Cyclists, are you stretching your limits on the road but forgetting to actually, well, stretch?
Fine-tuning your muscles before and after rides can be the missing gear in your fitness routine… helping to boost performance and recovery.
In this exercise guide on the best stretches for cyclists, we outline 14 ways you can improve joint range of motion and muscle flexibility, whatever your current fitness level or age.
- Stretching helps improve cycling performance, reduce the risk of injury and helps with muscle recovery.
- Try the following stretches for cyclists: Clamshells, Couch Stretch, Samson Stretch, 90 90 Hip Stretch, Quad Stretch, Cossack Squat, Cat Cow Pose, Pigeon Pose, Calf Stretch, Downward Dog, Cobra Pose, Book Opener, World’s Greatest Stretch, and Inchworms.
- Either include dedicated stretching routines in your weekly fitness plan, or do some of these stretches after each cycle ride.
Importance of Stretching for Cyclists
Every time you mount your bike, you’re not just putting miles on the tires, but also putting strain on specific muscle groups.
Those epic journeys or quick rides around town consistently engage the same muscles, and without proper care, can lead to tightness, muscular imbalances, increased susceptibility to injuries, and reduced performance.
Stretching for cyclists provides a whole host of benefits, including:
- Improved Flexibility – Stretching increases flexibility, which is essential for optimal cycling performance. A flexible cyclist can achieve a more efficient pedal stroke, reducing the energy required for each revolution.
- Reduction of Muscle Stiffness – Hours spent in the saddle can cause muscle tightness and soreness (also known as DOMS). Stretching post-ride can alleviate this stiffness, helping with faster recovery and ensuring you’re ready for the next ride.
- Injury Prevention – Overuse injuries are common among cyclists, especially if there’s a muscular imbalance or stiff muscles that aren’t moving freely. Regular stretching can address these sorts of issues, significantly reducing the risk of injuries.
- Improved Posture – A cyclist’s posture is unique, with a forward lean and constant engagement of the core. Stretching helps counteract the strains of this position, promoting a healthy spine and reducing back issues.
- Enhanced Blood Circulation – Stretching increases blood flow to the muscles, providing them with essential nutrients and oxygen. This not only aids in muscle recovery but also prepares them for the next exertion.
- Mental Benefits – Let’s not forget the mind! Stretching provides a moment of relaxation, a time to focus, and can be a meditative practice to calm the mind after the adrenaline of the ride.
So, while your bike might need some air in its tires and a well-oiled chain to function efficiently, your body requires this kind of maintenance too.
14 Effective Stretches for Cyclists
Got dreams of conquering those challenging inclines? Clamshells could be your secret weapon.
As a staple in many rehabilitation programs, this stretch specifically targets the gluteus medius and minimus.
Here’s how to do it… Lie down on your side, with your legs bent at a 90-degree angle. Your feet should remain together, but you’ll be raising and lowering your top knee without moving your pelvis.
This subtle yet effective stretch not only strengthens but also stabilizes the hips. In cycling, this ensures powerful and efficient pedal strokes, giving you the extra push when scaling those hills.
If you’ve ever felt a nagging tightness in your front hip after a cycling session, it’s your body hinting at the need for the couch stretch.
To do the couch stretch, find a wall or bench, and prop the shin/foot of one leg against it while placing the other foot forward, in a lunge position. As you push your hips forward, you’ll experience a deep stretch in the hip flexors of the rear leg.
The couch stretch pushes the hips forward, counteracting hours spent in the saddle.
Sticking with the hip flexors, the Samson stretch is one of our favorite ways to prime the body for a tough workout.
Begin in a lunge position with your hands raised overhead, fingers interlocked. As you deepen into the lunge, drive the hips forward so you really feel the stretch at the front of the hips.
Incorporating the Samson stretch into your routine can prepare these primary cycling muscles for the rigorous demands of endurance and repeated motion, ensuring they remain supple and responsive.
90 90 Hip Stretch
For all those who feel the burn in their hips after a particularly intense cycling spree, the 90 90 hip stretch is a godsend.
Seat yourself on the ground, with one leg bent in front at 90 degrees and the other to the side, also at 90 degrees. This works on both internal and external hip rotation.
If you gently lean forward, you can also initiate a deeper stretch within the hips (but remember to keep your back straight).
The 90 90 hip stretch can alleviate hip tightness and poor hip range of motion, ensuring you maintain a comfortable and efficient seated position during even the most prolonged rides.
Your quads get very little time to rest when cycling… so give them the TLC they deserve with the simple standing quad stretch.
Stand upright, hold onto a support if necessary, bend one knee, and grasp the ankle, drawing it towards your glutes. You’ll feel a gentle pull along the front of the thigh.
Incorporating this stretch into your post-ride routine can keep those quads flexible, ensuring they fire effectively, particularly during uphill cycles where they’re under the most strain.
