Most cyclists are tight— and not just with their money. Muscle tightness really is undesirable for anyone, especially athletes, and especially for cyclists who want to get aero. The risk of injury is also greater and the associated discomfort can lead to more serious issues down the line. Here are the reasons why every cyclist should incorporate stretching into their training routine and the top 5 stretches every cyclist can benefit from.
WHY ARE CYCLISTS SO TIGHT?
In most sports, force is generated both when the muscle shortens and lengthens. In cycling however, the tightness comes because we produce force only when the muscle shortens. Furthermore, when it comes to our joints, we never use the complete range of motion in our hips, knees or ankles. And in our efforts to stay aero on the bike, we tend to lean forward and further tighten our hip flexors. The perfect storm.
OVERCOMING MUSCLE TIGHTNESS
The good news is that, while tightness is extremely undesirable, you can make significant progress very quickly. Don’t believe it? Try this. Bend down and try to touch your toes with one flowing movement. Notice how far you get. Stand up again and bend your legs slightly as if you were doing a deadlift. Pick up the imaginary bar, and move into a full squat before standing up. Try and touch your toes again. Bet you went a lot further the second time around!
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF STRETCHING FOR CYCLISTS?
Considerable time spent in an unnatural position leads to the body’s natural posture becoming compromised. By stretching regularly, we help restore a state of balance. Stretching won’t improve your cycling performance directly. But by incorporating stretching into a routine, cyclists allow themselves to work through the full range of motion in their joints. With greater range of motion, more of a given muscle can be stimulated.
As tight muscles slowly regain flexibility, the tension within the muscles also reduces. The tension experienced in a muscle has a direct effect on the level of perceived exertion—an important limiter in cycling performance.
THE TOP 5 STRETCHES FOR CYCLISTS
The problematic areas for cyclists are the spine, the pelvic region and the shoulders. Thankfully they can be relieved by incorporating some targeted stretching into your routine.
NECK FLEXION STRETCH
Many cyclists compensate for hip and back stiffness by overextending their necks while riding. The result is constant tension on the back of the neck that can be neutralised with neck flexion stretches.
With the shoulders held firmly in their natural position, place your hand on your head and pull it forward. You should feel a firm stretch right at the base of the neck, not the upper back. Proceed to repeat this stretch on both the left and right sides. Ensure your shoulders stay firmly in place to ensure you’re stretching the right area.
MOBILITY IN THE LUMBAR REGION
The lower back is one area where almost every cyclist has had trouble at one time or another. To help open the vertebrae that are in a constantly flexed position, we cyclists need to extend our lower back and arch our mid-section.
Similar to the cobra yoga pose, lie chest down and place your forearms out in front. Raise your chest and use your elbows as a prop, and try to relax the lower back as much as possible. You can experiment with the position of your hands and arms. We all hold the tension in different areas so there’s no hard and fast rule. The further out the hands are, then the less of a stretch you’ll experience.
UPPER BACK EXTENSIONS
You don’t need to be a cyclist to suffer from issues in the thoracic region of the spine. It covers the area just below the cervical to the lumbar. Anyone working on a computer or driving for long periods will accumulate tension here.
To relieve tension in the upper back, lie down with a foam roller perpendicular between you and the ground. Experiment with the position of the roller and try and engage the spine by tilting your head back. For a more thorough stretch, try placing your hands overhead and holding something firm. Done correctly, you should feel a real opening in the chest area.
UNDO INTERNAL ROTATION OF THE SHOULDERS
As cyclists, we often grip the handlebars tightly and pull ourselves into an internally rotated position. As a result, our chest muscles become tight as well as those at the back of the neck. To counteract this, we can place ourselves in a static pose similar to the bridge yoga pose.
By lying flat on your back, bring your knees up with feet flat on the floor. Then slowly lift your midsection and lower back off the ground while keeping your shoulders firmly planted on the ground. Feel it out as you hold the pose, having your arms by your side or interlaced directly beneath you may lead to a more effective stretch.
HIP FLEXORS AND QUADS
Hip flexors and quads have given cyclists trouble ever since the invention of the bicycle. Traditionally tight in most competitive cyclists, they require regular stretching.
One effective stretch is to place one knee on the ground in line with the hip, while raising the foot of the same leg up 90° supported against a wall directly behind you. The other leg should be placed out in front with a 90° bend in the knee, foot flat on the floor. Straighten your back and attempt to align your head with the knee of the leg being stretched.
FEEL THE BENEFITS ON THE SMART TRAINER
The smart trainer is the ideal place to work on feeling the imbalances and tightness within the body. You can focus without distractions and begin to go inward while noting the sensations and honing your position. After incorporating some stretching into your routine, try revisiting the bodily sensations on the smart trainer. Try and notice where you feel the tension as well as how your position on the bike may be accentuating any tension.