how I got from here to there...and why I went from there to here. I taught myself to knit (scarves, exclusively long scarves). I took the bus. I looked for a new job. I read (and watched really bad TV). I learned who my “real” friends were (those who visited or called or were mindful about the activities we did).

I started physical therapy quickly, and shortly thereafter started to experience the delight (and tooth-grinding agony) of re-building my muscles. In bright red Asics Onitsuka Tiger kicks (which I chose for their flat soles), I channeled Jamie Sommers and moved swiftly from crutches to brace to bandage.

Astoundingly, I was on a stationary bike within a few days. This seemed kind of nuts considering the joint that moves an awful lot when you peddle was the one I had just traumatized.

But over the course of weeks, then months, I went from walking, to balancing boards, to painful squats, to stationary biking, to running. I learned that the body and mind are truly incredible when tested.

Now before the surgery (to date myself), I wore my rollerblades everywhere -- with skirts, shorts, to sports, to work, to dates. I’d skate next to trucks and cars and people, sweat like heck, then toss my (purple) blades on my shoulder and walk in any bar/restaurant/place I chose. It was kind of badass now that I think about it.

That all changed after ACL surgery and rehab. After trying to rollerblade again (a sport that tests your knees and hamstring muscles to the max), I tossed them -- like they had betrayed me -- into the back of the closet, and fought back a few tears.

My inherited mountain bike, meanwhile, had the admirable role of wall decoration. I’d been wary of bike thefts and poorly paved roads, and thought that funny looking booties on wheels were way more efficient than bike riding (it isn’t).

I looked up at my glorious, dusty wheels, which had become a bit of a perch for laundry and assorted bags.

Thanks to PT, I’d grown comfortable with (or tolerant of) the bike, so I pumped some atrophied tires and dug my helmet out from the closet. That was it.

Photo by  Gemma Evans

Photo by Gemma Evans

Before I knew it, I was purchasing a “fancy” road bike. I started doing loops in the park on weekends. Weekends became week-nights. Loops became longer treks. Longer treks became day-long rides. Day long rides became an obsession. I now needed two bikes: one for treks, and one for commuting.

I came to know and appreciate the style, the vibe of the cycling community. I came to understand the rhythmic addiction to the sport -- because I had it. I needed to ride a bike.

On weekend mornings, I was drafting off of “Amstrongers” along the West Side Highway, and onto the Palisades in search of that cafe and a muffin.

For anywhere from 1-5 hours, I would be alone, often with music, sometimes with interactions with other cyclists, sometimes only with the terrain below me and the trees around me. Sometimes, I’d ride with others, but the solitude and togetherness of cycling enabled me to see clearly, and to think more strategically about how I spent my time.  

And just like that, my friendly games of football - which, let’s face it, I’d never really be good at (and were often followed by evenings playing flip cup) - had gone the wayside as I became more focused, more motivated, and more willing to take on new challenges.

Hours upon hours in the saddle filled my life with tons of other life-lessons. The drive to get on a bike regardless of my mood or of the weather made me appreciate my body’s comeback from the surgery and to see through any sort of obstacle. It reminded me of the strength of the human body and mind. In a relatively short time, my muscles got stronger, my reflexes improved, my confidence rose.

Fast forward a few years later, and, no, I haven’t played a co-ed recreational football game again (though I have played on a basketball team) and I’m not in any way a professional cyclist. But since I started cycling in earnest, I have run a half marathon on my reconstructed knee, acquired quite a few sets of wheels, and have accumulated a few (maybe too many) more scars and tales to tell.

Now, when the next interception happens (and it will), I’m good and ready.

Everyday Cadence: The Fact of the Grey Matter

Welcome to Everyday Cadence - our first person account of daily rhythms on two wheels. 

Join Dara on her tube travels through time and space in and around NYC. A writer with a penchant for social justice, Dara is committed to making the world a better place  - whether it’s by adding more bike lanes, advocating for human and animal rights, building community through arts and culture, or just giving back.

Read what's on her mind and join the conversation with your own cadence recollection. 

On most days (save ice storms, rainstorms, sub-28-degree weather, or the “business” meeting that requires me to pretend that I’m an “adult”), I wake up, get dressed, toss a bag on my back, and a helmet on my head.

Then, I mount a thin piece of steel on wheels lined with rubber, and head out into the streets of New York City.

Instinctively, I’m dodging parents walking their kids, cars pulling out of parking spots, trucks unloading their morning bread and milk, buses meandering to their next stop,  passengers hailing cabs, cabs picking up passengers, doors swinging open, potholes, gravel, discarded everything, food carts, and, of course, other bikes competing for a small designated space.

There’s a lot going on.

Perhaps, I’m nuts. Perhaps, I’m flirting with danger. But I feel very, very alive.

As someone who grew up in NYC dodging cars and crowds on the streets (and perverts on the subways), it is second nature to bob and weave my way throughout the City.

And on my bike, I’m tackling the streets in a way that no pedestrian, car or bus-rider could. I’m feeling the rhythm of the traffic and flow in a way that is both necessary and impossible to miss. When I ride, I plot my route, I anticipate danger (best possible), and I am ready to respond.

Thanks to biking, over the years, I’ve gotten better at doing so -- and science even proves it.

Cycling helps build new brain cells in the hippocampus – the “grey matter” in your head that involves muscle control, sensory perception like seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control. Sadly, this region deteriorates from the age of 30.

Luckily, regular physical activity can help keep thinking, learning and judgment sharp. Aerobic exercise helps maintain adequate blood flow, which supplies the brain with a steady stream of oxygen and nutrients (things we need).

And, in fact, researchers from the University of Illinois found that a five percent improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness from cycling led to an improvement of up to 15 percent in mental tests.

In other words: cycling is more than physically healthy for you. It makes your brain work better.

The thing is, we don’t always need science to tell us what we feel.

Sure, I’ve had some foibles, but riding has improved my instincts and my reflexes. This translates into how I am in life: I’m trying to figure it all out, while staying the course. I’m increasingly aware of my surroundings, the people, and the nature (if limited) around me. I see how things work, and don’t work together. I’m trying to survive. Ideally, I’m smiling.

When I’m on the road bumping elbows (or pedals) with cars, trucks, pedestrians, crossing guards, and pigeons--all sharing some torn up asphalt for a short bit of time--I am most definitely woke.

So, while I may be just a teensy bit nuts to get on a bike everyday in a city known for its, shall we say, aggression, the fact of the grey matter is that both my body and my brain are in great shape.