Whether you’re pounding up steep tarmac, winding your way up singletrack on the side of a mountain, or turning a heavy wheel in Spin class, standing out of the seat and bobbing from side to side while bicycling will work more than the muscles in your legs. Supporting yourself while pushing and pulling on the handlebars challenges several upper-body muscle groups, according to the Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science, including your arms, shoulders and chest — the pectoral muscles. But you can minimize the soreness after a challenging ride with a few key strategies.
Keep Your Cadence Up
As the incline increases, shift down. The most efficient cadence is between 80 and 90 pedal revolutions a minute, indicates the Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science; at that pace, you won’t be tempted to stand. According to Selene Yeager in her book, "Ride Your Way Lean," a good climbing position is to sit a bit more upright and place your hands on top of the bars or brake hoods, shift to an easier gear and keep the pedals spinning. This will keep your neck and chest relaxed, and you’ll also find it easier to breathe.
If you haven’t already, invest in clipless pedals. The positive, locked-in connection these pedals provide will help you deliver a more even and powerful stroke. The increased efficiency means you’ll be able to stay in the seat longer during climbs; less standing equals less soreness.
One way to avoid soreness after a hilly ride is to build up the muscles in your chest, according to the authors of "The Complete Book of Long Distance Cycling." Simple home exercises include the plank (support your body on your forearms and toes for 20 to 30 seconds), pushups and pullups. If you belong to a gym, make use of the chest press as well as the lat pull-down machine — building the muscles in your back will help support you on the bike. Don’t like strength training? Try swimming. Primarily an upper-body exercise, swimming is a great complement to bicycling.
Spending time in the saddle will increase your fitness, build your muscles and minimize the soreness you experience post-ride. Before you know it, that pectoral pain will be a distant memory.
- Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science: Cycling Uphill and Downhill
- Ride Your Way Lean: The Ultimate Plan for Burning Fat and Getting Fit on a Bike; Selene Yeager
- The Complete Book of Long Distance Cycling; Edmund R. Burke and Ed Pavelka
- Howtobefit.com: Core Strength for Cycling
- Bicycling Magazine's New Cyclist Handbook; Ben Hewitt
John Hastings has written and edited health, fitness and science stories for magazines, websites and iPad publications. He has held senior editorial positions at "O, The Oprah Magazine," "Reader’s Digest" and "Health." He has also contributed to magazines such as "Men’s Journal" and "Bon Appetit."