Improving inner thigh flexibility can significantly impact your cycling form.
The Cossack squat is perfect for this. Start with a wide stance, then squat deep to one side, keeping the other leg extended straight with toes pointing upward.
By enhancing flexibility in the adductors (inner thighs), this stretch ensures a more complete and robust range of motion when pedalling, making your rides smoother.
Cat Cow Pose
Think of the hours spent on your bike, leaning forward, with your spine taking the brunt of this position.
The cat-cow pose is like a soothing massage for the spine. Begin on all fours, hands under shoulders, and knees under hips. As you inhale, arch your back (cow), and as you exhale, round it (cat).
Cycling often demands a strong core and back, and this dynamic movement relieves spinal tension, realigns posture, and helps maintain a strong, pain-free back even after many miles on the road.
Pigeon pose is a great way to stretch out the glutes.
Place one leg in front of you, bent at a right angle, and extend the other straight behind. Slowly lean forward over your bent knee by hinging at the hips.
This stretch effectively eases tightness in those areas, ensuring they’re primed and ready for the next ride. Think of it as a reset button for your lower body after a gruelling cycling session.
Need Something Gentler on the Knees?
Over time, the repetitive cycling motion can lead to calf tightness.
For an easy fix, face a wall with your hands placed against it. Extend one leg straight back, heel grounded, and bend the other leg in front. Gently push into the wall until you feel a stretch in the calf of the extended leg.
You could also use a decline slant board to aid this sort of stretch too.
This movement helps in releasing tension and maintains calf elasticity… which, along with good nutrition, can be vital for preventing muscle cramps during intense cycling sprints.
We’ve all heard of it… but how many of us actually do it?
Starting from a plank position, push your hips up and back, aiming to form an A frame shape with your body. As your heels press towards the ground, you’ll experience a comprehensive stretch… from your toes, up the back of the legs, spine, and even down the arms.
It’s the perfect counterpose to the hunched-over cycling posture, bringing relief to the entire backside of your body and ensuring holistic flexibility.
Hours spent cycling can put your body in a forward-leaning position. To counteract this, the cobra pose comes to the rescue.
Lying face-down, place your hands beneath your shoulders. Push up, extending your arms and arching your back. Feel the stretch across your abdomen and chest.
This can be a really effective stretch for anyone with a sore lower back after a cycle.
The name might remind you of a relaxing evening, but this stretch is a great option for cyclists. While spine mobility might not be the first thing that comes to mind with cycling, it’s paramount for long rides.
To do the book opener stretch, lie on your side with arms outstretched. Keeping your legs static, rotate your top arm to the opposite side, letting your eyes follow the movement.
It offers a really effective way to stretch and rotate the thoracic spine (upper back), aiding in maintaining an upright and pain-free posture on the bike.
If you enjoy cycling and spend a lot of hours sat at a desk, this stretch is certainly worth taking note of.
World’s Greatest Stretch
The aptly named “world’s greatest stretch” is another fantastic stretch worth trying.
To do it, start from a push-up position, and step one foot outside the corresponding hand. Rotate the inside arm skyward while looking up.
It’s an all-in-one, targeting hip flexors, hamstrings, shoulders and thoracic spine.
Inchworms are a great way to warm-up or cool down before any sort of physical activity.
To do them, stand tall, then bend forward at the hips, keeping your legs straight. Begin to “walk” your hands forward until you’re almost in a plank position, then walk them back towards your feet.
This dynamic movement offers a deep hamstring stretch, vital for cyclists as these muscles can tighten from the repetitive pedal strokes.
Elephant walks exercise is another great way to loosen up the hamstrings and posterior chain.
How often should I incorporate these stretches into my routine?
It’s optimal to stretch after every cycling session to alleviate any immediate muscle tightness. For preventative measures and overall flexibility, setting aside two to three days a week for a more focused stretching regimen can make a world of difference.
Consistency is key when it comes to stretching; it’s better to stretch a little every day than to cram a long session once a week.
Can these stretches help in preventing common cycling injuries?
Many cycling injuries, like IT band syndrome or hamstring strains, can arise from muscle imbalances or tightness. Regular stretching can address these imbalances, promoting muscle flexibility and decreasing the chances of injury.
I’m super inflexible. Will I still benefit from these stretches?
Absolutely, every ‘body’ has to start somewhere! In fact, if you’re on the less flexible side, you might notice more significant improvements in the beginning.
The key is to listen to your body and never force a stretch to the point of pain. With time and patience, flexibility increases, making the movements easier and more beneficial.
Hitting the pedals is exhilarating, but ensuring our muscles are limber and injury-free amplifies the joy of cycling.
By integrating these tailored stretches into your routine, not only will you be greasing the wheels for smoother rides but also setting the pace for long-term cycling health.