Stretching: it's one of those things we know we should do after a ride, but most of us forego it in favour of reclining in a comfortable chair.
Taking time to stretch properly post-ride is worth it, though. Not only will you feel the benefits next time you’re in the saddle, but it can help increase mobility and reduce stiffness – particularly for those who sit at a desk all day for work.
Here Bryan McCullough, a physiotherapist and director of physio and bike fit service The Bike The Body, and Michelle Sharland, an occupational therapist and cycling coach at women’s health and fitness site Her Spirit offer some stretches to help soothe your aching muscles.
1. Hip flexor stretch
Duration, reps and sets: 5secs per side; 5 reps; 2 sets
Benefits: “This really helps to open out your hips after a ride,” says McCullough. “Cyclists often struggle with tightness around the front of the hips due to the riding position – a fact that’s compounded by the large number of people with sedentary, desk-based jobs.”
- Place one knee on the floor (use a cushion or mat under your knee if needed) and place the other foot in front of you to make a 90-degree angle at the hip and knee.
- Tilt the pelvis up towards your ribcage on the side where the knee is on the floor. This should already start to bring on some gentle tension at the front of the hip.
- Now squeeze your glute muscles and slowly push the hip on the kneeling leg further forward to increase the stretch sensation. Avoid arching your lower back.
- Slowly ease back to the start position before repeating.
How to make it harder: “To really add extra benefit, reach the arm on the kneeling side up overhead towards the ceiling as you push into the stretch,” adds McCullough.
2. Hamstring stretch
Duration and reps: 20-30secs; 3 reps
Benefits: “This is a vital exercise that will help you better tilt your pelvis forward and assist with easier reach to the front end of your bike,” says McCullough. “It also allows the pelvis to get into a better position to generate maximum power.”
- Begin by half kneeling with one leg in front with a relaxed bend at the knee.
- Sit back towards your heel and slowly straighten the knee. As you do so, try to keep your chest upright and push it forward to increase the stretch.
- Hold this position for 20-30 seconds and then ease back out. You should feel the stretch in the back of your thigh.
How to make it harder: “Changing the knee angle will increase the effect of stretch on the lower hamstring,” says McCullough. “You can also reach forwards to increase the stretch at the upper hamstring.”
3. Glute stretch
Duration and reps: 30secs; 3 reps
Benefits: “This works on improving your rotation and mobility around the hip, which allows for a better pelvis position on the saddle,” says McCullough.
- Kneel on the floor with your arms out in front of you in a tabletop pose.
- Cross one leg in front of you so that the foot is just in front of the opposite knee.
- Sit back towards the floor, slowly increasing the stretch around the outside of the front hip/glutes.
- Hold this position for 20-30 seconds and then ease back out. You can lean your body further forward over the front knee to increase the stretch.
How to make it harder: “Make it harder by adding a side bend stretch into the torso to open up the side of the abdominal and lower back area,” says McCullough.
4. Lower back rotation
Duration and reps: 5-10secs per side; 5 reps
Benefits: “Your lower back is under a lot of pressure while riding and it’s nearly always fixed in a forward bend while trying to keep steady as you pedal,” explains McCullough. “This drill allows you to free up that lower-back tension while also providing a nice stretch for your outer hips and chest, too.”
- Lying on the floor, bend both of your knees up, keeping your feet on the floor, then cross one leg over the other.
- Try to keep your arms out to the side and flat on the floor.
- Take a breath in through your nose and then, as you gently breathe out, allow your legs to drop over towards the floor in the direction that the top leg is crossed over.
- Hold this position for 5-10 seconds and try to ensure you are letting go of any tension in your lower back.
- Return to the centre and repeat the sequence on the other side.
How to make it harder: “Keep the top leg straight as it lifts over the other leg and drops down to the floor,” says McCullough.
5. Marching calf mobility
Reps and sets: 20-30 reps; 1-2 sets
Benefits: “The foot generally stays pointed throughout the pedal stroke and the calves work hard in a static position to produce efficient pedalling,” says McCullough. “It’s therefore important after any ride to get the joint and muscles to work through a full range. The bonus here is you get a nice stretch for the hips, lower back and hamstrings at the same time.”
