A while ago I suffered a really bad cycling injury that put me out of cycling for several months. Just before that cycling injury I could cycle up to about 80 km a day and feel just fine. I was in training to do the Ride to Conquer Cancer, and I was confident that I would soon be able to do it quite easily.Did you know that you can use an electric bike for sports rehab? The goal of sports rehab is to help an injured athlete to get back to training or competition without putting them at undue risk of injury. An electric bike allows you to exercise without putting excessive strain on your joints and muscles, so that you can safely rebuild your strength and abilities.
Then disaster struck with my cycling injury, and my body was set back horribly. For a long time all I concentrated on was getting back normal daily functions, because even the most simple things – like watching TV, showering and walking – were difficult. It was depressing as hell. But I tried to focus on imagining myself back in the saddle, cycling mile after mile, strong and effortless, like the athlete I used to be.
(And yes, I know I have never LOOKED much like a super athlete, but I sure as hell have FELT like one, and exercised much like I imagine real live super athletes exercise.)
Finally, I was able to think about sports rehab. I decided to do my sports rehab on a bike. BUT with a difference: to start out, I used my electric bike (a Devinci Sydney retrofitted with an excellent BionX kit, which you can read about here). This meant I could go through the motions of cycling, but use as much (or more to the point, as little) energy as I wanted. Even using the motor at full power, each bike ride exhausted me, and I would lie on the couch afterwards, feeling like I’d been sat on by an elephant. Not fun, and I am sure I was no fun to be with, lying on the couch and whimpering weakly. Maggie (Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist) is a saint for putting up with me.
Nonetheless, on my electric bike I was very happy that I was at least going through the motions – my legs were pumping my pedals in a motion that exactly resembled being a real cyclist, even if I was benefiting from a whole lot of help. It was exhilarating! And of course, it was all part of a progressive sports rehab plan.
Of course, it’s a fact that you can get as little or as much exercise as you like on an electric bike. I wasn’t out there just to have fun – I had a very clear aim of using my electric bike for sports rehab. So as time went on, I turned the assist lower and lower. When it was at zero, I was pedaling a 50-pound bike, building my strength back up. Of course, on any bike you are constantly using your upper body to steer, and your core to balance the bike while in motion and also while stopped. All of this applies on an electric bike, but takes extra strength because of the extra weight. All in all, you get a lot of exercise on an electric bike, as has been scientifically proven (see my post on how many calories you can burn on an electric bike, and also my post on how my friend Ron uses his electric bike to keep getting exercise as a heart attack survivor).
My mood improved, because I was getting out there and getting some exercise, and I could feel that my plan for sports rehab on an electric bike was working. And of course, I was getting to experience the joy of riding a bike – something I always love, whether its on a regular bike or an electric bike.
I took Maggie’s advice and took it slow. Truth to tell, even I knew it was smart to take it slow.
I did not try to graduate to a regular bike until the rides on my electric bike were not completely wiping me out. Finally I got there, and I started interspersing my electric bike rides with regular bike rides. At this point, I really knew that my sports rehab plan was working.
On my very first ride on my regular bike, I was passed by a slightly older man on a slight uphill. He gave me a huge smile and confided, “I don’t usually PASS people.” I looked at him in his full construction gear, including steel-toed boots and high-vis vest, riding his rusty, creaking, heavy steel bike. I was riding my slick-looking racer, and was decked out in full, expensive cycling gear from head to toe. Regardless, he passed me with apparent ease. Because I am a nice guy, I resisted the urge to shout: “I’m doing sports rehab!” Instead, I forced a smile through my gritted teeth, said “Good for you!”, and let him enjoy his moment of triumph. (I’ll get him one day …)
In short, it was quite depressing at first. Before, I could do 80 km with before, and suddenly 10 km was tiring – and 20 km was killer. But I kept going, inching up my distances, trying to slowly improve without overdoing it.
After a few weeks, I am happy to say that I finally started to ENJOY the rides on my regular bike. I found myself standing up in the pedals, feeling exhilarated, feeling like an athlete again. It’s absolutely the best feeling you can have with your clothes on. I could feel the joy of cycling rising in my heart again.
The point is, sports rehab is a gradual process. Take it slow, listen to your body, but don’t give up, and trust that you’ll get there. Remember what bought you to sports such as cycling in the first place: the love of cycling. You still have that love, and you can and will enjoy it again.