What’s the best stretching routine for a cyclist?
I’ve been asked “What are the best stretches for cyclists” on several occasions. The best answer to this questions is “It depends on where the cyclist is tight.” Different people have different mobility restrictions and the exercise that is perfect for you may be a waste of time for your riding buddy. That being said, I have noticed a few themes in the mobility restrictions of cyclists and the exercises below address those themes. A quick search for road biking stretches or mountain biking stretches returns a long list of things to do. Consider this top five exercises for cyclists a “carefully curated list of the most effective mobility drills to get the most out of the minimal time investment.”
Pre-Ride Movement Prep
Several studies have shown that performing prolonged stretches immediately before exercise can actually impair performance *. The dynamic warmup and gluteal muscle activation exercise will prepare your muscles for the movement without sapping power. These can easily be performed while your buddy fiddles around with his cycling kit before you get started. I have provided my ideal exercise as well as alternatives that are less effective but more convenient. Remember, they only work if you do them.
1(a). Dynamic Warmup for Anterior & Posterior Fascial Chains
1(b). Alternative when a park bench isn’t available
2(a). Sidelying Gluteal Activation
2(b). Alternative when its not convenient to lie on the ground.
Just stand up and do the same thing. It helps to stand on a slightly elevated surface such as a curb to reduce the tendency to hike the hip to clear the foot
Post Ride Mobility Routine
Although performing prolonged streches immediately before exercise has been shown to reduce force production; performing the same stretches regularly at any time other than right before exercise has been consistently found to improve force production. In addition to doing longer holds (ie 30sec in each position) of the dynamic warm-up above, doing the exercises below will help reverse some of the postural problems fostered by the cycling position and reduce the formation of connective tissue adhesions that can result in worse mobility later
1. Thoracic Extension- Give your body a break from the flexed position
*The foam roller image is from http://www.hep2go.com. A great resource for rehab exercises
2. Lumbar Extension- Give your body a break from the flexed position
3. Flossing the Quad Under the Iliotibial Band on the Foam Roller
Before the ride: Perform brief dynamic stretches (5sec) and brief gluteal muscle activation exercises to put your body in the best place possible.
- Dynamic Warmup for Ant & Post Fascial Chains: 10-15x/side 2 sec holds
- Sidelying leg lift for gluteal activation: Until onset of first fatigue
At any time other than right before the ride: Set up a daily ritual to improve your mobility by performing the same dynamic stretches as prolonged holds (ie 30sec), doing spinal extension mobility drills to reverse the negative effects of the prolonged cycling position. Perform the gluteal strengthening exercise to fatigue a few times a week to improve the strength and endurance of this important muscle group.
- Static Stretch in same position as Dynamic Warmup for Ant & Post Fascial Chains: 3(30)sec 1-2x/day
- Thoracic Extension: 3(30)sec 1-2x/day
- Lumbar Extension: 1(10)reps 1-2x/day
- Quad Flossing- As needed 1-2x/day
- Sidelying leg lift for gluteal strength-endurance: As many as possible resting when needed to keep proper form. 3x/week
1. Shrier, Ian. “Does stretching improve performance?: a systematic and critical review of the literature.” Clinical journal of sport medicine 14.5 (2004): 267-273.
*If I believe a particular mobility restriction is causing pain that is limiting activity (ie quad stiffness causing knee pain) I will prescribe a prolonged stretch right before riding. In this scenario the performance loss by stretching is far outweighed by the performance gain of not being in pain.