- For those that do yoga this position will be familiar – it’s known as Downward Facing Dog. You are essentially placing your weight on your hands and feet and trying to make the shape of a triangle. Your ability to achieve this exact position will vary based on your flexibility but don’t worry if you need to bend your knees a little – work to your own comfort limits.
- Once in position, press one heel back down towards the floor (you’ll feel the calf stretch) while the other foot rolls up onto the toes and your knee bends.
- Hold briefly before alternating to the other side and repeating the movement with steady changes from side to side.
How to make it harder: “The key is to aim for a triangle shape with a flat lower back, straight knees while getting the heel down to the floor,” says McCullough.
6. Standing pigeon pose
Duration: 20-30secs per leg
Benefits: “This is an essential stretch for cyclists of all disciplines,” says Sharland. “This works on your piriformis – a deep muscle behind your glutes – as well as your gluteus muscles. These muscles have a habit of shortening and often contribute to lower-back pain, which is common in cyclists.”
- Make sure you position your feet hip-width apart and stabilise yourself.
- Lift your right leg up and rest your right ankle on your left knee.
- With your right leg crossed over and resting on your left leg, bend down with your left leg as if you are sitting on a chair (hold on to something if you require more stability).
- Set your focus on a stable position and feel the deep stretch across the gluteus maximus throughout the hold.
- Return to a standing position and repeat on the other leg.
How to make it harder: “To intensify the stretch, gently add pressure with your right elbow and push towards the ground,” says Sharland.
7. Standing quad stretch
Duration: 20-30secs per leg
Benefits: “Quadriceps are one of the powerhouse muscles for cycling,” explains Sharland. “Keeping them strong and flexible will help reduce the chance of injury.”
- Start off standing with your legs hip-width apart.
- Lift your right leg and grab your right foot in your right hand while moving your heel as close to your gluteus maximus as possible.
- Gently bring your knees together and push the hip of the bent leg forward while keeping your knee pointed to the ground.
- Keep your body still – be in the moment and take a deep breath. You will feel the stretch on the quad muscle of your bent leg.
- You can increase the stretch by pushing your hip forward, but remember not to arch your back and to keep your core engaged.
- Return to a standing position and repeat on the other leg.
How to make it harder: “To make it harder, push your hip forward while keeping your core engaged,” says Sharland. “Your goal is for your heel to touch your bum while keeping your knees together.”
8. Raised calf stretch
Duration: 20-30secs per side
Benefits: “Your calves have a number of layers of muscle,” says Sharland. “Cycling tends to shorten these muscles, which can lead to ankle and knee issues.”
- Grab a yoga block or anything slightly elevated such as a book.
- Start off with your legs parallel to each other.
- Position your right foot on the block, with your toes exerting pressure and your heel dropped down to the ground. At the same time, move your left leg backwards to intensify the deep calf stretch.
- To activate the full stretch, lean forward with your upper body and create a 90-degree angle while keeping your stretched leg straight. Keep your core tense by sucking your belly towards your spine as you position your upper body parallel to the ground.
- Return to a standing position and repeat on the other side.
How to make it harder: “To increase the intensity, bend the back of the knee slightly,” says Sharland. “This will stretch your soleus muscle.”
9. Advanced hamstring and iliotibial band stretch
Duration: 15-20 secs per side
Benefits: “This stretch mostly benefits your ITB,” says Sharland. “If this band tightens, it can result in pain in the knee and unbalanced lower limbs.”
- In a standing position, cross your left leg in front of your right. Try to get your toes parallel.
- Lift your arms above your head and gently bend all the way down as if touching your toes. Feel the stretch down the back and on the outside of your legs.
- Take a few deep breaths as you rest the weight of your upper body and try to lower your body closer to the ground.
- Gently come back into standing by looking at your belly button as you come all the way back up. Repeat the pose on the other leg.
How to make it harder: “You can try to straighten the legs to make it harder,” says Sharland. “If you are really tight, lean forwards and hold on to a chair.”