Since I covered The Importance of Stretching and Stretching for Running it’s time to sit down and write about Stretching for the Cycling leg of triathlon training. I’ve since realized that a lot of the same running stretches will be used to get you ready for your cycling workouts so I’ve included some of them here again.
Update: See also Stretching for Swimming!
As mentioned previously there are various types of stretches. Again these are present in this stretching guide:
- Dynamic / Active Stretching
- Static Stretching
- Specialized Stretching Workouts
Warm-up Stretches for Cycling
As always I would recommend getting nicely warmed up before a cycling workout. If you are meeting up with a buddy or training group then most likely you will ride to your meeting point. This is an excellent opportunity to take an easy warm-up ride. If you drive to your meeting point then get there early enough to put your wheels on and get a quick ride in. Again, just enough to break a sweat.
Below are the recommended active stretches to get your ready for your cycling. Some of these you’ll notice are exactly the same as the recommended running stretches. When you are doing these stretches keep in mind the motions your body is going to go through on the bike.
Active Calf Stretch
There are a couple ways to do this depending on your calves’ flexibility. If you are somewhat inflexible lean against a pole or wall or something sturdy at about a 45 degree angle. If you are pretty flexible prop yourself up in an “A” shape on the ground.
You’re looking to stretch your calves here but not statically, actively. Once you’ve found your position and propped yourself up, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and alternate dropping your heel flat down to the ground and raising it again. Do this slowly and gently so you don’t hurt yourself, it should pull but it shouldn’t be painful. Perhaps a good way to think of this is the speed you would “stroll” if you were walking.
High Knees for your Glutes
Start by walking and one leg at a time raising your leg up in front of you (knee bent). Once your leg passes the 90 degree mark wrap your hands around the front of it and help pull it up as high as it will comfortably go. This happens almost as if you are trying to kiss one knee at a time while walking. This stretch will help loosen up your glutes as well as hamstrings.
A variation on this is to raise your other heel while hugging your knee which gets your calves warmed up at the same time.
For running I would go on to recommend a high knee hop however I believe for cycling this is purely optional because of it’s low impact nature. If you are training quite intensively, take this as an opportunity to give your joints an impact free day.
Figure 4 Stretch for your Priformis
This is an incredibly good stretch for cycling as it targets both your lower back and “Priformis” muscle – a small pyramid shaped muscle in between your glutes. The nice thing about this stretch is that it can be done both actively and passively and it will benefit you immensely.
Since we are still warming up the active version goes as follows.
- Lay on your back with your feet flat on the ground with your knees bent.
- Twist your right leg towards your left knee so your legs form an upside down 4.
- Rest your ankle just above your knee joint and wrap your hands around the back of your leg or just below your knee if you can reach.
- Gently pull your knee towards your face and feel the stretch in the back of your right leg as well as in your lower back.
- Release and pull a few times until you feel you have a good range of motion then switch legs
Repeat the pulling action a couple of times to get a good range into the stretch and warm your muscles up nicely. See the post cycling stretches for a static version of this.
Active Hamstring Stretch
While you’re laying on your back you might as well get a hamstring stretch in as well. Because of the mechanics of cycling your hamstrings are almost constantly shortening so stretching and warming these up will not only make your cycling better but will also keep your hamstrings long for running.
Laying on your back again repeat these steps:
- Begin with both knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
- Extend your right leg up and flex your toes towards your knee
- Wrap your hands behind your right knee or just below it
- Pull your leg towards you as if trying to touch the ground above your head (yes, some people can do that!) – always keeping your leg as straight as it will stay.
You’ll find that you have very limited range with this active stretch initially and with every pull your leg will get closer to you. Be careful not to do this too quickly or you may injure yourself.
Repeat the motion around 10-20 times until you’re feeling looser and switch legs. A variation on this stretch is to rest your other leg flat on the ground entirely instead of bent. This increases the angle you create between your two legs and allows for a deeper stretch.
Lunges for your Glutes
Lunges are a bit tricky because they can actually be quite a challenge in themselves. Either way though they are a good way both to stretch out your quads and glutes and strengthen your legs. I usually do these towards the end of a warm up once I’ve completed some high knees so my glutes are pretty stretched out.
Start by taking about a medium step forward and then drop your back knee down towards the ground. Keep your upper body straight and your core tight as well as try to keep your front knee above your ankle. You should feel this medium lunge in your glutes.
