You’re on the road riding in a charity bike ride fundraising event, you’ve got a few miles under your tires already and you are feeling energetic and happy. “This isn’t so bad,” you are thinking – but then it hits you.
The muscles in your calves seize up together into a hard lump, causing pain to shoot all the way up your leg. You stop your bike and try to massage the cramp out of your leg, but it won’t go away. Your muscle has tightened up beyond your control and you are gritting your teeth from the pain. When the muscle finally relaxes, your leg is aching and weak. The leg cramp leaves you sore and in pain – so how can you avoid this when you are cycling on long distance rides?
What Causes Muscle Cramps?
Scientists don’t really understand why muscle cramps happen. The current theory is that they are caused by low levels of electrolytes such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, chloride and sodium as well as muscular fatigue. It is also thought that they are caused by dehydration and that some people are just more personally susceptible to them than others.
So How Can You Prevent Them?
There are a few things that you can do to reduce your risk of leg cramps. Here are some tips that you can keep in mind.
- Try to pace yourself while riding your bike in order to reflect the level that you have trained at. If you try to ride harder than you are used to, this is good way to give yourself a painful cramp. Know your limits and ride within them!
- Another reason for cramps can be dehydration and loss of electrolytes due to excess sweating. Make sure that you keep your electrolyte levels high by drinking sports drinks to rehydrate during the ride.
- It is also important to keep hydrated by drinking lots of water – which is basic advice for performing any physical challenge.
- Make sure that you are riding a bike that is a good fit for you and that you are not over extending your legs when you are pedaling. Muscle strain can be caused by a poor position on the bike.
- Always give your leg muscles and lower back a good stretch before you go on a bike ride so that you can increase the range of movement in your muscles and make them work more efficiently.
- It is also a good idea to do some strength training, which will increase the power and efficiency of your muscles.
- Also, by building up your core muscles you will waste less energy swaying from side to side. You can direct this energy into your legs to turn the pedals instead, which will make you much more efficient.
- Ride on hills as much as possible during your training sessions. This will help you to condition yourself to the high levels of demand that you will have to put on your muscles.
- If you are a woman you are more likely to get these muscles cramps when you are menstruating – so try to time your long distance rides for a point in your cycle when you are not on your period.
- After a long bike ride it can be very helpful to get a massage in order to relax your sore muscles. Also, some light stretching such as yoga in the evenings can help you to keep your muscles supple for the next day of riding.
What to Do When you Get a Cramp
If you get a cramp when you are riding your bike on a charity cycle ride, you can get rid of it by straightening your knee and stretching your toes upwards. You can also drop down the force on the pedals, gear down and spin easy for a while. If the muscle cramp becomes too intense you might have to stop and get off the bike for a moment in order to stretch the affected muscle.
Muscle cramps can be incredibly painful and they can slow you down while you are on a long distance charity ride, so don’t let them become a problem. Keep these tips in mind so that you can minimize your risk of cramps while riding.