Returning to cycling after injury


One thing about cycling is that you will always have time off the bike due to injury, illness e.t.c. In my case, these enforced breaks have been anything from one week to several years. Returning to cycling after a lay off can be a great feeling, but you have to be careful to manage it in the best way.


Firstly, it can be very frustrating to be sitting on the sidelines, nursing some injury – These periods off the bike always seem to correlate to the best beautiful weather. Outside it’s sunny and dry – perfect for clocking up the miles, but you’re still hobbling up the stairs trying to detect any slight improvement in your strained muscle.

How much fitness do you lose when you’re off your bike?

  • After one week, you will begin to lose top end speed quite quickly.  As soon as training stops, you find anaerobic threshold and VO2 max drop off  fairly rapidly. Though after a few weeks, the rate of decline tails off.
  • After two to three weeks, your endurance capacity will also start to fade away too. In one study, Madsen et al, cyclists who stopped training for four weeks found their ability to cycle at 75% of VO2 max dropped from about 80min to just over 60min—a 20% decrease. This is a good approximation of basic endurance fitness. Still 20% reduction from four weeks of rest is not the end of the world.

Taking a month or two off the bike is never quite as devastating as it feels at the time. The body is adaptable – what you lose you can regain – there just needs to be a degree of patience.

Difficulties in coming back after Injury

  • There is always a danger you could do too much, too early and aggravate rather than help the injury to get better. There are no hard and fast rules about how much you should do because it depends on type of injury and recovery. In some cases, light exercise can help get blood to the affected area and speed up healing. For want of any better advice, if you feel  pain, it is a sign you might be pushing too early. If you can ride without pain, then it is a guide signal to begin lightly.
  • During injury, some muscles will have wasted causing imbalances in the body. This can cause knock on injuries, due to over stretching other parts of the body. One thing I’ve noticed about recent injuries where I mainly landed on left hand side, is that I’ve gained muscle strains on my right hand side in my back because I’m overcompensating on the other side.
  • Also, because I haven’t been using my left leg much, I can feel the muscles are really declining in power. When I wake up I feel my left leg involuntary stretching because the previously strong muscles are becoming much weaker due to non-use. Unfortunately, this has aggravated the imbalance between my left and right leg.

Tips in Coming back to Cycling from Injury

  • After long break, start with short distances and a very steady pace. Build up distance and intensity gradually. The last thing you want is to over-stretch yourself. The good thing about cycling is that it is ideal for taking it gradually. You can cycle a few kms whilst maintaining a very low effort. It becomes nice if each day, you can add a few kms, taking it step by step.
  • Be careful of setting goals too early. We are tempted to start thinking. ‘Right this injury is going to be over in 2 weeks.” But, you can’t put your own time scale on it. If you have a deadline, you are likely to suffer from failed expectations.
  • If you have a target for a 100 mile sportive 3 weeks after injury, it can become very tempting to push too hard. To achieve a big target requires great determination, but recovery from injury requires listening to the body and patience rather than stretching yourself. Once you have a fixed goal, it’s hard to be patient with yourself.
  • Manage expectations. To use the oft-quoted line from A Fish called Wanda ‘It’s not the despair I can’t stand, it’s the hope’ Be wary of giving yourself unrealistic expectations of recovery. To use a footballer manager cliché just take each day as it comes and do what you can with that.

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Dealing with road rash

In the perennially popular lists like: ‘Top 10 reasons to take up cycling’ –  you don’t usually see –

  1. Learn how to deal with blood and treat your own wounds.

But, unfortunately it does seem to be a bit of a compulsory extra in the cycling curriculum. Cycling is undoubtedly a marvellous thing – good for health, weight, fitness, congestion, carbon neutral e.t.c. but if you do any amount of cycling you will, at some stage, be picking yourself up from the side of the road, with less skin than when you set out. On the positive side, you do learn some elementary elements of first aid.


This would be funny if it happened to anyone else, but yesterday, I fell over for a second time – and I wasn’t even on the bike, just going out of the front door. I managed to hobble around Faro and Gatwick with my suitcases and get home to Oxford. The next morning I was feeling pretty pleased with the progress of my leg so started to clear up the house. Going out to the bins, my trailing left leg, tripped over the lip of the front door and I went tumbling over on to the old injuries and picked up some new ones on my right hand side just for good measure. I now have a symmetry of road rash. I cried out, but the street remained as deserted as a Portuguese mountain. Eventually, after lying on the drive for a while, I realised no one was going to come and help, so I had to pick myself up and go through the tedious process of dressing wounds again. The fall didn’t do my leg any favours – though I still hope it will get better sooner, rather than later.

Dealing with Road Rash

It’s hard to improve on this page here – dealing with road rash But, my tips would include:

  1. Check for signs of breakage and more serious issues. A doctor will check for more serious things and leave skin to the last. Also make sure it is not a deep gash rather than superficial cuts.
  2. Be careful you may be in shock.
  3. Wash out any dirt
  4. Betadine is a good cleanser which doesn’t sting that much. (much better than traditional iodine) (see: Betadine at amazon) Anti bacterial soap is another option.
  5. Have big patches ready. The best are duoderm hydrocolloid types  Road rash tends to be quite big, get some good big strips ready. You can also use non-sticking gauze pads they are cheaper than duoderm. I have a range of sizes in my cupboard.
  6. Change once a day and wash wounds. (duoderm can be left on for longer. (3-7 days – see: link) A warm bath is a good way of loosening bandages before changing and giving wound a good clean.
  7. If you ever fall off, you will really understand why cyclists shave their legs. It’s easier to keep clean and it’s easier to put on and take off bandages. Though, I seem to always fall off in winter, when I can’t be bothered to shave my legs.
  8. It’s an uncomfortable feeling riding with road rash, though it is possible to keep cycling. Often it looks worse than it is. But, the pain of road rash maybe hiding other more serious injuries.
  9. If you do crash, especially with deep cut, be careful about getting a long haul flight. the risk of blood clot is high.
  10. After a few days, try leaving open at night and dress during the day. When it has scabbed over it can be left open.
  11. look out for infection. Signs ill include: increased pain, pus or spreading redness.

Self treating road rash

Often for minor cases, you can treat yourself. It’s easier than finding a nurse. When I fell off in Portugal, it was too extensive and I couldn’t do. When treating yourself, the important thing is not to skimp on the cleaning and applying anti-septic which can be a little painful..