You’re riding your bike on a nature path. The wind brushes through your hair as your legs steadily peddle up a hill. Once you reach the top, your hands grip the handle-bars bracing for gravity to take you downhill. After your ride, you head home feeling refreshed from a quick escape from the work day.
Hours later, your leg muscles start to tighten making it difficult to walk straight. To avoid muscle tightening, you need to stretch before your next bike ride to allow for your muscles to loosen. In this article, we will be touching on what stretches are the best for cycling whether you're a novice rider or peddling in the Tour de France. Let’s pedal to the metal and get stretching!
Why You Should Stretch Before Cycling
While biking, your joints never use their full range of motion. Your leg muscles go through a repetitive action through a limited range of motion, which means that the legs never fully extend or flex. This can cause adaptive shortening, which is the process where the muscle fibers physically shorten.
Riding a bike is not something that humans are evolved to do as it’s not a natural movement for us, like running or walking. That’s why biking is more likely to cause muscular imbalances and postural changes. That’s why it is important to stretch your calves and legs to strengthen your muscles before your next bike ride.
Stretches for Cycling
With the science behind the importance of stretching, it is important to know what muscle groups are used when cycling. Here is a list of some specific stretches for the key muscles used while cycling to improve your posture and keep your muscles warm to prevent strain.
- Calf stretches are very important as they are mainly responsible for peddling. Hold onto a sturdy railing or push against a wall. Keep your feet pointed straight ahead. Step your right foot forward, bending your right knee. Keep your left foot planted on the ground behind you. Drop your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your calf without bending at the waist. Hold for about 15 to 30 seconds and then switch sides.
- Your quads are the biggest cycling muscle. You need to do a slow stretch and make sure that you don’t pull too hard too fast to pull a muscle. While standing, reach back with your right hand to the right foot at the top of the ankle. Slowly pull your foot towards your butt until you feel a stretch. Hold it there for 15 to 30 seconds, then rotate legs.
- The IT band runs along the side of your leg. It helps to keep you balanced. Without stretching, your IT band can develop tendonitis or knee alignment issues. The section of the IT band that is most important for cyclists is between the hip and knee. To stretch your IT band, sit down and cross your left leg across your right knee. Gently push down on your left knee to feel a stretch on the outside of your leg. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and then switch sides.
- Cycling can cause tightness in your hamstrings because your legs are not lengthening while you’re peddling. This is why your ‘hams’ might ache after a long bike ride. Before taking a bike ride on your favorite nature preserve path, stand up and bend over at the waist. Let your arms dangle toward the ground with a slight bend in the knees.
While in this position, take some steady deep breaths as you reach down to feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
The Gluteus is a fancy term for your butt muscles that are often overlooked in cycling stretches. Sit down in a cross-legged position. Angle your left leg over the right and plant your left foot next to your right knee. Your left leg forms a triangle. Grasp the front of your left knee and lean forward making sure that you keep your back straight. You’ll feel the stretch along your left hamstrings.
Make sure that you switch sides to even out your body. This stretch will release the piriformis, a connecting muscle that typically tightens after sitting on the saddle of a bike for a long period of time. If this stretch does not help, think about investing into a seat pad for your saddle, like the Bikeroo Universal Bike Saddle, to upgrade the quality of your ride whether that be indoors or outdoors.
Neck and Shoulders
- Your neck can get a little tight from checking for traffic and other riders behind you. Stand up and gently roll your head in a circle several times in both directions. When circling, don’t bend your neck too far back to avoid strain. For your shoulders, shrug them upwards and hold for five seconds. Repeat this several times to warm the muscles.
- Your support system while you pedal is your abdomen and back muscles. To strengthen this muscle group, you can do crunches or back extensions. In addition, do a simple back twist from the gluteus-stretch position by twisting your abdomen to look behind on both sides.
With any stretch, make sure that you are listening to your body as you can tell the difference between pain and stretching. If you feel any pain, take a rest and maybe contact your doctor if it persists. With these stretches, you will be able to go on a bike ride while avoiding aches and pains afterwards.
Let's get stretching!
Contributing Writer: Madeline Collins