Shin splints are super common among runners. I know I had them when I ran varsity cross country in high school. Shin splints suck because not only are they painful, but there’s often no immediate fix. This usually means time off. However, biking with shin splints can be a great alternative.
So can you bike with shin splints? Will cycling make the shin splints worse?
Yes, you can bike without shin splints. Cycling is considered a low impact activity. Shin splints are normally caused by heel striking which is removed when cycling. Performing calf raises and toe taps will help prevent shin splints in the future.
Cycling With Shin Splints
I was much more of a runner before I ever got into cycling. I’ve even completed a few ultras in my day, so you can say I was a bit experienced. I know what it’s like to get injured and not be able to run and train.
Thankfully, cycling is a good alternative if your shins need some rest. It’s not a perfect alternative since running uses more muscles, but cycling is a really fun hobby that can get you fit.
The good news is you can go biking with shin splints. Shin splints are usually caused by high-impact actives likes running and jumping. Cycling is a lot less impact so you shouldn’t have any issues.
Can Biking Cause Shin Splints?
You can still technically get shin splints from cycling, but it’s pretty rare. This is usually caused by pedaling hard and/or having poor form. Sometimes people will drop their heel a lot on the downstroke or pull too hard on the upstroke, causing shin splints.
The folks at Steve Hogg Bike Fitting have a great explanation of different types of pedal strokes. For nearly everyone though, shin splints when cycling isn’t something to worry about.
Here’s what some medical experts had to say:
Riding a bike would not usually aggravate symptoms from shin splints, since cycling is a non-impact activityBrian Bower, M.D. of the Ohio State University College of Medicine.
While rare, it is possible to get shin splints from cycling. Some people even get them when they transition from MTB to road cycling.
If you do have shin pain when cycling, here’s a few tips:
- Make sure you have proper form. You may need to adjust your seat tilt or height to get proper foot placement on your pedals.
- Try not pulling up on the pedals. If you are using toe straps, try not using them to see if it helps.
- Try higher gears. If you are mashing lower gears, it could aggravate your shins.
And what you think are shin splints from cycling might not be from cycling at all. A funny story I once heard was someone walking around too much in their MTB shoes which was the cause, rather than the biking itself. Think about what other activies you’ve done that may have also been a factor.
Tips for Avoiding Shin Splints
The best way I believe to fix shin splints is not to get them in the first place. It may be already too late for this, but I’ll show you some exercises I do that help.
Toe taps and calf raises are what I do every day when I’m training. This is a super simple exercise I actually do in the shower.
Usually I do 30-50 toe taps in a row on each foot. You’ll start to feel fatigue in your shin, which is good. This means you’re working the muscle and building up endurance. I personally do them all at once on each foot, but doing 10-15 at a time can work too.
For calf raises, I stand up straight, arms at my side, then push up with your toes so that your heels are off the ground. I usually extended all the way up then back down again. I usually do 20-30 at a time. You’ll definitely start to feel the burn. Again, do what is best for your ability and condition.