Stretching and mobility – practical tips for cyclists

In a previous article in the Kinetix cycling series, Dr. Sara Forsyth discussed the link between bike set up and potential for injury associated with static postures. Dr. Forsyth noted that knee pains account for the greatest portion of time missed from cycling, followed by back pain. Both intrinsic factors (factors of how your body functions) and extrinsic factors contribute to positioning on the bike being optimal or otherwise.

So what are some practical tips for reducing the odds of knee pain and back pain associated with cycling?

Firstly, that word that most athletes dread. Stretching.

The muscles that are most vulnerable to shortening and to contribute to overuse type syndromes are those that span more than one joint. For instance, the hamstrings (back of the thigh) span both your knee and hip joints. So does the middle of the four bands of your quadriceps (front of the thigh). Tight quadriceps increase pressure on the patellofemoral or knee cap joint. Tight hamstrings cause your lower back to bend too far into a rounded posture when sitting on a bike. Even worse, tight iliopsoas (hip flexor) muscles in conjunction with tight hamstrings create a tug of war on the pelvis and lower back which can further aggravate tissue strain when riding.

So let’s review stretching for these muscles:

1/ Quadriceps:

The first photo shows a supported/easier version. Note that she has her pelvis tilted back, or “tummy in/tail in”. Hold for at least 45 secs, up to 90 secs to get an effective stretch.

This is an alternative position, for those who have enough flexibility to reach the ankle. Again, hold 45-90 seconds.

2/ Hamstrings

There are many ways to achieve a good hamstring stretch. Here are my favorites:

This is perfect for anytime when you have a spare 90 seconds at work or while studying.

If you have more time or have the opportunity to lie down, this is the ideal position, as it allows you to stretch while keeping your lower back completely relaxed.

3/Hip Flexors

Things to note: like the quadriceps stretch, keep the tummy in and butt in to tilt your pelvis. Feel the stretch in the front of your hip and thigh. Hold for 45-90 seconds. Use a cushion or pillow under your knee if needed for comfort.

… OK stretching helps. What else?

Remember that cycling inherently puts you in a posture of rounded back and rounded shoulders. If you spend your day at a computer, then get on your bike for a long ride, your upper body posture is very similar for both activities.

Try to “untangle” the posture that you are in during the day by stretching your upper back into extension (straightening up). This next exercise is not a muscle stretch, but rather a mobility or loosening up drill for you upper spine vertebra.

Again – lying down version. Note she has a towel placed across her upper back, and tummy in/tail in. Hold … as long as you feel like!

Sitting up/office version. Move back and forth for some extra loosening if you feel you can tolerate it. Try and hold for about 20 seconds, 3-4 times.

Work on these, and you’ve made a great head start on improving your body mechanics to reduce excessive loads that can lead to overuse syndromes about the knee, lower back and upper back.

Andrew Hosking, Physiotherapist
Images courtesy of Physiotec Exercise Software  

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