11 Oct 2016


Your hamstrings stretch down the backs of your thighs, from just below your buttocks to the top of your lower leg bones. They’re particularly powerful when your knee is bent, for pushing it towards straight again, so they’re obviously very important to cyclists.

Bad injuries to the hamstrings are usually caused by sudden hard efforts – such as sprints, especially uphill – and are either tears in the muscles or ruptures in the tendons. If you suffer an injury like this, you’ll probably even feel it go. You’ll need proper medical attention afterwards.

Even below this point, however, you can suffer general straining of the hamstring, usually from doing very high mileages. You may not even notice these micro-tears occurring at all – instead, the problems manifest later as aches and pains in the backs of your thighs. With any of these injuries, it’s important not to just ignore them as they’re unlikely to go away, and carrying on will only make them worse.

How to avoid injury
You’ve probably heard that hamstrings can tighten up and shorten, and that cyclists are particularly prone. But did you know that simply sitting in a chair also has the same effect? If you spend your working days in an office, your muscles are suffering for it along with everything else.

The best way to avoid injuring your hamstrings is to regularly stretch them with off-bike exercises. These must be the right kind at the right time, however. The most important time is directly before a ride.

Your choices are between static or dynamic exercises, and it’s important you favour dynamic ones before riding and static ones after.

• Dynamic exercises are where you actively work your muscles to move joints throughout their ranges, back and forth, and include such things as walking lunges and leg swings. They’re the best at helping prepare the muscles for exercise.

• Static exercises are simple stretches, where you move a joint to the end of its range and hold it there, and include the familiar standing hamstring and quad stretches. These are good for maintaining flexibility.

Using static exercises before a ride, however, may actually reduce your performance – there’s evidence it can limit your body’s reaction time for up to two hours. They also do little or nothing to boost your flexibility at that point.

The benefits of dynamic exercises are significant, which is why you see footballers doing all kinds of funny walks up and down the touchlines instead of doing yoga in the dugout. And both football and cycling involve sudden bursts of power alongside significant endurance challenges.

As with so many elements of cycling, a strong core really helps avoid discomfort and injury, so don’t neglect it. As little as 10 minutes a day will make a noticeable difference.

On the bike
Once warmed up, stretched and riding, there are further things to consider. Proper bike fit – for road, MTB, CX and tri/TT – is key; if your saddle height is wrong, for instance, it will affect which muscle groups you use, increase strain on those remaining and boosting your chances of injury.

Similarly, incorrect gearing or gear choice – if you’re regularly grunting away at big cogs – raises the strain on your muscles. If your general cadence is significantly below 90rpm, you should rethink. Even if it isn’t, it’s important to mix it up with periods of higher cadences and movement (such as standing climbs) to give your muscles a break.

It’s also a bad idea to increase your mileage in massive steps, as excessive repetition can have the same effect as a sudden excessive load on underprepared muscles.

Check out our guide to Coming back From Injury , our sister site Vision’s guide to Warming Up, and
Pedro’s tips for Strengthening Glutes.