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Feb 14, 2021

Trainer Troubles?

Like many cyclists this time of year, you head to the basement for the winter on your trainer and notice new aches and pains that are not there when riding on the road or trail.  You are not alone.  No matter if you are on a smart trainer, rollers, or your brother’s hand-me-down there are many reasons why training on a trainer may lead to pain and injury.  The good news is there are many little things you can do to minimize discomfort and maximize time well-spent inside.

Sources of Soreness:

  1. Same time. Same Place:  Because the landscape does not change much and there are very few stop lights in your home, the static position and riding can lead to more pressure on the same areas for longer periods of time. On the trainer you Never. Stop. Pedaling.  This can lead to numbness, tingling, and pain in hands, saddle area and feet areas.  Static riding conditions also means less variability in the muscles used and greater fatigue in the muscles you do use resulting in overuse injuries in the legs and postural stress pain in the upper body.  
  2. Pedaling problems: Without outside cues we tend to fall into a bad habit of pedaling at a lower RPM for a same power output which means you are putting greater force on your quads and knees which you wouldn’t usually do outdoors.  This can lead to knee pain or injury
  3. Hot mess:  Without the natural breeze, we tend to sweat more on an indoor trainer which can cause dehydration and excessive saddle wetness.  This increased moisture…down there… combined with more sustained pressure in the area can cause saddle sores you would not normally get.
  4. Taking your time: Whether it is boredom or laser focus on the data output, we tend to skip our warm-up period we would usually take if we were meeting up with friends or riding to our trail and instead head straight to “hammering down.”  Warm ups and cool downs are important in avoiding overuse injuries and improving recovery time.

What to do:

Training on a trainer is harder than riding out doors for several reasons but there are many little things you can do to decrease discomfort and avoid injury.

  1. Change it up:  Vary your resistance and position on the bike.  Try to make your indoor ride more like the great outdoors by: lifting out of your saddle on a climb, varying your resistance to change the pressure on areas that are working the hardest, and checking posture frequently with focus on a long spine and engaged core.  Set a timer if you have to remind yourself to change it up.
  2. Begin with a good fit:  Good position has never been more important because of the unnatural repetitions and static positions on a trainer so make sure you are set up right.  This is especially true if you have dedicated an old bike as your “indoor bike.”  Also, bike fit is dynamic and changes with time as your body becomes more/less conditioned and flexible based on your activity level so what once was the perfect fit may not be so great anymore.  Getting your bike fit by a professional will be worth every penny during indoor training season.
  3. Eat and drink like you are outside: Make sure you keep up on hydration and food like you would for a ride outside.  Make use of that old furniture sitting living in your basement to conveniently place all the goodies you will need to fuel your ride and support your post-ride recovery which improves your ability to bounce back.
  4. Warm up and cool down: Give your body a chance to get warm before you get down to work. Warm ups increase tissue flexibility which helps decrease chances of sprains and strains during your main activity. Cool downs help bring your heart rate and blood pressure back down to resting levels and gives the body time to return blood from extremities to the heart which decreases post-workout dizziness/light-headedness and can be especially important in recovery during endurance training.

Staying in condition by riding indoors on your own bike will set you up for excellent outdoor adventures as soon as the mercury begins to rise again in the spring.  Take these tips with you when you hop on your bike.  If you have more questions on riding on a trainer or are interested in getting your bike fit for you please contact Anna Perry, PT, DPT, OCS at anna.perry@rockvalleypt.com.

Anna Perry is an Orthopedic Physical Therapist at Rock Valley Physical Therapy and a Silver Level BikePT bike fitter.  She has 10 years of bike fitting experience and specializes in the care of cycling related pain and injuries.  When not working, she enjoys riding road, off-road, tandem, urban and touring cycling.  She also enjoys her newest position of ride instructor for her 2 young children.