The following post is a guest post written by Levi Bloom. Levi has his own blog about cycling training on CoachLevi.com.
If you’re looking to win a race, there are plenty of ways you can train to ride stronger. You can do all sorts of base training and interval sessions, follow a training plan, get lots of rest, etc. On top of that, you can vary your riding to avoid burnout. That should keep you riding strong in most cases.
But what if you wreck? Will you bounce back or be stuck on the sidelines the rest of the year? Or maybe you drank a little too much champagne at your last post-race celebration and ended up falling down a flight of stairs? Has your training prepared you for that? Probably not. So here are a few ways to avoid injury, whether you are a road racer, mountain bike racer, or recreational cyclist:
Wear a helmet
This is basic advice, but it’s worth repeating due to the number of lives saved each year due to helmet usage.
Learn to ride in a group
Whatever type of riding you do, chances are you do some group rides or races. While riding in a group can be more dangerous, a few tips and a little practice will make things safer.
On the road: Ride predictably in the paceline and maintain a steady pace. You can ride close to the wheel in front of you but look a few riders ahead, so you are aware of any potholes, stop signs, turns, etc. The further back you ride, the more likely it is that someone will wreck in front of you, so stay closer to the front. Similarly, watch out for any erratic behaviour and keep your distance from those riders. Lastly, you can practice “bumping” by riding with a buddy in a soft, grassy field and bumping elbows and shoulders. This will get you accustomed to riding in tight quarters with others.
On the trail: The main thing to remember is to give the other riders some space. If someone goes down in front of you, make sure you have room to stop safely, so you don’t hit them and end up crashing yourself. This also lets you watch their line and adjust yours to avoid any problem areas. (Caution: Those quick tips are just a starting point for learning to ride in a group. To make things safer for you and those around you, get some personal advice from an experienced cyclist before jumping into a big group ride.)
Maybe you don’t use your arms so much when riding, but if you fall on your arm, it should be strong enough that it doesn’t snap like a toothpick. If you are avoiding weights for fear of bulking up, at least do some push-ups and pull-ups to strengthen the upper body. For the lower body, running will improve bone density, which is something cycling doesn’t do. And a little extra muscle covering your body will protect your bones and internal organs!
If you’ve ever listened to Tour de France commentary, they emphasize how riders “go limp” if they are going to wreck. That’s exactly what you want to do. Proper form when crashing is almost an instinct amongst the pros because they have practiced (or learned from experience.) In your case, I suggest a good practice session. Start by going out in a grassy field, with helmet and pads, of course. All you have to do is roll along, stop, and fall over while keeping your hands on the bars. Don’t stick your arm out; that’s how you’ll break a collar bone! You can start out falling into a hill, so you don’t have to fall so far, but work your way to flat ground. The key is to go limp (relax all your muscles) and absorb the shock, letting your entire body hit the ground. (You know how boxers “ride” a punch? It’s physics. The longer the time period of the hit, the less damage it causes.) So when you go down, your legs will hit first, then your side, and then your shoulder. You won’t really roll in this slow-speed drill, but you will in the next one.
Try “James Bond” drills
Now we’ll work with faster speeds and fulfill your superhero fantasy at the same time. We’re going to couple our “falling” drill with some action. The best example of this is a survival roll. You run, and when you’re ready, dive forward. As you go towards the ground you should let your arms or shoulders hit first and then roll through one shoulder over onto your back. Make sure not to lock your elbows. Note that when you crash, you should roll. Again, you are increasing the time period over which the force is applied in order to minimize the damage. As you get better, you’ll be able to dive and roll and get back onto your feet and keep running! Watch some mountain bike races, and you might see this happen! (Note that this is best done on a wrestling mat or other soft surface.)
Work on balance and flexibility
It’s time for yoga! Yoga is great because it improves flexibility and balance. Try some balancing poses, such as the airplane pose or the tree pose. With better balance, you are less likely to fall off your bike in the first place! Increased flexibility will make it easier to go limp and roll along the ground. Plus, if you do get stuck in a weird position, your flexibility training could be the difference between a couple small scrapes and torn ligament! Flexibility also decreases your chances of overuse injuries and tight muscles (especially hamstrings.)
If you’ve never tried freestyle BMX riding, you probably think it’s reserved for hooligan teenagers. If so, it’s your loss. Trying basic BMX balancing moves and tricks greatly improves your balance and bike handling skills. Whether you want to improve your balance by messing around in a parking lot or get used to air time by hitting the dirt jumps, the technical skills really come in handy. (Riding trials would be a similar way to train, although trials bikes are hard to find and usually on the expensive side.)
You have two choices here. Either 1) slow down on the alcohol consumption during the season, or 2) make sure your designed driver would rather keep you safe than watch you ride down a flight of stairs… 😉 Follow those tips, and in the unfortunate event of wreck, you will be more likely to emerge without serious injury.
About the author
This article was written by Levi Bloom, a road cyclist and mountain bike racer who writes about racing and training on his own website, http://coachlevi.com/. Check it out for more great advice for cyclists.