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Higher Cadence and Hamstring Cramps

fatdazfatdaz Posts: 348
edited October 2014 in Road beginners
I've been cycling consistently (50 - 100 miles a week) for the last 4 years but have seriously upped the quality and quantity of my mileage in the last 12 months. I came to cycling as a newly retired prop forward which meant I was "blessed" with very powerful quads. I typically averaged a cadence of around 70 rpm and if my legs suffered at all it was always quads.

In the last 12 months I have increased the distance, pace and difficulty of my rides and I've been increasing cadence such that I now average 80-90 depending on how hilly the ride is. I ride far more on the drops now as well.

I am now finding on most hard rides that I get touches of cramp in my hamstrings. Is this just down to the change in riding style, could it be related to the change in body position as I've "migrated" to the drops or is it just a case that I need to build my legs up? Is there anything I can do about it as it can be bloody inconvenient half way up a hill


  • JayKostaJayKosta Posts: 635
    If you are also trying to "pull up" on the backstroke that could be part of the cause for cramping - it is a new muscle usage and they will complain and fatigue.

    I suggest you evaluate the height of the bars and the seat - they might need to be adjusted to blend with your current riding position(s). Adjust for comfort and endurance, and re-adjust when things change, or aren't working.

    Jay Kosta
    Endwell NY USA
  • fatdazfatdaz Posts: 348
    Thanks Jay - I do pull up far more than I used to, daft as it sounds I didn't think about that. Presumably if this is part of the problem it will ease the more I do it and my hamstrings get used to it.

    Regarding seat and bar height do you mean the drop between the 2 or more the actual height of the seat? I've always assumed the height of the seat is pretty much fixed based on the length of my legs or are you suggesting that a slightly altered ride position could mean that the saddle height might benefit from tweaking?
  • JayKostaJayKosta Posts: 635
    A change in actual seat height might(?) be beneficial if your new position has caused a rotation of your pelvis and the location of the hip joints relative to the pedals. Also, I think the orientation of the attachment point of the hamstrings on your backside would result in more tension on the hamstrings in a lower position.
    If you feel any new need to 'reach for the pedal' with your foot at the bottom of the stroke, then consider lowering the saddle slightly. Or, if there is any 'rocking' of your hips to reach the bottom of the pedal stroke.

    Or, just try some small change in saddle height and see in any are an improvement....

    Jay Kosta
    Endwell NY USA
  • frisbeefrisbee Posts: 691
    Do you do any stretching or flexibility exercises?
  • kingrollokingrollo Posts: 3,148
    I would do everything on earth to keep those hammies supple.

    I upped my mileage - by commutting to work - I was doing this for 3 years - the weight loss and performance increase were great - Id always had tight hamstrings - so wasn't concerned by the tightness...

    One day I was then hit by a crippling pain in the buttock - its taken me 3 years to get back on the bike - and even now I can only cycle around 25 miles. The tight hamstrings started to microtear - they also got my hips that tight - the the cartilage in my hips got damaged - not good.

    Be careful with hamstring stretches - some can actually make things worse - I have to do eccentric hamstring work.

    Any way - my general advice would be get this sorted, and maybe go easy util it stops happening - bike fit and a few pilates/yoga session and a foam roller would be high on your to do list I i were you.
  • fatdazfatdaz Posts: 348
    Thanks for the advice.

    I'm guilty of never stretching - I played rugby for over 30 years, a few of them at a reasonable level, and I never stretched properly so I just kind of carried on. Mid 40s now and needing to start looks after myself so I will definitely take an interest. My gym do both yoga and Pilates so there's no excuse not to have a look.
  • kingrollokingrollo Posts: 3,148
    fatdaz wrote:
    Thanks for the advice.

    I'm guilty of never stretching - I played rugby for over 30 years, a few of them at a reasonable level, and I never stretched properly so I just kind of carried on. Mid 40s now and needing to start looks after myself so I will definitely take an interest. My gym do both yoga and Pilates so there's no excuse not to have a look.

    Yep just like myself - I to got away with it until my mid 40's.

    What can actually be happening is that you start to get micro tears in your hamstrings, normally these heal faster than the re appear - but after day in / day out cycling - I think I tipped the balance so the tearing was happening more than the repairing - hopefully yours is just a little cramp - but treat it as a warning shot.
  • laurentianlaurentian Posts: 1,773
    Fellow 40+ front rower here! Stretches + Foam Roller = Happy Hammys!
    Wilier Izoard XP
  • PhilbyPhilby Posts: 328
    Are you hydrating yourself properly, particularly with the loss of salts through sweating. Perhaps put some salt in your water bottle drink or use electrolyte tablets such as Nuun.

    Also +1 for the stretching.
  • Monty DogMonty Dog Posts: 20,614
    Stretching will help, but research has shown that pulling on the upstroke doesn't really help with power - best to simply rely on the quads pushing down as it is a more natural muscle movement. Pulling too hard can inflame the tendon at the top of your hamstring also.
    Make mine an Italian, with Campagnolo on the side..
  • QuinsQuins Posts: 239
    Fatdaz, this happened to me yesterday. I put it down to a number of schoolboy errors , I was just not focused and got a lot of prep wrong before going on a club ride.Low carbs in the last week, nothing dramatic it wasn't "no carbs". No midweek training for a couple if weeks.Pre ride I only had a coffee and no added squash in my bidon, so to contribute to my weight loss thought I would ride in the fasted state ( will only do this again if I've had plenty of carbs the night before). I also lowered my saddle by 1/2 inch because I thought that's what I needed after riding my winter bike and feeling v comfortable.

    I ride at a high cadence same as you, 90 plus. The ride started with circuits and bumps, up and down hills, within half an hour I was sweating buckets and legs, glutes were screaming. By the time we got to coffee stop, more descending than up, I had forgotten about my saddle height as I was too fixed on Americano and scrambled eggs on toast ( too late) and refilled bidon with water ( idiot).
    Back into hills on home leg and left ham started to cramp, had this before and thought I could get through it. Then right ham started. Agony, never had both cramp. I had to stop before I fell off. I raised saddle back up. The last 20 miles were the hardest I've done ( so far), on the cusp of spasms, but raising saddle back to original height felt so much better.

    Saddle height, proper hydration and pre fuelling for the intensity and conditions. It was unseasonably warm yesterday. Plus just not being fit enough, it was a hard effort, I haven't put the training in. I'm sure all of these contributed to my downfall.
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