I am a 31-year-old road cyclist that rides about 5,000 miles a year. Unfortunately, I have never taken stretching seriously and also realized and my lack of stretching was also compounded by some new shoes with improper cleat placement.
After some long, hard rides I’ve developed some bad Achilles tendinitis in my left leg. I am training for a trip to the dolomites end of June and trying to understand the balance of rest versus training. Do you have any suggestions?
Your question is a great one and let me delve into your Achilles problem on the bike.
You may have hit the problem with a change in cleat position combined with new shoes. A very subtle shift in cleat placement is the rule of thumb and I would go back to your original position.
Achilles tendinitis can also be brought on by several additional factors. I’d recommend video taping your pedal stroke and cycling form after you are fatigued from a ride to help you get more information on if your cycling form is the root cause of your issues.
There are two pedaling styles that can affect Achilles load: A plantar flexed toe (pointed downwards) shortens the Achilles. This bunching that occurs from the 3 o’clock to 5:30 position in your pedal stroke can put excess stress on the Achilles.
Try to drop your heel slightly just beyond the 3:00 o’clock position and firm up your ankle to help you alleviate this discomfort. However, you also want to avoid extreme dorsi flexion—or a dropped heel position—because this will dramatically lengthen the Achilles cord.
Find the sweet spot which is a dorsi flexed position at about 100 to 110 degrees at the bottom or 6 o’clock position of your pedal stroke. Also, look at both sides of your pedal stroke in slow motion on the video and see if they are symmetrical.
Achilles and foot issues quite often originate from a tight back. If your back is bowed, your pelvis rotates anteriorly which simultaneously increases tension on the posterior chain starting with the hamstrings, radiating down to the calves and ultimately increasing load on the Achilles.
To fix this issue, tighten up your lower abdominals called the transverse abdominus (TVA). These are slow acting muscles that stabilize your spine. Imagine you’ve got skinny jeans on and your lightly sucking in your navel. The TVA is now working and should ALWAYS be activated in standing or seated positions cycling. Once this is rectified you will garner new power out of your gluteals.
Also, when watching your pedal stroke video, make sure there is no inward or medial slanting of your pedal stroke. Your knee should not dance towards the top tube. A lot of cyclists try to do this purposely and it’s bad technique and bad advice! Your knee should go straight up and down and that will alleviate any torque on the knee and foot that could also be contributing to your Achilles. Keeping your core and TVA tight will also help minimize any hip, knee or foot movement.
Stretching your back will also help improve your mobility and position on the bike so your lumbar spine is not taking up slack. Thoracic spine lengthening and rotation are key. Here are a few great stretches to include in your regime:
Rotation Stretch: Lie on your side with arms extended in line with your shoulders (straight out at 90 degrees). Stack your hands on top of each other. Stack and bend your knees at 130 degrees at your hips. Keeping your eyes on your hands, swing your hands in an arch to the opposite side. Your eyes are always tracking the hand and now your arms are in a T position. The knees stay stacked and don’t move them! Go back to the start. Repeat 10 times and switch sides.
Downward and Upward Dog: Keep your feet 3 inches apart and legs straight. Place your hands in pushup position with fingers spread to capacity. Align your hands on the floor at shoulder width about 6 to 12 inches above the top of your headline. Come up in a V – position pushing through the heels of your hands and externally rotating your lats (outward). Draw in your belt line and keep you head in a neutral position. Go down to a neutral back or slightly lower position and repeat 12 times holding the hips high position for 4 seconds on each rep.
Jonathan, I hope this gives you enough to work on! Please send me an update on your progress.