Cycling provides overall cardiovascular fitness, muscular thighs, and toned calves and for professionals- money. But the ton of pedalling involved can lead to poor posture and reduced flexibility, thus causing injuries.
While cycling is a pretty good low-impact activity for keeping our bodies healthy and happy, it’s also a lot of repetitive action. When riding, the muscles can become tight, and shorten due to the large amount of time in one position performing the same motion repeatedly.
As such, the cyclist’s repetitive linear movements create musculature imbalance, leading to excessive joint tension. This translates to pain, discomfort, and weakness. However, stretching before and after cycling promotes flexibility and reduces chances of cycling injuries.
Importance of Stretches for Cyclists
● Reducing Stiffness and Soreness
Stretching reduces the muscles’ stiffness and soreness by delivering more nutrients, increasing blood flow, and removing unwanted metabolites and lactic acid.
● Promoting Body Rejuvenation
It promotes body relaxation, thus boosting rejuvenation, recovery, and adoption, by increasing the body’s parasympathetic nervous system activities.
● Increasing Oxygen Flow
Stretching leads to increased oxygen and blood flow to the body muscles, thus reducing post-riding soreness while promoting organ function and cell growth.
● Promoting Relaxation
Stretching exercises when done before and after cycling gives the muscles time to relax. With cycling exhaustion and stress, the muscles begin to tighten; however, stretching helps in releasing endorphins, leaving the body feeling energized instead of depleted.
● Preventing Tissue Degradation
Generally speaking, cycling prevents particular physical exertion and movement, leading to body stiffness and dehydration. As such,the muscle fiber cellular level starts to develop a cross-link with the parallel fibers leading to both fibers sticking together.
However, doing stretches slows down the process by stimulating the lubricant tissue production and pulling back the interwoven fibers’ cellular cross-links into their original state, thus preventing tissue degradation.
Your body range of motion refers to the distance in which your body parts can rotate and move before getting injured or damaging the tendons and muscles. Stretching improves flexibility, thus preventing pain, resistance and enhancing performance.
● Injury Prevention
Every muscle in our bodies is interconnected and relies on the others to function. However, some activities like cycling demand lots of work from ligaments, joints, and muscles. As such, these muscles are prone to frequent injuries and imbalances.
Cyclists need lots of stretching to prevent muscle imbalance and make their interconnected body parts healthy, improve their longevity, functionality, and prevent injuries.
Should A Cyclist Do Stretch Exercises Before Or After Cycling?
It’s advisable to start with a dynamic warm-up before embarking on a cycling session and then do stretches after.
Since your muscles are still cold, stretching before cycling can lead to injuries and reduce muscle power output. However, dynamic stretching like yoga before cycling helps strengthen and stretch the muscles. It warms up your muscles while taking your joints through the range of motions suitable for cycling movements.
After the cycling session, take 20-60 seconds to relax and restore muscle strength and increase flexibility.
Here are 6 recommended stretches to Improve flexibility and prevent cycling Injuries.
Stretches for Cyclists
1. Standing Quad Stretch
Cyclists mostly use a group of front thigh muscles quadriceps (quads) to cycle, causing them lots of cramping and fatigue. Stretching of your quadriceps improves muscle’s flexibility and it’s ideal as a warm-up or after stretches.
Steps to Follow
- Stand using one leg, and for support, hold onto the chair or wall.
- Bring your heel towards the buttock by bending the right knee.
- Use your left hand or your opposite one to reach your ankle.
- Stand up in a straight manner and pull your abdominal muscles while keeping your knees closer. Relax your shoulders, and as your bent leg stays in the position, you will start feeling a slight pull along your hip and front thigh.
- Breathe deeply as you hold into the stretch for around 20-30 seconds. Repeat the same stretch on the other leg.
- Do the stretching session on each leg five times.
2. Downward-Facing Dog
Since cycling power is generated from the lower and core back, these muscles can get tight and tired. Doing this stretch helps release tension along your spine, while opening the hips and stretching the hamstrings and calf muscles.
Steps to Follow
- Get down on your hands and knees.
- Straighten your legs to lift your hips by keeping your hands in front of your shoulders and toes tucked forwards. On exhalation, contract the quadriceps and keep toes tucked and your hips pushed back.
- Push your body through the shoulders so that the bottom is pushed back and the spine straight, thus allowing the stretch to pass through the hamstrings and back.
- Repeat the stretch for at least five breaths.
3. Doorway Stretch
A cyclist never reaches their full leg extension during pedalling motion, causing the hamstring muscles to contract continually. This affects the hamstring flexibility and can also lead to lower back pain.
To counterattack this, work on your hamstring flexibility at least 3-4 times for 20-30 seconds per session.
Steps to Follow
- Lie down in a doorway and lift one leg up on the door while leaving the other lying flat on the ground.
- Scoot up your butt closer to the door to increase the stretch while aiming to reach the door frame. Keep your hips and back flatly on the ground for better stretches.
4. Seated Glute Stretches
The glute muscles work as the cycling workhorses since they generate power to keep the cyclist moving during hard efforts like hill climbs. As such, these muscles become tight or fatigued, leading to injuries and lower back pain. This stretch targets the piriformis and glutes muscles attached to your pelvis backside.
Steps to Follow
- Sit on a firm chair and cross over one leg on top of the other with the crossed leg’s ankle resting on the opposite knee.
- Straighten your back and bend forward on your hips level, causing the shoulders to fall directly towards the crossed leg shin.
- Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds.
- Repeat the stretch on each leg 4-5 times.
5. Lower Twist Stretch
Many cyclists complain of lower back pain and stiffness due to challenging, prolonged, hunched over and unnatural forward cycling positions. Doing the lower twist stretch helps strengthen your core lower back, giving it the power to tolerate the protracted forward cycling position while decreasing pain and improving your performance speed.
Steps to Follow
- Lie down on a hard surface with your knees bent
- Stretch out your arms straight out on both sides
- Bring the knees close to your chest and then slowly lower them down on the right side. In case you can’t lower the knees to the floor, place them on a pillow and allow them to rest.
- Keep your shoulders flat to allow the lower back part to loosen up.
- To increase the stretch, extend your lower legs to reach the outstretched hand after lowering the knees.
- Hold the stretch for around 20-33 seconds while repeating each spell 2-4 times.
6. Simple Shoulder Stretch
In cycling, movement is key, and cyclists put lots of pressure on their shoulders, creating stiffness and tightening the thoracic spine (the section between rib cage bottom and neck. A simple shoulder stretch helps in opening the chest and loosening up tight shoulders thus, increasing mobility and performance.
Steps to follow
- Relax your shoulders
- Raise-up your right arm and then bend down the elbow, bring your hand behind the head for it to touch your upper back
- Move your left arm to your rest on your head top and position your left hand to support the right arm by holding the right elbow.
- Hold the position for 5-15 seconds.
The more a cyclist’s muscles stretch, the better their range of motion becomes, thus improving their cycling and preventing injuries. Stretching does not take a lot of time and effort but has immense benefits.
However, while stretching keeps your muscles flexible and helps you to avoid injuries, it can’t prevent or stop accidents from occuring. In case of an accident, a cyclist should seek a personal injury advocate’s assistance to protect their interests and seek proper compensation.