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Why Riding a Bike May Not be Great News for Your Knees

If you have any pain, please consult with your physician or physical therapist prior to attempting any of the movements suggested. This content is intended for clients who have been screened in the Foundations/ Practical Strength curriculum.

I love to ride my bike. The freedom it gives me- the wind in my hair, the views from the beach path- I have some really happy moments on my bike.

In addition to being good for our mental health, riding a bicycle has so many physical benefits as well. We get to pump our heart rates up, we reduce loading forces across the lower body (hips, knees and ankles) as we are not weight bearing directly across those joints when we are perched in the bike saddle.

Bicycle riding is prescribed readily by medical doctors hoping to encourage fitness for their patients who have challenges to weight bearing.

And yet, over the course of my time in the clinic, I have found that clients who bike ride over other activities (hiking, trail running, swimming) are more prone to developing knee pain. How can this be given the modified weight bearing?

I think this is down to biomechanics. Think about the position your body is in when you are riding your bike, sitting in your saddle. You are hinged at the hips (hopefully with a long and neutral spine). This position lengthens the gluteals and the hamstrings, and shortens the quadriceps and iliopsoas (hip flexors). And you are weight bearing right near the insertion of those gluteal and hamstring fibers.

Unless you are wearing clip in shoes, you are biasing your cycling stroke toward quadricep strength.

Over time, riding in the saddle seems to increase a quadricep dominant pattern- one in which you use structures on the front to your lower body, rather than the back of your lower body. It also increases the compression between the femur and the kneecap (patella).

If you love to ride, make sure you are cross training with hiking/ walking and making sure to do strength training in a neutral spine position that is focused on the back of your body. When you are not riding, you want to focus on activities to promote neutral spine awareness and strength of the back body structures: think the main functional gluteals explored in previous weeks, as well as hamstrings and calves.

In our practical strength training we focus on performance of muscles in the back of our bodies. To begin to connect with the sensation and strength at the back of the body, check out our lower body warm up video.

Happy Moving (and discovering!)


For more info on gluteals , join us for our Fire Up Your Glutes Workshop this month, as we will explore more about gluteal anatomy, how to best mobilize as well as strengthen the gluteals and how to use your gluteals in everyday life.

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