Article used from Bicycling newsletter and used, unedited, without permission.
It’s safe to say we’re all pretty good at riding our bikes. Off the bike? We’re often guilty of not doing everything we need to keep our bodies happy and healthy. But given the amount of time we spend a.) in the same position and b.) performing the same motion over and over again, if we’re going to do anything to make our bodies feel better (on and off the bike, BTW), it would be stretching.
“The repetitive linear movements of a cyclist can create an imbalance of musculature, which can lead to excessive tension through the joints,” explains Bianca Beldini, a USA Triathlon-certified coach, certified Schwinn Cycling instructor, and doctor of physical therapy. All that extra tension can translate to weakness, discomfort, and pain. “Stretching yields flexibility, which translates into freedom of movement and pliability of tissue and a healthy muscular and skeletal system overall,” says Beldini. “It’s a must if you want to have longevity without injury.”
Start working these six stretches into your routine several times a week. “Doing this circuit directly after riding can help to decrease tightness, improve flexibility, and support all of the major areas stressed by cycling,” says Beldini. “Stretching and mobilising directly after riding is most important time to rebalance the body’s muscular system and to ‘undo’ any repetitive strain put on the joints used during cycling.”
How to use this list: These stretches, curated specifically for cyclists and demonstrated by Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., cycling instructor and founder of Le Sweat, work your body from the neck down, all the way through the calves and ankles, so it’s an easy progression to follow. Hold each one for about 45 seconds to stretch your muscles back to the correct length and ease tension after riding.
Thoracic Mobility Stretch
How to do it: Kneel down on both knees in front of a stable surface, such as a chair or bench. Place hands in a prayer position and raise both arms until elbows are parallel to ears. Bend at the waist to place elbows on the surface while keeping them bent at a 90-degree angle. Keeping the neck in a neutral position, drop the chest towards the floor to create an extension in the mid-back and stretch the lats.
Why it’s important: Hunching over handlebars, whether you’re on the hoods or in the drops, can cause tightness in your mid-back (thoracic spine). “Holding the trunk upright requires the lats to engage, but this position also restricts the diaphragm, which could impede full-breath inhalation,” says Beldini. “Mobilising the mid-back can improve flexibility of the trunk, stretch the lats, improve shoulder range of motion, and make space for the diaphragm to expand leading to improved ventilation.”
Neck/Upper Trap Stretch
How to do it: Sit on a chair or bench, so that you can maintain a 90-degree bend in the hips and the knees. Pull the shoulders slightly back to sit up tall and anchor left hand under the chair or hook it under the thigh. Lean your trunk away from the left hand to create a stretch in the top of the arm. Tilt head away from the left arm to feel the stretch along your neck. To deepen the stretch, gently place the right hand on the side of the head above your ear to bend the head a little bit further to the side. Repeat on the other side.
Why it’s important: “Many cyclists complain of numbness in the fingers, which could be the result of leaning too aggressively on the pads of the hands while gripping the handlebars – but it could also be coming from entrapment of the nerves in the neck,” says Beldini. “This loosens up the tightness and neck pain that can come from the forward head and shrugging posture of cycling.”
Updog (Lumbar Mobilisation Stretch)
How to do it: Lie face down on the floor. Bend your elbows to place your palms flat on the floor beside your ribs. Press firmly into palms and straighten arms, lifting torso, hips, and the tops of thighs up off the ground. Hold for a few breaths before lowering back down.
Why it’s important: You know that hunched back position you spend hours in on the bike? “Not only does this position put strain on the low back, it also can inhibit activation of the large gluteal muscles, causing some weakness in the push phase of the cycling downstroke,” says Beldini. “The ‘upward dog’ yoga position counters the forward-bent cycling position, working to release the low back and stretch the ‘front body’, i.e. the abdominals, tops of the thighs, and hip flexors.”
Hip Flexor/Quad Stretch
How to do it: Place a mat or cushion on the ground about a foot in front of a bench, low chair, or box. Place the left knee onto the support cushion and step the right foot forward so leg forms a 90-degree knee angle. The left leg should bend so the foot balances on a chair or bench. To enhance the stretch, slowly push the front of the hips forward slightly. Repeat on the opposite side.
Why it’s important: Cycling is a power sport, and a lot of that power comes from your legs. To fully tap into that power, you need to have mobility in your hip flexors. “This is a two-for-one stretch that every cyclist should use, particularly those with aggressive bike positions (like aero bars or with time trial bikes),” says Beldini.
How to do it: Find a stable, elevated surface like a step or box. Place the left leg turned out onto the table so shin is parallel to edge of step, and slide right leg straight back behind you. Keeping your right leg straight and your back aligned, gently lean your trunk over the leg on the table. Keeping the trunk straight is the key – if your spine rounds, you won’t isolate the piriformis. Use your fingertips for support as needed.
Why it’s important: “The piriformis muscle is a deep external rotator muscle of the hip; when it’s overused, it can become tight and can cause similar symptoms to sciatica,” says Beldini. “You want to mobilise this deep gluteal muscle and take some pressure off the sciatic nerve.”
How to do it: Stand with one foot slightly in front of the other; the front leg should be bent while the back leg is straight. (You can also do this facing a wall and use the wall for support). You should feel a stretch at the middle to top of the calf. Then, slide the back foot about six inches forward and slowly push your hips back as if you were sitting back on an imaginary high chair. You should feel a stretch lower on the calf towards the Achilles. Repeat on the opposite side.
Why it’s important: “Many cyclists have a tendency to keep their foot in a Barbie point position (toe down/heel up position) when they push down on the pedals,” says Beldini. “This not only transfers an imbalanced load onto the pedal and crank, but it also contributes to a tight calf and posterior chain, which could lead to plantar fasciitis, tight calves, and Achilles strain.”
Images: Julia Hembree Smith