In the final miles of a long ride, most cyclists start picturing the blissful feeling of stepping into a relaxing shower to wash away the sweat and grime of the road followed by a delicious spread of nutritious brunch foods.
Delaying all that by rolling out a yoga mat and stretching after you cycle may be far less appealing in the moment, but stretching after a ride can help you recover so that your body is ready to hit your next workout in fighting form.
The good news is that cyclists don’t have to dedicate hours to stretching to reap the benefits of adding flexibility work into their training routine.
By choosing just the best stretches for cyclists and focusing on performing them properly and consistently, you can promote recovery from your long rides, help prevent injuries, and improve your cycling form and posture in less than 10 minutes per day.
The best stretches for cyclists for optimum recovery target the muscles that get tight while you’re in the saddle, and help open and restore the range of motion around your joints so that you can have a pain-free, powerful pedal stroke and relaxed upper body.
Ready to nail down a good post-ride stretching routine? Keep reading for the 6 best stretches for cyclists for optimum recovery.
In this guide, we’re going to look at:
- 7 Reasons Why Stretching for Cyclists Is Vital
- What Muscles Should Cyclists Stretch?
- 6 Best Stretches for Cyclists for Optimum Recovery
Let’s jump in!
The Importance of Stretching for Cyclists
There are several key benefits of stretching after cycling:
#1: Stretching Increases Your Range of Motion
Range of motion refers to how much mobility or movement you have in a joint. Tight muscles and connective tissues prevent your joints from moving at their end ranges of motion, which causes feelings of stiffness.
For example, if your glutes and hip flexors are tight, the range of motion around your hip will be limited and your pedal stroke might feel restricted and less fluid.
Stretching activates sensory receptors such as muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs (GTOs) in muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These receptors then send a signal to the spinal cord.
The parasympathetic nervous system responds by sending a signal back to the tissues to relax. As muscle fibers and tendons relax, the tissues lengthen, pulling less forcefully on joints and allowing more “give” or motion about the joint.
#2: Stretching Decreases Muscle Soreness
Scientific studies have found that incorporating a stretching routine into the cool-down portion of a workout can ease muscle soreness and minimize the extent of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
This is thought to be due to the enhanced circulation and nutrient transport brought on by stretching and the prevention of stiffness and contraction of tissues.
#3: Stretching Reduces the Risk of Injury
Cycling is a very repetitive activity, and even if you aren’t regularly doing century rides, any time in the saddle contributes to the same posture and stresses on your muscles, joints, and connective tissues.
Mobility work and stretching can restore range of motion to muscles that get chronically tight in cyclists, such as hip flexors and calves. Tight muscles with a limited range of motion are more likely to incur injuries.
#4: Stretching Can Improve Posture
Depending on the geometry of your bike and the style of cycling you do, there’s a good chance that your riding posture isn’t optimized from an ergonomic perspective.
Taking time to stretch postural muscles, spinal muscles, pecs, abs, and shoulders can improve posture and encourage the lengthening of muscles we chronically hold tight.
#5: Stretching Can Improve Cycling Performance
A few dynamic stretches before you hop on your bike can warm up your muscles and prepare you to deliver more power more efficiently.
Stretches for cyclists after a ride can promote recovery so that you’re preparing your body to be ready to go for your next ride with minimal residual soreness.
#6: Stretching Alleviates Pain
Stiff and tight muscles can cause pain, particularly if they are restricting movement. Stretching after you cycle can restore compromised flexibility and reduce pain and stiffness.
#7: Stretching Reduces Stress
Much in the same way that stretching eases muscle tension, so too does it ease mental or emotional tension. Many cyclists report feeling calmer, more relaxed, and happier after stretching.
While this may not directly impact your cycling performance, it’s certainly beneficial for overall health and well-being.
What Muscles Should Cyclists Stretch?
The hip flexors are key muscles for cyclists to stretch. The cycling motion involves repeated hip flexion, but the hip never fully extends.
This can lead to significant tightness in the hip flexors, which not only detracts from your cycling performance but can also lead to lower back pain.
Cyclists with tight hamstrings will be unable to maintain a forward tilt of the pelvis in the saddle, which will reduce the efficiency of your pedal stroke. Moreover, tight hamstrings reduce your power because they limit the ability of your glutes to engage.