Once you’re feeling a little looser you can progress to a deeper lunge where you take a large step forward and lunge on the front leg keeping your foot flat and knee above your ankle. With this lunge your back leg will stay a little straighter (even though you’re bending that knee) and you will feel it a little stretch in your back leg’s quads.
Post Cycling Stretches
When cooling down after a work out static stretching is an excellent way to maximize the work you just did. It allows your body to wind down and lengthen out after the time spent contracting and stressing your muscles.
Below are some of the more common static stretches used by cyclists:
- Elevated Hamstring Stretch
Because of the strain placed on your hamstrings during a cycling workout I would recommend starting with this stretch to avoid cramping.Find an elevated wall, bench or other inanimate object and rest your heel on it – leg straight and in front of you. Reach out with both hands and attempt to touch your toes. Obviously this should be done slowly and carefully without any sudden or jerky movements.A variation on this is to rest your leg directly to your right or left and reach out with one hand. Even another variation is to rest your your inner ankle on the wall and stretch your inner thigh. Do all three and you’re off to a great start in stretching out your hamstrings. This will also help you avoid tendonitis which often develops from inflexibility around your kneed joint.
- Standing Quadriceps Stretch
This is the classic “hold-your-foot” stretch used to lengthen your quads after a challenging workout. A couple tips to do this stretch properly are: stand up straight, hold on to something if you can’t balance, try to balance if you can (strengthens your ankles!).
- Standing Hamstring Stretch
There are quite a few hamstring stretches both seated and standing and most are good but the one I’m referring to is one where you cross your legs while standing and stretch your back leg while supporting yourself with your front leg. This places much less strain on your lower back than the classic feet together one. Keep your front leg slightly bent and lean into it to support yourself and stretch your back leg at the same time. This stretch will help you stretch out your lower back a little as well after a long cycle.
- Calf stretch and Achilles Stretch
The classic version of this stretch is to keep your foot flat on the ground and lean against something with a straight leg until you feel a stretch in your calf.
Another version of this is the Achilles stretch where you stand close to a wall or pole and prop your foot up against that object. When you prop your foot up your toes point up and as you push closer to the object you will feel the stretch more.
An often overlooked variation on this stretch is to do it with a bent leg in order to target your inner calf muscle. Since both are used in cycling I would recommend this as well.
- Seated Hamstring Stretch
Originally, a lot of people used to just stretch both legs out in front of them and try to reach their toes but without significant initial flexibility this can place huge strain on your lower back. A better way to stretch while seated is by sitting with your left foot pushed up against your right inner thigh and your right leg extended away from your body. Face your torso towards your right foot and reach towards it. You should feel a significant stretch in your hamstring while doing this stretch.
- Lower Back Stretch x 2
Lay on your back with your left leg bent and the other flat on the ground. Grab your left knee with your right arm and gently pull the bent leg over the other touching your knee to the ground (or as close as you can get). You’ll feel your left hip lift slightly off the ground and may feel a pop or two as your vertebrae re-align. You should feel a good stretch in your left lower back muscles. Repeat on both sides.The second variation on this stretch involves your right leg crossing over the left. Bend the right leg over the other and again lower to your right. In this stretch you’ll feel it both in your back and outer thigh.
- Static Priformis Stretch
In the pre-workout active stretching I illustrated the figure 4 stretch for your Priformis. Well now it’s time to do it statically. Position yourself again laying down with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Put your ankle on your knee and reach behind the knee to pull it towards you. This time you won’t pull and release and pull and release, just pull it towards you and hold for a few seconds. Then switch and hold it again for another few seconds.
An Advanced variation on this stretch is known in Yoga as the Pigeon stretch. It is explained and illustrated very well on About.com in the article Advanced Iliotibial (IT) Band Stretch for Flexibility.
All of the above stretches should be held for a minimum of 15 seconds (or counts) up to about 30 seconds. For better effect you can repeat each stretch twice or even three times. As opposed to the active stretching done before a workout, the post-cycling stretches are meant to relax your muscles so take your time with them and do them gently. Don’t bounce or push to hard to extend in a stretch or you may end up hurting yourself.
This was the third installment in our series of stretching overviews. I’ve covered The Importance of Stretching and Stretching for Running and will follow up with some important stretches for swimming.
In the meantime I’ll leave you with a couple more links with further reading:
Five Fantastic Stretching Exercises
What are some of the more important cycling stretches that you can’t live without? Have you found other articles that have been helpful to you on this topic? Please share!