Train like a Tour De France competitor: The benefits of Soft Tissue Therapy & Physiotherapy

Soft Tissue Therapist Rebecca Ryan and Physio Bryan McCullough discuss typical injuries suffered by Tour athletes and how to prevent them.

With the Summer getting into full swing with longer days and BBQ’s at the weekend - it also means one thing for cycling fans….The Tour de France has started!

The Tour de France was first organised in 1903 as a way to increase sales for a newspaper L’Auto and has been held annually ever since, except during WW1 and WW2. 

It is a multi stage bike race predominantly held in France, although the route in recent years has meandered in and out of neighbouring countries.  The races popularity has grown dramatically over the years now drawing the top riders from all over the world who target the race each year.  

The 104th Tour de France and runs from Saturday July 1st to Sunday July 23rd this year.  It will cover a total distance of 3,540 kilometres and is made up of two rest days and 21 stages. 

Understandably with only 2 days rest in 3,540km of cycling there are a lot of injuries! These are loosely broken down into two categories:

Overuse injuries – these have a more gradual onset and often a result of the repetitive strain put through different parts of the body.

Acute injuries – usually due to a crash or a fall….which, if you have ever watched a stage of the Tour can be quite traumatic!

These types of injury do not only affect the elite athletes competing in the Tour de France but all cyclists. Due to the repetitive nature of cycling overuse injuries account for the large percentage of injuries presented to clinicians at Pure Sports Medicine, these can be also due to incorrect bike set- up and improper training techniques. 
So what can be done to minimise the occurrence of these injuries and how can Soft Tissue Therapy help?

Ensure you warm up – this increases: the temperature of the muscles, the blood flow and oxygen to the muscles and the range of motion of the soft tissue structures. It helps to prepare the body for the more strenuous exertion to come. 
Take time to cool down –this helps to remove waste products from muscles which helps reduce delayed onset of muscle soreness and it also allows your heart rate to gradually return to resting.  
Keep hydrated and on top of your nutrition – this is key for performance and recovery. 

Get regular Soft Tissue Therapy – these treatments helps breaks down scar tissue, improve circulation, and help remove waste products, as well as allowing the therapist to potentially identify problematic areas before they become an injury. 

Soft Tissue Therapy is used by all of the cyclists competing in the Tour de France both as a preventative measure during the months of hard training and also as a recovery tool during the event itself. It helps maintain the optimal function and flexibility of the soft tissues - muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia. 

At PSM we would recommend fortnightly or weekly treatment during training, preferably on a rest day, and weekly treatment in the month before your event. Every one is different and each session is tailored to your needs that day – whether it be focused on treating a certain area that has been bothering you on recent rides or more of a general flush through to help loosen off soft tissue structures, aid recovery or to help reduce pre event stress and anxiety. 

How can seeing a Physiotherapist help with cycling injuries?

Flexibility - To be able to adopt a comfortable yet efficient position on the bike it important to have sufficient flexibility in all the right areas. Flexibility can be considered as the sum total of movement permitted at a given joint by virtue of the interaction between both active (muscles, tendons) and passive restraints (ligaments, joint capsule). 

A lower more aggressive position on the bike will have benefits when it comes to aerodynamics but may not be sustainable over time and worse, it may lead to injury without adequate flexibility. While a more upright position will turn you into a parachute as you try to accelerate. Finding a balance between these two extremes will allow you to be comfortable, efficient and ensure you are able to apply maximum power to the pedals.

The key point to remember here is that the body is adaptable and over time, given the right exercises, you will gradually be able to work towards a more efficient, sustainable position. In the case of the V-Series race it is a relatively short time in the saddle and as such you might aim to work towards a more aggressive aero position.

Strength - Identifying areas of muscle imbalance or weakness is crucial in the battle to stop or minimise injuries before they hamper your season. Given that cyclists spend a whole lot of time in a flexed position it is common to see a pattern of muscle imbalance where there is relative weakness in the gluteals which can be a significant contributor to low back and knee issues. Finding these deficits and correcting them with carefully selected and graded strength training can not only reduce injury risk but also improve performance. 

Bike Fit - A good bike fit has the ability to change the way you ride. It can drastically improve both comfort and performance on the bike and simply allows you to get the most out of the sport you love.

A bike fit at Pure Sports Medicine won’t just highlight areas of weakness in your bike set up, it will also pick up limitations within your body and give you the tools to go away and improve upon them. 

Tips on specific mobility and focused strength exercises can accelerate your progress on the bike and with the expertise at Pure, can locate, diagnose and treat painful conditions that commonly occur in cyclists both on and off the bike. This approach, we find, is extremely effective at improving both training/ race performance and the overall riding experience.

References:
http://www.letour.com/le-tour/...
http://www.sportsinjuryclinic....
Joel Gunter (2012) "The Tour de France: a guide to the basics" The Telegraph.
Barry Boys (2009) "The Return of a Grand Affair – "New Tour Legend: the Maillot Jaune"". Cycling Revealed.