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I'm wondering if riding hard strengthens the knee or causes degradation?

I exercise regularly and am in solid physical condition. When strength training off of the bike, I do a lot of leg work including heavy squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc. I've been doing this seriously for 5 years or so alongside riding, mostly road, and it's done nothing but help when I get in the saddle.

So, when I get on the bike and ride hard, which is usually 4-5 days a week in season, I have leg soreness (obviously). However, I get sore in the knee - not pain per se - just soreness. The soreness is mostly felt in the structures that hold the knee together, i.e. ACL, MCL, LCL.

When I strength train I don't get sore like this - the soreness is all in the muscles, i.e. quads, glutes, hamstrings, as opposed to the ligaments. In fact, I've never done anything besides cycling which induces this type of soreness. That said, is this good in the long run? Am I strengthening my knees or slowly working toward future knee problems?

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    It depends on what you're doing and what problems your knees may have. You can wreck your knees with the seat too low or running in too difficult a gear. You can also aggravate various conditions -- congenital or due to prior injury -- by overdoing it with the biking. Since you're having the pain you'd be well advised to consult a knee doc. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 4 '15 at 1:45
  • I've been doing trials cycling (jumping on/off stuff, stamping hard on pedals etc.) for ~2 years now. Doing the moves wrong when I was learning clearly damaged my knees and legs in general, and I ended up getting a lot of knee pain. Now I've changed to go for smoother cycling - touring, road and calm trail, and my knees are getting better. I'm pretty sure I won't fully recover though. I'd say you can damage your knees if you go too hard, but otherwise you'll make them better. But yeah, go see a doc! – Antoine Jun 15 '15 at 15:20
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If you are doing exercises that cause pain in your knee, it generally could mean one of two things, your mechanics are bad and putting strain on your joint, or your joint hasn't seen such hard use and the tendons, ligaments and joint capsule aren't adapted to such use. Since it sounds like you strength train regularly, I'd guess you have a mechanics issue.

You may want to look at your saddle height as well as the setup and type of pedal you are using. While many more experienced riders prefer a large amount of float in their pedals (the play before a pedal will unclip) I found that less float keeps my knees in a better position and reduces the problems I have with mine. Between that and a different cleat adjustment a few years back, I have greatly reduced the strain my knees feel while riding long distances.

While I wouldn't necessarily recommend my same setup to you (or anyone), I would point you at your mechanics/bike fit first. It may be very easy to make some simple adjustments and provide your knees with a better position (for them).

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The key point in your question is I get on the bike and ride hard.

There's nothing wrong with riding hard, but it sounds like you're riding too hard for your knees to be happy.

Since you like doing weights, I suspect that you like to push the pedals hard, and this is causing the problem.

Bike fit issues can cause knee soreness, but they also tend to have other symptoms also, such as back soreness or neck pain.

The solution is to train yourself to ride with higher cadence, ie to spin the pedals faster. Aim to get into the 90-100 rpm range, or even higher.

There are many questions here tagged cadence, the most useful for you may be What is the optimal cadence? and will increasing cadence ability hurt my climbing strength?.

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I'd guess you're doing the majority of the damage to your knees with the squats and that the riding the bike heavily just exacerbates it. Maybe you also just don't really have any other occasion to use your knee ligaments in a way to feel the damage you're doing. I'm a pedal masher too but heavy squats are a real killer.

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