Ever get a weird pain in your back after riding your bike? Or feel really really hungry? Or feel your heart pounding as you mount McAllister towards Diviz?
There's a lot of stuff going on underneath your skin -- a whole hodgepodge of muscles, tracts, and veins. You couldn't ride a bike without them, and you can't ride a bike well without knowing a little about how they work.
Don't worry, you don't have to go to med school. (Unless you want to finally make your mother proud, you shiftless layabout.) We brought a whole bunch of questions to Curtis Cramblett, a physical therapist at Revolutions in Fitness (They provide training and assistance for the AIDS Life Cycle folks, and also offer physical therapy for all levels of riders, from elites to, um, not-so-elite.) and he slipped us a "cheat sheet" for keeping your biking body happy and healthy.
Our first question was, "how important is the fit of your bike?" And the answer is: pretty important, especially if you're riding more than two or three days a week for more than a couple of hours. You'll be stuck in your biking position for a long time, and your muscles may start to feel stuck, or stiff, or achey -- and that's a sign that your bike has you twisted up in the wrong sort of shape.
"You an have the right size of bike, but if the fit isn't right, it can cause significant amounts of pain," said Curtis. It shouldn't hurt to bike -- if it does, stop by a bike shop and get them to adjust your handlebars and seat. Or it may be time for a new frame, which can be pretty expensive.
Next, we asked what muscles a bicycle works out. Where should we be all stretchy and limber?
Quads. Hamstrings. Calves. Well, obviously your legs should be ready to work -- but, we were surprised to learn, you also should stretch your neck, back, and chest before and after you ride. In fact, stretching your hamstrings is one way to keep your back healthy. Tight hamstrings can pull on your back, and cause strains all the way up towards your neck. And if your back gets stiff and rounded-over, you might find that you can't lift your head up from staring at the road without experiencing pain.
"When you bend over all day, either at a computer or on a bike, and your back starts to round, the muscles get tight in that position," Curtis explained. "And the muscles that get tight and keep you rounded are these muscles in the chest and upper back. ...Getting those mid-back and chest muscles loose will decrease your chances of low back or neck pain," Curtis said.
Over time, you'll find your body getting better and better at biking, from the stretches to the muscle strength to the cardiovascular endurance. In fact, cardiovascular fitness is one of the primary health benefits of bicycling. There's also strength benefits to be had in your quads, legs, and glutes, which is good news for appreciators of a callipygous figure. And provided that you have an optimal bike fit, you'll get some core strength benefits as well.
This is all a medical way of saying that biking makes you hot.
Diet plays a role in biking and looking your best, too. Your pre- and post-ride meals should really depend on the kind of ride that you do -- a 30-minute commute, for example, doesn't require much nutritional adjustment.
But a multi-hour ride should be undertaken with a stash of water and electrolytes. Pretzels and bananas are your allies. Keep your carbs well-stocked, and consume calories at a rate of around 200 to 400 an hour. Get some protein, too -- but not fatty protein, like that tempting hot dog stand that's always set up at the DMV near the panhandle. Large heavy meals will pull blood out of your muscles to help with digestion, and you don't want to deplete your nutritional conveyor belt.
After your long ride, get plenty to drink. (Water, not booze.) Fill up on 300 to 400 calories, a mix of carbs and protein. A smoothie would be ideal.
Now that we mention it, yes, a smoothie WOULD be ideal. Excuse us while we go fix one up.