The glutes are stronger muscles capable of producing much more force than the hamstrings, so when the glutes don’t engage, your power is significantly compromised.
Glute stretches help ensure you can achieve an aerodynamic position on the bike and harness the power of your strong glutes in your pedal stroke.
Cyclists need to stretch the quads because they are the powerhouses of the pedal stroke. A good quad stretch helps ensure they recover and loosen up after you ride.
Many cyclists complain of lower back pain, which either results from a weak core, poor posture, or tight hamstrings.
The iliotibial (IT) band runs along the outside of your leg from the knee to the hip. IT band stretches help prevent tightening of this fibrous band, which can otherwise lead to significant knee pain.
Riding in an aerodynamic position tightens the pecs, which can lead to poor posture on and off the bike.
6 Best Stretches for Cyclists for Optimum Recovery
While there are dynamic stretches for cyclists that can be incorporated into a warm-up routine before you get in the saddle, the following are the best stretches for cyclists for optimum recovery after a long ride:
#1: Downward-Facing Dog
Why It’s a Good Stretch for Cyclists: Stretches your hamstrings, calves, and shoulders, and lengthens the spine.
- Kneel on all fours so that your hands and elbows are slightly in front of your shoulders and your knees are under your hips. Your back should be flat like a table top and your toes should be curled under your feet so that they’re planted on the floor.
- Spread your fingers and press your palms firmly into the floor or mat.
- As you exhale, lift your knees off the floor and raise your hips towards the ceiling.
- Without fully locking your knees, straighten your legs and press your heels down into the floor, and straighten your arms without fully locking your elbows. Your body should be hinged at the hips in a “V” shape so that your chest is facing your thighs.
- Inhale as you draw your belly button in towards your spine. Keep your neck and spine neutral, and your gaze looking under your body towards your feet.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
#2: Modified Dragon Pose
Why It’s a Good Stretch for Cyclists: Stretches your hips and quads.
- Step your right foot forward and bend both knees so that you drop into a deep lunge.
- Stretch your left foot back as far as possible while keeping your torso upright to feel a good stretch in your left quad and hip flexor.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds and then switch sides.
#3: Glutes/Piriformis Stretch
Why It’s a Good Stretch for Cyclists: Stretches your glutes and piriformis to ensure you have a powerful pedal stroke.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Bring your left leg up so that your hip and knee are both at a 90-degree angle and your shin is parallel to the ground.
- Bring your right leg up to rest your ankle on the left thigh, rotating your right hip outward as if sitting in criss cross applesauce form.
- Take your left hand and place it behind your left thigh, pulling your leg in towards your body while simultaneously using your right hand on your right knee to push your right knee away from you.
- Hold for 30 seconds and then switch sides.
Why It’s a Good Stretch for Cyclists: Stretches your quads and hip flexors, which can get tight in the saddle.
- Stand upright with good posture.
- Lift one leg off the ground, bending your knee and bringing your heel to your butt.
- Pull your heel into your butt until you feel a good stretch in your quads.
- Hold for 30 seconds and then switch sides.
#5: Chest Opener
Why It’s a Good Stretch for Cyclists: Stretches your pecs and opens your shoulders to improve your posture.
- Stand facing a doorway with your arms out to the side in a giant letter T.
- Step one foot far enough forward so that your straightened arms catch on the sides of the doorway and you feel a nice stretch across your chest.
- Keep your gaze forward and use good upright posture.
- Hold for 30 seconds and then switch legs.
#6: Forward Fold with Crossed Legs
Why It’s a Good Stretch for Cyclists: Stretches your IT band, hamstrings, lower back, glutes, and calves.
- Stand upright and cross your right leg over your left so that your right heel and ankle are planted to the outside of your left hip.
- Hinge the hips and fold your body to reach down and touch your toes. Keep your left leg straight.
- Hold for 30 seconds and then switch legs.
Now you’ve learned the best stretches for cyclists – and the science behind them – it’s time to put them to use for yourself!
Add them to your post-ride routine next time you get out on the bike – your muscles and joints will thank you for it!
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