5 post-ride stretches to stay flexible
by Physiotherapist Amanpreet Singh

We all know cyclists for their supreme endurance and big legs. However, something we do not often think about is their lack of flexibility. This is not surprising if you think about what riding a bike entails. Think about being in that bent over position for hours, surely that’s going to cause some stiffness. Without complicating the biomechanics of cycling, it is essentially a repetitive action performed through a limited range of motion meaning the legs are neither fully flexed nor extended when we peddle. This explains why cyclists get tightness in their hip flexors and internal rotators as well as other areas such as the pecs, internal rotators of the shoulder, traps, thoracic spine and lumbar spine.

In this blog, I will discuss some of the main areas where you as cyclists may suffer from stiffness or tightness, as well as give you some exercises that should aim to increase the flexibility of these areas.

Thoracic Spine

The thoracic spine refers to our mid-back. Now thinking about its position where we are cycling, constantly hunching over handlebars can cause tightness in this area as the lats are constantly engaged. Stretching out and mobilising the thoracic spine can improve the flexibility of the trunk, stretch out the lats and also improve the range of motion at the shoulder. This also has benefits from a cardiovascular point of view as it gives the diagraphs more space to expand which improves ventilation.

A simple but effective exercise to increase thoracic spine mobility is the Thoracic Spine Rotation stretch. Start in a plank position on your hands and then bring one foot forward beside your hand. Rotate and reach for the ceiling with the same hand. To feel a greater stretch, drop your hips down towards the floor. Repeat on both sides and hold for approximately 5-10, doing 10 reps on each.

Iliopsoas (Hip Flexors)

The reason cyclists tend to get tightness in their iliopsoas muscle (hip flexor) is due to the forward-leaning position which means they are constantly in a shortened position in the hips. Tight hip flexors can also potentially cause some lower back pain in cyclists as they will be pulling the lumbar vertebrae forward and down. In addition, tight hip flexors can also cause weakening of the glutes which are a vital muscle not only in cycling but in many other movements.

A good stretch for the hip flexors is the Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch. Start in a lunge position with the front knee at 90 degrees and the back knee touching the floor. Lean forward keeping your upper body straightened. You should now start to feel a stretch in your hip flexors. To achieve a greater stretch, lean forward even more. Hold this stretch for 15-20 seconds, repeating 5 times on each side.

Shoulder Internal Rotators

Cyclists may also experience stiffness in the internal rotation of the shoulders. However, this may vary depending on hand placement. For example, if you were to hold the ramps (with palms facing each other), you would be in a neutral position meaning you would not be excessively internally rotating the shoulders. On the other hand, if you were to hold the tops (with your palms facing down), then you would be excessively internally rotating the shoulders. This will cause stiffness in your shoulders as well as your lats, traps, mid-back, chest and even forearms.

A good and effective stretch for stretching these internal rotators of the shoulder is what we call a Towel Stretch. Grab a towel or a long strap/belt. Hold it with one hand and drape it over your shoulder and down your back. The other hand should hold the bottom end of the towel and the shoulder remain relaxed. Gently pull up with the superior hand and let the inferior hand move up your back. Keep your back in a neutral position and try not to hunch over. Hold this stretch for 10-15 seconds, repeating 5 times on each side.

Pectorals 

The pectorals refer to our chest. Thinking again about the hunched over position, you can imagine why getting stiffness in these muscles is a common problem in cyclists. This position causes the pecs to be in a shortened position for prolonged hours which also causes the lats to be constantly engaged as well as causing internal rotation of the shoulders. Muscles that are not engaged remain in a shortened position and will start becoming weaker, therefore it is important not only to increase flexibility in the chest but to also strengthen them.

An effective stretch for the chest is the Door Stretch. Start by standing in an open doorway where you will raise each arm and bend them at 90 degrees with the palms facing forward. Rest the palms on the door frame and then step forward with one foot. You should now feel the stretch in your chest and shoulders. To feel a deeper stretch, step forward even more but always maintain an upright posture. Hold this stretch for approximately 15-20 seconds and repeat 5 times.

Hip Rotators

When riding a bike, the main movement of the hip is flexion and extension when pushing and pulling the peddle. The hips are hardly rotated in this movement which can cause tightness in the hip rotators. You can feel this tightness deep within your glutes as this is where these muscles are located.

A good stretch to stretch into hip internal rotation and hip external rotation is the 90/90 stretch. Start by sitting on the floor with one leg bent in front of your body (with the hip rotated out). You should be positioned so that your lower leg and knee are resting on the ground. Make a 90-degree angle with the leg. With the other leg, position it so that the hip is rotated inwards and make a 90-degree angle with this knee too. You should now be in a position similar to the one shown in this picture. Hold this stretch for approximately 30 seconds and repeat 3 times on each side.

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