So now the Tour de France is underway up in Yorkshire, the question always comes to mind - 'How on earth do these guys achieve this mammoth feat of cycling the best part of 200km a day for 21 days?' The question is not only the physical demands of lungs and legs, but also how they cope with the rigours of simply being in the saddle for these massive lengths of time. If your mind is now quickly turning to the pain in your neck that you are experiencing every time you go out on the bike for a long ride then perhaps the things we share here will be of use.
Having returned a few days ago from riding this year’s first stage of the tour in Yorkshire I knew we were in for a real treat. The obligatory breakaway of the relatively short (short for the professionals anyway!) steep climbs and then the spectacular site of the sprinters' teams chasing the breaks down, flying through the rolling beautiful Yorkshire countryside over a very fast final 60km. I couldn't wait to see it and I had hoped the culmination of this would end as the Omega Pharma-Quick Step train deliver Cavendish precisely at the correct moment for the first win of the 2014 tour and as an added bonus see him grace the podium in the Yellow Jersey.
As I have pondered this - maybe fantasising a little that I was part of the tour - as we passed through yet another decorated village looking resplendent in yellow, my thoughts turned back to how on earth do you do this day after day racing and with only two rest days in 21.
If you too question this on account of your neck, here are some helpful hints and a bit of advice. If you do suffer from neck pain though the best thing you can do is go and seek professional help to firstly receive a correct diagnosis and treatment. These tips though may help avoid those nagging aches in the neck spoiling your cycling pleasure.
When cycling we sit on the bike with our lower and middle backs bent forward or flexed and our necks then extended so we can see where we’re going, always helpful (and increasingly extended when looking up some of the climb on butter tubs pass). This can cause the muscles to spasm over time and create neck-ache. This position can also compress the posterior structures in your neck, causing pain from the neck joints themselves or pinching the nerves that extend from your neck.
If this all sounds a familiar experience on your bike, it’s likely that your bike set up is incorrect. You may find that your handlebars are set too low. This will cause you to flex forward too far and extenuate the amount your neck has to extend so you can see where you're going. The distance of reach from your saddle to the handlebars can be too far forward or not far enough away; a little bit like goldilocks and her porridge ... either too far away or too close can result in increased pressure on your neck and surrounding musculature. The angle of the saddle can also cause you neck issues. Sloping down towards the handlebars results in to much pressure going through your arms and fatiguing those muscles that surround your neck and shoulder. Tilting too far up to the sky can put undue stress on the lower back that then flows up through the spine causing postural issues in the neck.
Ultimately, comfort is the key to cycling long distances. Riding a bike shouldn’t be uncomfortable no matter the distance. Here at Cyclissimo we can’t recommend highly enough that when you buy your bike to get a proper bike fit - it will help eliminate so many issues down the line. Alternatively (corporate plug!) come out and visit us in Tuscany and we’ll help with your bike fit and help you get the most out of your bike.
On a long ride, change your riding position. Stretch your neck as you go. This will help those muscles to recover and relieve the stress on your spine. This should also be taken into your daily life. If you spend your day at a computer, remember to make sure your work station is correctly set up and that you stretch your neck and correct your posture at regular intervals. If your cervical posture in daily life is poor then this will be accentuated on the bike.
Stretch and roll before and after riding. Stretching your neck out through pain free range is important. We probably all stretch our hamstrings before running, but how many of us stretch before we ride and after we finish. This will help you recover ready for that next big ride. A foam roller is a great adjunct to your cycling kit to be able to use it for your lower limbs but also to help your neck by using it to stretch out your thoracic spine.
Remember this is a guide to solving issues if you have continuous neck problems go and seek advice from a medical professional. Come and visit Julian and myself in Tuscany for a comprehensive injury prevention plan and training regime to help you maximise your potential and not be hamstrung by niggling injuries.
Just a short note too, to wish the 3 remaining British riders in the tour all the best; Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates. We’ll be cheering them on here at Cyclissimo just as every one else will be I’m sure. And as for Mark Cavendish - best wishes to a quick recovery.