By Chrystal Caudill
Spring has arrived, and with it, a collective, joyful clamor from Virginia’s cycling community. Area cyclists relish the crisp air, dry ground and budding seasonal opportunity to brandish shiny new helmets, bike shoes, maybe even a fresh jersey or jacket. Warmer weather definitely sparks a renewed desire to push the pedals, but the physical therapists (and some fellow cyclists) at Tidewater Physical Therapy want to remind you not to let your enthusiasm cause you to neglect critical stretches and exercises.
Cycling is unique among cardiovascular exercises, in that the legs are never fully extended or fully flexed during the activity. The repetitive action of pedaling can result in a gradual shortening of the muscle fibers. And while hitting the road or trail on your bike is excellent for cardiovascular health and muscle tone, improper preparation poses potential problems.
Unlike running, riding a bike is not a “natural” position for the human body, forcing it into a forward-leaning crouch. Many cyclists experience tightness in the hip flexors, and lower back pain associated with excessive arching. Flexibility is a common limitation for cyclists, as well as inattention to those muscle groups that are stationary during the ride. This is why our PT and Performance staff recommends several stretching exercises and yoga poses that should increase elasticity and improve range of motion.
“Stretching is one of the most vital components of any exercise regimen and yet often the most overlooked,” said Katie Benick, Director of Performance Services for Tidewater Physical Therapy’s three Performance Centers, located in Gloucester, Newport News and Suffolk.
“Proper stretching tactics need to be incorporated during every exercise bout in order to decrease your risk of injury, ensure proper recovery of muscles, tendons and ligaments and improve overall performance.”
Before a bike ride, take your body through some motions that mimic what will happen while you’re cycling. Do not perform the following stretches until after a ride, or when your muscles are already warm.
Downward Facing Dog
Begin this stretch from your hands and knees and then lift your hips so you’re in an inverted V shape. Do not force your heels down. Concentrate on keeping the back flat and long. Holding this pose will lengthen the back muscles, loosen the hamstrings and even improve the pedaling backstroke.
With the legs shoulder-width apart, step forward with your right foot. Bend your right knee and keep your left foot firmly planted into the ground. Without bending over, drop the hips until you feel a stretch in the left calf muscle. Hold it for about 15-20 seconds and then switch.
From a standing position, reach back with the right hand and grab your right ankle. Pull your foot up toward your glutes. Place your opposite hand on a wall or stable surface if you need help balancing. You should feel a deep stretch in your right quad, but be careful not to pull too hard. This is an excellent lengthening exercise for the quad, which is usually a bulky, hardworking muscle for most cyclists. Repeat on the other side.
Glute Stretch with Hip Opener
Sit on the floor with your legs crossed. Position your left leg so that it is angled across the right, with your left foot close to your right knee. Wrap your hand or arm around your left knee and gently lean forward with your back flat and straight. You will feel an opening and deeply stretched sensation along the outer hip and through your glute. These muscles become constricted from the position the body takes while seated on a bike saddle for long periods of time. Repeat the stretch on the other side.
Neck and Shoulder Stretches
Cyclists must frequently look to the sides and behind themselves while riding, to watch for traffic or other bikers. It is important the neck and shoulder muscles stay loose to allow a full range of motion. While standing, gently roll your head in a half circle to one side, then to the other. Do not fully rotate the head. Alternate the head rolls with shoulder shrugs. Pull your shoulders up toward your ears, hold for several seconds, and then drop. Slowly rotate the shoulders backward, pulling your shoulder blades together and then circle the shoulders forward. Repeat these movements several times.
There are many other cross-training stretches and strength exercises you can do that will improve your cycling performance and help prevent an injury. Our PT staff is available to answer questions. Make your own appointment today at a physical therapy clinic near you..