How to come back to road cycling after an injury

Getting back onto the bike after an injury take more mental strength than physical strength. That’s even more true if the injury was serious and/or was a result of cycling. Regardless of how it happened, it isn’t easy and anyone who makes that comeback has my respect.

I was talking about this very thing the other week with an old riding friend of mine from back where I used to live in Wiltshire. He broke his collarbone mountain biking in Wales and wanted to get back on the road. He had physically recovered from the injury but the mental side of things took a while longer. I thought the direction of that discussion might make a good post here on Road Cyclist and here we are.

Check with your doctor or whoever to make sure you can perform strenuous exercise freely before getting back to the bike.

Challenges to overcome

There are some challenges that will need to be overcome in order to regain lost form. Fortunately, the minute you step over that top tube, you have already overcome the hardest challenge of all. The challenge of getting back on the bike in the first place.

Other challenges will include:

  1. Lost fitness
  2. Reduced flexibility
  3. Increased risk aversion
  4. Forgotten limits

Lost fitness

It is obvious that any reduction in exercise undertaken will have a knock on effect on your conditioning and overall fitness. While off the bike you may have gained weight and lost some or all of your conditioning. You might even be a completely different body shape now than you had when you got hurt.

Fortunately, it is relatively straightforward to regain that condition. If you have been fit once, you can be fit once more. As long as you have been signed off to continue exercise or feel ready to get back on the bike, you should do so.

Begin slowly – Don’t go too hard too fast. Treat it just like a sportive. Take it steady to begin with and see how your body reacts. Keep your enthusiasm or competitiveness in check to ensure you add extra rest periods between rides. If confidence in your fitness isn’t high, consider a couple of turbo sessions first to help.

Rebuild a base of fitness – If you have been off the bike for a while, you will need to rebuild the foundations of that pyramid of fitness. Start off slowly and steadily and build base fitness as you go. If you’re up to it, feel free to add some HIIT into the mix but don’t overdo it. Being too aggressive in your training won’t help, it can actively hinder your comeback.

Look forward not back – Reminiscing about how fast or fit you were before is not going to help you now. Times and your body have changed since then so concentrate on the here and now and the future, not the past. If it helps, wipe your Garmin, start a new Strava account and treat it as a new hobby.

Reduced flexibility

Like your cycling fitness, your flexibility will have reduced while you were off the bike. The longer you were out of commission, the less flexible you will be. Again like fitness, if you were flexible once you should be flexible again. There are hundreds of exercises for regaining flexibility

The British Cycling Flexibility Routine is a good place to start, or this article on Simple Stretches for Cyclists by Active.

Increased risk aversion

It is natural to be wary when you have been injured whether on the bike or off. Your body doesn’t remember pain but it does remember that it doesn’t like pain. This will influence everything you do until you overcome it. These changes may be permanent, but they also may not.

Getting back on the bike, getting the miles in an purposely exposing yourself to all the environments the modern cyclist has to contend with is the only way of overcoming this aversion. It is natural but it isn’t helpful and can be overcome with enough determination and/or help from riding buddies.

Forgotten limits

The mind is 80% of any physical undertaking. If you believe you can do something, chances are you can do it. Part of the exhilaration of cycling is being able to overcome those limits. Going further, going faster and going places you never thought possible. While the concept of having broken mental barriers will still be with you, the belief that you can achieve more may not.

This one comes with time. Once you’re back to fitness, are as flexible as you once were and are as confident on a bike as you have ever been, the rest will follow. You will soon be pushing limits, going one lap or one mile further and be back to enjoying your time on the bike as much as ever.

Coming back from injury isn’t easy and nobody should ever say it is. But it can be done. With the will to ride, the determination to get back to fitness and overcome any loss of confidence, the old joys of riding will come flooding back. Once a cyclist, always a cyclist. That’s what I think anyway!

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