An Active Approach to Cycling Injuries: Upper Body Injury and Strengthening

An Active Approach to Cycling Injuries: Upper Body Injury and Strengthening

Since cyclists rarely elect to skip “leg day,” the upper body is often overlooked and neglected. This increases potential for injury and ride-limiting fatigue.  In a recent study, a survey of recreational cyclists revealed that 31 percent suffered from hand and wrist discomfort. 

It is important to protect your arms and hands from injury arising from weakness, improper positioning, and prolonged maintenance of persistent postures.  In addition, it is vital to have upper body strength to withstand the forces applied during out of the saddle efforts and maintaining pressure upon the bars for prolonged periods.  

Proper cycling posture relies on arm strength but doesn’t provide the stimulus required to strengthen it.  Upper body strength maintenance is essential to maximizing cycling performance and enjoyment and should be included in a well-rounded training plan.   

Positioning and Upper Body Pain Prevention Tips

If you experience numbness and tingling in your fingers or clumsiness with fine motor tasks, consider these positioning modifications and tips.:

  • Your hands should not be positioned wider than shoulder-width apart
  • Wrists should remain in neutral position, not angled inward, forward, or too far back
  • Avoid locking your elbows if pressure is felt in the hands which worsens over time
  • Padded gloves, cushioned bar tape, and ergonomic grips facilitate vibration absorption and allows for a lighter grip
  • Adjust handlebar height and angle to allow for a slight bend in the elbow, hands shoulder width apart, and neutral position of the wrist
  • Vary hand position every three to five minutes while riding to avoid prolonged sustained pressure and remain relaxed in your grip 

Common Cycling Ailments of the Wrist and Hands

  • Handlebar palsy (Ulnar nerve neuropathy) presents as tingling, numbness, or weakness of the ring and little finger 
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (Median nerve neuropathy) involves the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers and may also cause generalized hand weakness

Upper Body Flexibility

Find the Zwift Insider Upper Body Flexibility Program Complete with Exercise Descriptions >

Static Stretching Tips

  • Go to point of stretch and hold for 15-30 seconds
  • 3 repetitions per exercise
  • Don’t bounce!

Upper Body Stabilization

Find the Zwift Insider Upper Body Stabilization Program Complete With Exercise Descriptions >

Upper Body Strengthening

Find the Zwift Insider Upper Body Strengthening Program Complete With Exercise Descriptions >

Strength Training Tips

  • Perform 3 sets of 15 repetitions to start
  • Don’t perform if experience severe sharp pain (PRICE)
  • Increase intensity by adding weight or increasing repetitions
  • Strict form is essential!

The Follow-Up Appointment

Stay tuned, as in the next edition of this series I will introduce the concept of muscle activation and explain why many cyclists consider it essential to their pre-riding warm-up routine.  We will examine active intervention measures to keep you riding, training, and racing at your best!

What About You?

Glove or no gloves?  Your call!

Further Reading/Bibliography

About The Author

Christopher Schwenker

Chris is a semi-retired physical therapist who, following more than 25 years in solo private practice, considers himself blessed to combine a passion for cycling and creative writing in pursuit of his next life goal. He lives on the North Fork of Long Island with his beautiful wife and two university student children.

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Dave (@drhmm1)
8 months ago

Are the links provided available on the website? If so what tab are they under?

8 months ago

Thanks Chris, useful information. In your experience, have you seen or heard of any increased incidence in road cyclists of adhesions from scar tissue causing bowel obstructions, where the rider has had previous abdominal surgery? Just had it occur and considering if there is a connection or remedy. Thanks.

8 months ago

Guideline for how much weight to use in strengthening routine? The model looks to be using light weights which is fine for me. I just want incremental strength not to be ripped.

Darryl Jenks
Darryl Jenks
8 months ago

Chris, thanks so much for this. Do you have any suggestions for avoiding/correcting rounded shoulders?

Darryl Jenks
Darryl Jenks
8 months ago

Many thanks, sir, for helping others feel better. That’s a pretty cool calling.

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