Stretching A Day Keeps the Aches Away
Stretching probably get the attention it needs among cyclists. Here are a number of post ride stretches you should consider in your post ride habits.
For: Hip flexors and Psoas
Due to the forward-leaning position on the bike, cyclists are prone to tight hip flexors because the muscles are almost always in a shortened position while you’re riding. Some of the lower back pain cyclists experience off the bike is caused by tight hip flexors, particularly the deep-seated psoas, pulling forward and down on the lumbar vertebrae. Consistently stretching these muscles at the end of a ride is a good way to counteract some of the chronic shortening of the hip flexors.
The kneeling lunge is a good psoas and hip flexor stretch because your weight is supported and you can easily control the depth of the stretch. Kneel down on one knee, with your forward knee at 90 degrees and your back straight so there’s a straight line from the knee on the ground up through your hip and shoulder. Tuck your pelvis under you (neutral or posterior pelvic tilt) and gently push your hips forward as you lean into your forward knee. Keep your back straight, without leaning forward or arching your back. Hold for 20 seconds. You can add a quadriceps stretch to this position by lifting your back foot off the ground toward your buttocks.
Supine Piriformis Stretch
Cycling can be a pain in the butt, and that is often due to tightness in the medial glutes and piriformis. Both are important for external rotation of the hip, and in cycling their purpose is to help keep your thigh moving straight up and down. When the piriformis is tight or inflamed, it can irritate the sciatic nerve, leading to pain, tingling, or numbness that can affect the buttocks, leg, and foot.
There are a number of ways to stretch the piriformis and medial glutes. We recommend the supine piriformis stretch (lying on your back) particularly because your back is supported on the ground and it’s easier for people to maintain a neutral spine. We like the Pigeon Pose or Pigeon Stretch, but find many athletes arch their backs and hyperextend their spines trying to get a deeper piriformis stretch.
To do the supine piriformis stretch, lay on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Raise your right leg and rest the outside of your ankle on your left thigh. For some athletes this alone will be a good stretch to the outside of the right buttocks and right piriformis. Reach your hands around your left thigh and, keeping your back pressed to the floor, bring your left leg toward your chest, resulting in a greater stretch through the right buttocks. Repeat with other leg.
Doorway Hamstring Stretch
To stretch the hamstrings, a stretch that doesn’t require a lot of forward flexion of the spine is recommended (like standing and touching your toes or even a seated hurdler stretch). For the Doorway Hamstring Stretch, you lay on your back with one leg straight up on the wall/door jamb and the other straight on the floor through the doorway. Move your hips toward the doorway to increase the stretch, aiming to get your bottom all the way to the wall (eventually).
Bent Arm Doorway Stretch
While lower body range of motion is my primary concern for cyclists, some upper body stretches are useful as well. The forward cycling position often leads cyclists to have tight chest and anterior shoulder muscles and hence roll their shoulders forward. This is a lot of the reason it is recommended exercises for strengthening upper back, to help balance out this posture. A good post-ride stretch is simply to stand in a doorway with your right arm out to the side, hand up against the wall. Gently push your body forward through the doorway, keeping your back straight. Don’t lean forward at the waist to initiate the stretch, move forward instead. Repeat with your left arm.
Kitchen Sink Stretch
For: latissimus dorsi, back, decompression
The last stretch recommended is one you can do while you’re waiting for your post-ride meal to heat up or the blender to do its job. Stand in front of the kitchen sink or a counter you can hold onto, with your feet 2-3 feet from the edge. Hold on to the sink, lower your hips into a squat so your back and arms form a straight line and your arms are by your ears. Lengthen your body by moving your hips back away from the sink and feel the stretch through the length of your back. Hold for 10 seconds, rest and repeat.