Coach Hughes: Points of Contacts, pt.2
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Intelligent Training—Equipment

Points of Contact, pt. 2

“Pain in the buttocks, hands and feet is almost always a result of pressure. Thus, reducing these pains means reducing pressure.”

by John Hughes
© 2012, John Hughes, All Rights Reserved

John Hughes, the former director of the UltraMarathon Cycling Association and editor of UltraCycling, has been certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a personal trainer and by USA Cycling as a coach.

Points of contact for endurance cyclists [  Part 1  |  Part 2

Pain in the buttocks, hands and feet is almost always a result of pressure, which either reduces blood flow to the affected area and/or compresses the local nerves. Reduced blood flow or ischemia causes pain, just like ischemia in the arteries to the heart causes chest pain. Thus, reducing these pains means reducing improving blood flow and reducing pressureon nerves.

Often we try to figure out a solution at the particular sore spot; however, larger, more general factors may contribute to the problem:

General factors
Choice of bike: a bike with a more relaxed geometry, some fork rake and wheels with crossed spokes will be more forgiving than a racing-style bike.

Bike fit: If the bike fits you correctly, then your weight is appropriately distributed between the saddle and the handlebars. I often see riders whose hips are rocking—the saddle is too high and chafing problems may result. Or I see a rider with one leg dropping on every stroke—probably a leg length discrepancy with resulting friction on that side. Or a cyclist shaking the rider’s hands—the bars may be too low or too far away.

Fitness: Your weight should not contribute to excess pressure on the saddle. Your legs should be strong enough that you balance on the saddle rather than sitting on it. You should have sufficient core strength that your hands rest lightly on the bars like you are typing.

Technique: Have you developed the habit of shifting your hand positions on the bars frequently? Do you stand every 10 minutes or so, even on flat terrain? Do you pedal with a round stroke rather than pedaling squares, which will reduce the pressure on your feet?

Specific causes
In addition to these general factors, specific causes may cause a particular pain.

Butt: In one study of amateur long-distance cyclists, over 70% of the seat-related discomfort was due to pain around the ischial tuberosities (sitz bones). These are very similar to bed sores in bed-ridden patients, caused by decreased blood flow.
Sitzbones

Sitzbones

  • Butts are unique, just like faces, and you need a saddle of the right width to fit your butt, no matter what your buddy prefers. The width of your saddle should match the width of your ischial tuberosities without compressing the soft tissues in the groin.
  • Mount the saddle so that your hips aren’t rocking and it is level so that you aren’t sliding back and forth.
  • Even with the correct saddle and proper bike fit, when you pedal your body shifts side to side slightly with each pedal stroke, resulting in friction. Several cycling dermatologists recommend using petroleum jelly as a lubricant—it contains no additives, which might irritate the skin, and it is readily available at minimarts!
  • If you develop a hot spot, use Bag Balm during the ride and after you shower; it was developed to help a cow’s teats heal from too much friction during milking.

Hands: Hand pain and numbness is the result of compression of the nerves, which can be caused by riding with your wrists cocked, a bike fit that puts too much weight on your hands or a bike design that transmits considerable road shock.

  • Change hand positions frequently while riding by alternating among tops of the bars, upper bends, brake hoods, hooks behind the brake levers and drops.

Feet: When you ride your feet swell compressing the nerves between the metatarsal heads (bones under the balls of your feet), which results in numb toes and hot feet. To reduce the pressure:

  • Select shoes that aren’t too tight.
  • If you are prone to problems with hot feet, start with your shoe straps loose.
  • Mount your cleats farther back so that the balls of your feet are not directly over the pedal axles and lower your saddle slightly to compensate.
  • Orthotics often distribute the load better.
  • If you develop hot feet during a ride, loosen your shoes more as you ride. Take your shoes off at stops, walk around in your socks scrunching your toes and consider taking time to lie down with your feet elevated.

Points of Contact[  Part 1  |  Part 2

More information
Bike Fit with Dr. Andy Pruitt
PAC Tour Cycling Camps and Tours

Butt, Hands & Feet: Preventing and Treating Pain in Cycling’s Pressure Points. 12 page eArticle