Bike Fit: The Nagging Knee
Now that summer’s in full swing and you’re logging big miles, it’s not uncommon to discover knee issues you didn’t have before. Maybe you got new shoes and/or cleats, maybe you’re putting in the last couple build weeks before your big event or maybe you suddenly notice your knee(s) when they’ve not been a problem before. The pain is not you, it's your bike fit!
If you had a bike fit in the off-season, there’s a chance that something’s changed on your bike set up and that’s what’s causing the sudden knee pain. Something as minor as your seatpost getting rotated in the frame from a crash or maybe your saddle is bent or or no longer supporting you properly due to wear. Both can cause your hips to get out of the neutral position which can cause issues further down the kinetic chain, often resulting in knee issues.
New shoes or cleats are a big cause of knee pain this time of year as it can be difficult to replicate your old position onto new shoes. It’s best to stay with the same brand of shoes if they’ve worked well for you in the past, but it’s always best to go with fit over fashion. Some shoes have a forefoot wedge built into them that you may or may not need. Or you may only need that wedge on 1 foot but not the other. If your knee pain started with new shoes, look into this as a cause. When you install new cleats, always trace the old ones with a permanent pen before removing them so you can align the new cleats in a more exact fashion. If you’re moving to new shoes, you can try measuring from a fixed point on both shoes to fixed points on the cleat to help align them but this can get tricky. If you’re starting with completely new pedals, consider having them fitted by a professional, especially if you got them in hopes of fixing a pain issue.
Saddle height is also a contributor to knee pain. Too low and you may start to feel your medial quads a lot more as you ramp up the mileage and climbing. Too high and you may feel the back of your knee as you strain to reach the pedal. Assuming that your saddle height was perfect in the Spring, another cause of knee pain is hamstring and IT band tightness. Lowering your saddle a few millimeters can help while you spend some more quality time rolling & stretching to regain the flexibility you lost during the season. Just one more reason to listen to your coach when they tell you to stretch!
A less obvious cause of knee pain is glute dysfunction. This can be easy to feel when you climb stairs or do a 1-leg body squat in front of a mirror. Watch what your knee does. If it doesn’t follow a vertical line or your hip kicks out to compensate, it’s likely that your glutes aren’t firing properly. This is easy to fix with some activation exercises and awareness of how you pedal when you’re on the bike. When your glutes don’t fire properly, your knees can fall in during the pedal stroke as your other muscles drive the pedals to compensate.
There are other physiological reasons for knee pain on the bike too, if you can’t figure out exactly what’s causing yours get into see a professional bike fitter as soon as you can so you’re not doing any damage & your season can keep going as planned!
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Phil's File: Tour of California, 2016
Teaching Criterium Tactics Using On Board Cameras
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