Over the last year and a half, stationary bike demand has skyrocketed, with an increase in sales of nearly 200%. When so many gyms closed for quarantine, many people hopped on bikes made by companies like Peloton, Soulcycle, and NordicTrack to stay active on their own schedule and from the comfort of their own home. Cycling, whether indoor or out, is not only a great form of low impact cardio, it also provides a strength workout for the lower body, with larger muscle groups like the quads, hamstrings, and calves driving your ride. Cycling is a great choice for staying fit, but when done without proper stretching it comes at a price: tightness in the muscles in the lower body as well as the shoulders, two areas which can increase risk of more long term discomfort or injury.
In today’s remote-work environment, there is less built-in opportunity for movement (goodbye mid-day runs to grab coffee!) so people are sitting more than ever. While we are seated, our hip flexors stay in a flexed position, tightening the muscles around our hips. We then get on our stationary bike or road bike, and hold the exact same position for most of the workout, further reducing hip flexor mobilit. This encourages the body to compensate by using other more mobile joints in the body such as the vertebrae of the lumbar spine (low back). You don’t want low back pain to keep you off your bike!
To counteract this, it is important to pay special attention to the hip flexor complex in your warm up and cool down stretching routine in order to decrease your risk of lower back pain. Though it may seem like cycling is purely a lower body activity, the cycling posture, coupled with an increase in time spent seated during the day, can give your shoulders serious issues. Think of your posture as you sit reading this: while in seated position, whether it be on a bike or at a desk, our shoulders tend to roll forward, putting strain on the thoracic spine (mid back) and shortening key muscles in the chest, including the pec major and biceps.
Just like any new activity you add to your fitness regime, you want to ensure your body is prepared to perform it safely and effectively. You can do this by warming up with some mobility exercises, and finishing up your ride with a stretch to assist in recovery. By mobilizing pre-workout you increase athletic potential by getting your body ready to move, and activate the nervous system, while post-workout stretching helps release any built up lactic acid or metabolic waste. Below you will find a few simple stretches that can be used pre or post ride!
Kneeling Hip Flexor/Quad:
You’re going to want a pillow for this stretch. Get into a kneeling position, and place the pillow underneath the kneeling knee. Squeeze your glutes, and drive your front leg forward. Hold for 2 seconds before returning to the starting position and repeat 3-5 times. You can do this for anywhere from 1-5 sets. anywhere from 1-5 sets.
Thread The Needle – Rhomboids and Mid Traps:
Get onto all fours and then stretch your arms in front of you like you’re going into child’s pose. With one arm, reach underneath the opposite arm and turn your head. Hold for 2 seconds before returning to starting position and repeat 3-5 times on each arm. Repeat for up to 5 sets.
Wrap a stretching strap, towel, belt, or tie around one of your feet. Keep your leg straight and point your toes toward your knee, use the stretching strap to assist you into a deeper range of motion. Hold for 2 seconds before returning to the starting position and repeat 3-5 times. You can do this for anywhere from 1-5 sets.
Thoracic Spine Extension:
Lay down on a small foam roller or thin pillow and extend your mid back. Perform a small crunch and then re-extend over the foam roller or pillow in order to mobilize your thoracic spine. Repeat this for up to 1 minute and for up to 3 sets.
Wrap a stretching strap, towel, belt, or tie around one of your feet. Bring your leg up completely straight and then use your strap to assist you into a deeper range of motion. Try to keep the opposite leg straight on the ground, if this is uncomfortable for any reason, bend the opposite leg with your foot on the ground. Hold for 2 seconds before returning to the starting position and repeat 3-5 times. You can do this for anywhere from 1-5 sets.
Cat/Cow – Entire Spinal Column:
Get onto all fours with your hands and knees on the ground. To begin, take a deep breath, push your hands into the floor and round your back towards the ceiling while bringing your chin to your chest. Hold for 1-2 seconds before pushing your stomach towards the floor, and raising your head up towards the ceiling. Repeat this for up to 1-2 minutes. Make sure to go slow and don’t hold these positions for more than 1-2 seconds.
If you commit to doing these stretches every time you ride, you will get so much more enjoyment out of your sport, and feel better during and after. You cycle for 30 minutes, an hour or longer – adding a few more minutes to take care of your body isn’t that much to ask!
Written by Shannon Ward, Stretch Therapist in our Newton, MA studio.