10 Tips to Reduce Numbness in Hands and Feet While Cycling Indoors

You bought the best spin bike or the trainer; you downloaded the latest indoor cycling app and you’ve started your figurative journey into the world of indoor cycling. Your first 30-minute ride seems easy enough and you feel committed to this lower impact exercise. And so, the next day you increase your time on the bike to 45 minutes. Things feel great until just past the 40-minute mark when your hands and your feet begin their protest: tingling in your fingers and toes. It starts as an annoyance, and you shake your hands out and wiggle your toes, but the pins and needles won’t stop until ten minutes after your workout is over and you’re off the bike.

Unfortunately, this is one of the most common complaints in cycling, both indoors and outdoors and while it can be tempting to push through the pain, the adage of “no pain, no gain” cannot be applied when it comes to nerve pressure. But before you consider buying more indoor cycling gear, or worse, giving up indoor cycling altogether there are ways you can reduce and possibly eliminate this discomfort. The following is a list of ten simple and cost-effective solutions to indoor cycling hand and foot numbness:

1. Use a front wheel lift or block.

If you’re leaning too far forward onto your hands, you compress the ulnar and median nerve in the hands, wrist and arms resulting in the annoying tingling that only seems to worsen into your workout. Placing a book or block under the front wheel will raise up the front of the bike and help to reduce the weight being pushed onto the hands.

2. Constantly change your position on the handlebars.

Move your position on the handlebars every minute or two. If you’re using a road bike with a curled handlebar then move your hands onto the top of brake and shifters and then to the top of the bar closer to the stem and then into the drops or curled part of the handlebar. If you’re using a flat bar or straight handlebar then move your hands towards the stem and then back out toward the grips.

3. Wear cycling gloves.

Just because you’re indoors it doesn’t mean that you can’t wear the same gloves you would wear outdoors. The extra material and sometimes gel or foam padding of the cycling gloves lift the hands away from the handlebar which relieves the pressure on the nerves.

4. Check your saddle tilt.

Ensure that your indoor bike saddle is level. You can do this by putting a hardcover book on top of your saddle and then putting a level on the book, (there are many free levelling applications available to download on your smartphone). Your saddle should be positioned at zero and should be adjusted no more than a degree down or up. If the nose of your saddle is tilted down, your weight shifts forward adding pressure onto the hands and even adding further strain on the quadricep muscles. In contrast if you tilt the saddle nose too far upwards, this can cause you to slide backwards on the saddle pushing you further away from the handlebars and causing you to overreach and hyperextend your arms to reach the handlebars.

5. Place a folded towel on top of your handlebars.

Before you buy additional bar-tape or replace any components on the front of the bike, first try a folded towel. Fold a hand towel lengthwise and lay it on top of your handlebar. This will help to lift your handlebar position higher and add a layer of padding between your hands and your handlebars. If you need the bars higher still, fold the towel again or even add an additional towel.

6. Loosen your shoes.

The tightness of your cycling shoes is the first thing to check because it’s often the cause of numbness in beginner and intermediate cyclists. If you’ve ever watched a professional road bike race on tv you will notice the athletes reaching down and tightening their shoes before the sprint finish. What you don’t see is that unless those racers are out of their saddle and pushing hard and fast on the pedals, their shoes are left in a relaxed fit. The repetitive motion of pushing forward and down cause feet to swell so it’s important to leave room for the foot to expand and swell during a workout.

7. Check the fit of your shoes.

Whether you use a runner or cycling-specific shoe it’s important that you’re wearing the correct size. During the pedal stroke the foot drives forward and down therefore it’s important that you have enough room at the front of your shoe to prevent your toes from being crushed. Put your shoe on and tie or buckle it up as you would if you were going for a long training ride (tightened enough that the shoe holds the foot but not tight enough that the shoe fits tight). Then tap the end of your toe to the ground and if your toes hit the end of the shoe then it would best to size up or try a different shoe altogether.

8. Change your socks.

Cycling shoes and running shoes are designed to be worn with a technical cycling sock which are much thinner than your typical cotton or wool sock. When trying on cycling shoes, it is best practice to wear the socks you plan to ride in. The most comfortable socks are technical socks because they are moisture wicking and form-fitting which reduces the chance of blisters and broken skin on the feet.

9. Orthotics.

If you wear orthotics in your regular shoes check with your podiatrist or physiotherapist to ensure that your orthotics can be worn in your cycling shoes. If your orthotics are helping to stabilize your foot when walking, then it’s likely that you’ll need the same support when your pushing force onto the pedals.

10. Check your cleat position.

The ideal position of the cleat and pedal connection is having the axle of the pedal run in between the ball of the foot situated behind the big toe and the similar ball behind the smallest toe. This can help to reduce pressure on the nerves that run along and in between the toes. Most will experience relief from moving the cleat towards the heal rather than towards the toe.

Ryan Petersen is an NCCP Cycling Coach and IBFI and Retul Level 2 Bike Fitter and is a 15-year veteran in bicycle retail and distribution. She has coached beginner and intermediate athletes in road cycling, mountain biking and indoor cycling. She has competed in road cycling, triathlon, cyclocross, ultra endurance cycling, downhill and cross-country but her heart belongs to bike packing and cycle touring. She is shade-grown on the west coast of beautiful British Columbia, Canada.

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