How To: Stretching for cyclists

Improve strength and flexibility and prevent pain and soreness during the off-season

How To

“I should stretch.”  How many times do you say that yourself?  It’s something I tell myself daily, and I probably only execute it once a week.  About 5 years ago, I found yoga.  Some years I went once every couple weeks, other years I went 3-5 times a week.  Regardless, I found huge results translated over to the bike.  The type of yoga I like, “Vinyasa Flow” focuses on more power, movement, and breath so it’s not boring for a fast paced adrenaline junky like me.  It’s not something just chicks do, I always see strong men in yoga as well.  I struggled with a laundry list of injuries each year, the biggest culprit being tendonitis in my knees and shoulders.   Since I committed to a regular yoga practice, I had been injury free, have less carnage from crashing, and was in a great mental place.  Yoga helps with self-acceptance for those of us who are hard on ourselves and helps reduce anxiety and sadness.

In the last 9 months, my yoga practice has diminished to almost non-existent because I haven’t made it a priority.  In the last month, I’ve been fighting to get back in the habit.  The first indicator that I really should be stretching more reared its ugly head; both my knee and shoulder started hurting.  I also noticed a significant decrease in my upper body and core strength because Vinyasa focuses on a lot of high to low push-ups and planks.  Core strength is another place where I am lazy and yoga helps address that as well.

The downside of yoga?  Time and money.  I think the yoga industry charges far too much money for yoga classes with the average price of a drop-in being $17 and the cost of yoga clothes ranging from $50-100.  However, when I look at how much we pay for our cycling clothes, it seems on par!  I don’t know why it’s harder to swallow the price for yoga vs cycling.  Going to a yoga class is a time commitment.  It takes 10-15 minutes to get there, you have to get there 10 minutes early, classes are anywhere from 60-90 minutes, shower, go home and 2 hours of your day is gone.  I like going to yoga on the weekend when I’m not as crunched for time, and I don’t have to get to a 6 AM class so I have enough time in my day for everything else.  I’ve developed a home practice for those days I can’t commit that kind of time, or when I have to choose between a ride or a yoga class.

When I can’t go to yoga, I am putting 15 minutes of stretching into my routine per day.   What are 4 stretches you can do in about 15 minutes that will address cycling specific muscle tightness?  Try this for 2 weeks and do it 3-4 times a week.  Feel the difference?  I bet you will.

How long to do you stay in each pose?  Aim for 5 slow, full breaths; that should take anywhere from 20-30 seconds.  Relax the jaw and face while in the poses.

Crescent Lunge

Targets: Hip flexors, quad, shoulders

How to: Start from a standing position with hands on the hips from a standing position, feet hip width apart. Step the right foot forward and bend the front knee to 90 degrees. Keep the left leg straight, but lift the left heel off the floor so you’re on the ball of your foot.  Keep the hips square.  If they are not square, you may need to step your right leg out a little more.  Put a bend in the left knee and focus on pushing the left hip forward to the front of the room and tucking your tailbone slightly.  Lift arms overhead, fingers straight and energized, and drop the shoulders down the back while squeezing the shoulder blades together.  Draw lower ribs in.  Breathe. This pose also works your stabilizer muscles because you have to balance.  If this is too much for your legs, you can do this with your hands on the floor in a low lunge.  Hinge forward at the waist and put your hands on the floor and straighten your back leg like you mean business.

Figure Four

Targets: Hips, Stabilizers, Legs

How To: This pose involves balance and is not as restful as some of the other hip openers you can do, but it feels great and it’s fun.  Start from a standing position.  Bend both knees like you are sitting back into a chair.  Cross one of your ankles just above and on top of the opposite knee and flex the foot.  Look at a point on the floor in front of you for balance and keep your gaze there.  Your hands can be at the heart, or on the hips.  Keep the weight in the standing heel and keep the hips level as you slowly hinge further to about 90 degrees at the standing knee.  Shift the torso and chest forward.  The goal is to ease the back of the elbows to rest on the fronts of the shin where your flexed foot can almost grab your tricep and your other elbow is in front of the patella.  Reach hands to the floor or keep them where they are.

If standing and trying to balance is too much, you can take it to the floor for a more restorative pose.  Trying to balance on one leg can make the soleus muscle in the lower calf burn after standing for a longer period of time.

Lay down on the ground with soles of the feet on the floor.  Take the left ankle and rest it on top of the right knee.  Flex the left foot.  Bring the knees in towards the chest and lay flat on your back. Thread your left arm through the gap between the legs and bring the other hand to meet it.  Clasp hands behind the right hamstring.  If your hands cannot grab the leg without keeping the back flat, use a yoga strap, belt, or hand towel. Lengthen the tailbone to keep a very slight curve in the low back to also stretch the spine.  Try to keep your upper spine and sacrum grounded. Breathe…

Wide Angle Side Bend

Targets: Hamstrings, low back

How To: Sit down on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.  Open your legs as far as you can, keeping the legs straight and feet flexed to your face.  If you can, hinge to the right and place your right elbow to the floor just inside of your right thigh.  If that’s too hard, place your right hand on to of your shin as close to your foot as you can.  Take the left arm straight up and lean to the right reaching in the direction of your right foot.  Keep the chest open and torso upright.  Feel the stretch in your lower back.  Repeat on the other side.

Floor Twist

Targets: Spine, hips

Twists are great because they help you maintain range of motion in the spine.  They also massage the organs of your lower torso.  The pressure of twisting helps with moving blood that will help aide in digestion.  This stretch also gives a great outer hip stretch at the same time.  The most important thing to note about twists to is to make sure you elongate the spine before you twist.

How To: Take floor figure four from this post.  You should have your right foot flat on the floor and your left ankle on top of the right knee.  Elongate your back.  Inhale and roll slowly to the right so you right outer knee and right outer hip are touching the floor.  If you can, grab your left ankle with your right hand to emphasize the stretch in the outer left hip.   Extent left arm perpendicular to the body and gently turn your head to look at your left hand.  Breathe.   Switch sides.

If you don’t have the hip flexibility to do this, you can do a simple supine twist.  You get all the benefits minus the hip stretch.  Lie down on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.  Elongate your back.  Extend your right leg straight out, but keep the left bent.  Roll your body to the right, cross your left knee over your body.  Your outer right hip and outer right knee are on the floor.  If that’s too intense, put a pillow between your left knee and the floor.  Extend arms out and gently turn your head to the left to look at your outstretched left hand.  Switch sides.

If you want to try more, there are online yoga classes you can take, or your local yoga studio likely offers intro pricing for first timers.  Mix it up for 2014, invest the time in yourself.

About the author: Sonya Looney

It’s energy and attitude that have propelled World Champion Sonya Looney on a mountain bike across the rugged Himalayas, through sweltering sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, and through the clammy jungles of Sri Lanka. Sonya Looney is an adventure traveler on a bike seeking out the hardest races in the most remote, beautiful, and interesting places in the world. She believes in pushing limits because that’s when you realize you are far more capable than ever imagined. Sonya is also a professional speaker, keynoting at large conferences and has spoken at TEDx. Don't let her accolades fool you though, she loves craft beer and joking around. Follow her on social media!

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