Female cyclist rides along a snowy road

Whether you cycle to commute or for leisure, it’s important to reassess your practice in the winter months as harsh conditions and cold temperatures can increase the risk of injury.

Road cycling, mountain biking, touring and racing can all remain a fun and challenging part of your exercise regime throughout the colder seasons so there’s no need to head inside to the gym; instead just take a few extra precautions to ensure a safe practice.

Adjust Your Bike

In order to avoid muscle strain, it is vital to adjust your saddle position, stem height and cleat set up to fit your bike to your body as your riding position is likely to change in order to protect yourself from the elements in winter. If your saddle is too high the constant strain on your calves can cause Achilles tendinitis, whilst a saddle sitting too low circumvents usage of the glutes and hamstring, forcing overuse of the quadriceps. If you experience aches and pains after cycling, your physiotherapist can help you figure out what adjustments might be necessary to your bike set up.

Warm Up

In colder temperatures, there is an increased risk of muscle sprain and strain so it’s even more important to warm up properly. An indoor warm up in the winter ensures proper flow of blood and oxygen to your muscles and increases the range of movement at joints. Raise your pulse for 5-10 minutes through jogging on the spot or skipping, and then do some stretches paying special attention to your legs and lower back.

Dress Appropriately

In winter you not only need to dress warm, you need to dress dry. If you feel cold on your ride your muscles will tighten up and ultimately fatigue quicker. Prevent injury by layering properly, starting with a tight-fitting and wicking base layer, a warm fleece mid layer if necessary and finally, a water or wind-proof outer shell, depending on the conditions.

Make sure to wear gloves as cold hands gripping handlebars too tightly can cause tension in the trapezius muscles (upper back) or damage to the ulnar nerve.

Switch Gears

On a winter commute, you’re likely to find yourself riding slowly in a high gear for long periods of time to ensure maximum stability on slippery roads. If you spend too long cycling in a high gear you continually work the same muscle groups, putting strain on your knees and risking tendinitis of the patellar tendon. Avoid this by mixing up your pedal cadence whenever it is safe to do so.

Cool Down

It may be tempting to hurry into the warm after a freezing winter cycle but a proper warm down for your cardiovascular system and muscles is important to avoid injury. Slow down at the end of your ride to slowly reduce your heart rate and then complete some static stretches once you’re off the bike to reduce muscle soreness. Pay special attention to your calves and hamstrings which can become tight leaving them vulnerable to tearing.

For more information on staying safe whilst taking part in any form of exercise in the colder months, check out our blog article on tips to avoid training injuries in winter.

To learn more about our physiotherapy services in Auckland, contact us online or call +64 9 273 6089 to speak with one of our friendly team members.