The 3 Best Stretches for Cycling
Improve your cycling and minimize injuries with 3 of the best cycling stretches.
by Brad Walker | First Published October 14, 2010 | Updated March 21, 2019
Muscles are never completely extended, as the legs are never fully flexed or extended during cycling, leading to muscle tightening, which in turn can lead to pain in the knees, lower back and hips. By incorporating regular cycling stretches in your cycling training, cyclists can prevent the occurrence of such problems.
Muscles used in Cycling
Road races require a great deal of muscular strength, power and cardiovascular endurance. Cross training is important for cyclists because it can be difficult get enough mileage on the bikes needed to develop the advanced endurance needed for racing. A good combination of speed, strength, and endurance work, along with flexibility training, is essential for cycling success.
The major muscles involved in road cycling include:
- The muscles of the legs and hips: The quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus muscles, and the lower leg, anterior tibialis, gastrocnemius and soleus.
- The core muscles are important for maintaining balance and power: The rectus abdominis, obliques (internal and external), hip flexors, and the spinal erectors.
- The muscles of the arms and shoulders are important to maintain a support position on the bike when leaning forward: The deltoids, biceps and triceps, and the muscles of the hand, wrist and forearm.
A good strengthening and conditioning program for these muscles will help ensure success on the bike. Weaknesses or imbalances in any of these muscles can lead to injuries for the cyclist. Special attention must be paid to stretching the muscles after use to ensure flexibility in commonly over-used muscles.
Most Common Cycling Injuries
Road cyclists are susceptible to many chronic (overuse) injuries. They are also, due to the high rates of speed, at risk of acute (traumatic) injury. This combination means that cyclists must take precaution to avoid incorrect form and excessive wear on joints and bones. A list of common overuse injuries experienced by cyclists includes:
- Plantar fasciitis;
- Knee bursitis;
- Iliotibial band syndrome (ITB);
- Patellar tendinitis;
- Lower back pain; and
- Muscle strains.
Cyclists who experience crashes may also be subject to:
- Abrasions (road rash);
- Fractures, (commonly the clavicle or collarbone); and
- Concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
Injury Prevention Strategies
Proper conditioning and safety measures are essential in injury prevention strategies of road cyclists.
- Always warm-up properly prior to training and especially competition.
- Allow an adequate cool-down period and perform after training/competition stretching.
- Proper cardiovascular conditioning will prevent fatigue and other overuse injuries.
- Stronger muscles will be able to handle the stress of longer rides better than weaker ones.
- Increasing flexibility in the muscles and joints will reduce the stress on these areas during training.
- Learning proper cycling technique is important to prevent overuse injuries and those caused by improper form.
- Wearing a helmet while riding is extremely important to prevent head injuries.
- Keeping the bike in top riding condition and maintaining it on a regular schedule will also prevent accidents from occurring.
The Benefits of Cycling Stretches
One of the best ways to adjust to the rigors of cycling is to incorporate regular cycling stretches. Continuous cycling can lead to gradual loss of elasticity in the muscles and may even decrease overall joint flexibility. Cyclists can overcome these problems through regular stretching.
Stretching enhances overall performance. This happens because well-exercised joints and muscles have enhanced flexibility and range of motion, which reduce the level of stress on various body parts, especially under competitive conditions. This enables cyclists to ride for a longer time at their optimum speed.
The 3 Best Cycling Stretches
Cycling stretches are one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective.
Below are 3 of the best stretches for cycling; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions with each stretch, and if you currently have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain please take extra care when performing the stretches below, or consult with your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the following stretches.
Instructions: Slowly move into the stretch position until you feel a tension of about 7 out of 10. If you feel pain or discomfort you’ve pushed the stretch too far; back out of the stretch immediately. Hold the stretch position for 20 to 30 seconds while relaxing and breathing deeply. Come out of the stretch carefully and perform the stretch on the opposite side if necessary. Repeat 2 or 3 times.
Kneeling Upper Hip & Quad Stretch: Kneel on one foot and the other knee. If needed, hold on to something to keep your balance and then push your hips forward.
Single Heel-drop Achilles Stretch: Stand on a raised object or step and place the ball of one foot on the edge of the step. Bend your knee slightly and let your heel drop towards the ground.
Lying Knee Roll-over Stretch: While lying on your back, bend your knees and let them fall to one side. Keep your arms out to the side and let your back and hips rotate with your knees.
Watch the Cycling Stretches video
Click on the play button below if you prefer to follow along to a 10 minute video of the best stretches for cycling.
These cycling stretches are best done after your cycle training, as part of your cool down. They can also be done as a stand-alone stretching session to improve your cycling flexibility, but make sure you’re fully warmed up before starting the stretches.
Get more of the best Cycling Stretches here
Research and References
- Walker, B. (2011). The Anatomy of Stretching, 2nd Edition (ISBN: 978-1583943717)
- Wikipedia contributors. (2019, April 2). Cycling, In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
- Mellion, M. (1991). Common Cycling Injuries: Management and Prevention. Sports Medicine, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 52–70.
- Wanich, T. Hodgkins, C. Columbier, JA. Muraski, E. Kennedy, J. (2007). Cycling Injuries of the Lower Extremity. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Volume 15 – Issue 12 – p 748–756.
- O’Connor, D. Crowe, M. Spinks, W. (2006). Effects of static stretching on leg power during cycling. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 46(1):52-6.
- Kokkonen, J. Nelson, A. Eldredge, C. Winchester, J. (2007) Chronic Static Stretching Improves Exercise Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39(10), 1825-1831.
- Shellock, F, Prentice, W. (1985) Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries. Sports Medicine, 2(4):267-78.
- Fradkin, A. Zazryn, T. Smoliga, J. (2010) Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(1):140-8.
About the Author: Brad Walker is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon (author page) has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.
Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.