Unlike running or swimming, riding a bike is not something that the human body was naturally designed to do. It is essentially a mechanical action repeated over and over again. The restraints of the bike mean that only certain muscles are used and even those are not pushed through their full range of motion. Asa result, over time, the muscles that are used shorten, causing tightness.
Our muscles work in opposing pairs. For instance our biceps and triceps work together to allow us to move our forearms up and down. Contracting the bicep causes the forearm to lift. Whilst this is happening the tricep is relaxed. To move the forearm back the tricep contracts whilst the bicep relaxes.
The mechanical action of cycling relies overly on only one of a pair of muscles, resulting in one of the pair growing stronger than its partner.
Both the shortening of the muscles and the strengthening of one of the pair causes imbalance. The stronger muscle exerts more force on all the supporting structures, such as bones, and this is exacerbated by the tightening of the muscle. This imbalance pull the body out of proper alignment resulting in aches and pains and possible long term damage to bones, ligaments and tendons.
To restore balance and harmony you need to use some of the strength exercises for cyclists to help equalise strength and carry out some of the stretching exercises below to counteract the muscle shortening effect of cycling.
A stronger, more balanced you will not only improve your general wellbeing it should also enhance your cycling experience.
Easy stretches that are ideal for cyclists
These stretches can be performed pretty much anywhere, at any time but you should warm up before beginning. You could do a couple of sets of burpees to get you going (strength exercises for cyclists). The ideal time would be after a ride because you are already warmed up and you can stretch out those muscles before they have a chance to settle into their shortened form.
When performing the stretches you should stretch until there is a little discomfort and tension but not pain. Once at this point hold the stretch for at least 20s. This allows the muscles to relax into their lengthened state. Ideally hold the stretch for 60s. Once you become more accustomed to stretching you can push the stretch a little more after 20s, once your feel the muscles relaxing, then hold there.
Some exercises use a wall for support but once you have mastered the moves a wall is not necessary.
Start by performing each stretch once and build toward 3 or 4 times each.
Benefits: upper and lower calves.
Stand with your hands ﬂat against a wall at shoulder height. Push one leg about 50 centimetres behind you and place the foot ﬂat on the ﬂoor (making sure your toes are pointing straight forward). Keep your back knee straight and your heel ﬂat on the ﬂoor, lean forward. You should feel this stretch in the top of your calf. If you bend your back knee slightly (keeping the foot ﬂat on the ﬂoor) you should feel the stretch lower down.
Hold the stretch and then repeat with the other leg
Downward facing dog
Benefits: back and hamstrings.
Begin on your hands and knees with your hands slightly in front of your shoulders on the ﬂoor and your feet resting on your toes. Lift your knees from the floor, straighten your legs and raise your bottom in the air whilst moving onto the soles of your feet and pushing your heels into the floor. Try to keep the back straight by pushing into the floor with your shoulders through your arms. You should look roughly like an inverted V rather than an inverted U. You should feel the stretch through your back and your hamstrings.
Many cyclists have particularly shortened hamstrings. When first starting this exercise you can alleviate the discomfort by placing your feet wider apart or raising your heels slightly.
Stand with your feet wide apart and legs straight. With your hands on your hips bend forward as far as you can whilst keeping your back straight. You should feel the stretch in your hamstrings.
If you hamstrings are particularly tight you can alleviate the discomfort by either placing your feet wider apart or bending your knees slightly (or both).
Benefits: quads and hip flexors.
Start on hands and knees with the soles of your feet against a wall. Take your right knee off the ﬂoor and place it against the wall with your toes pointing upwards and your shin against the wall (your whole right leg below the knee should be against the wall, toes pointing to the ceiling). Now, taking most of your weight on your hands, move your left leg so that the sole of the foot is on the floor in front of you with knee bent at a right angle (corner of a square. You should feel the stretch in your quads and hip flexors. Hold the stretch for a few seconds until the muscles relax then slowly take your hands from the floor and place them lightly on your left knee. The more upright your body the greater the stretch.
Repeat with the other leg.
Benefit: groin, thighs, back, the chest, the front of the shoulders and back of the neck.
Start sitting in a kneeling position with the soles of your feet against a wall and your toes tucked under. Slowly rise up bottom off your heels, bringing the thighs and torso upright. Gradually move your back into an arc until the back of your head makes contact with the wall. Bring your hands towards your heels. The further down you reach the more intense the stretch.
Seated glute stretch
Benefits: glutes and hips.
Start sat in a chair with the soles of your feet on the floor, toes pointing forwards. Lift your right leg and place your ankle on your left knee. Keeping a straight back bend forwards from the hips. You should feel the stretch in your glutes and hips. The lower you bend the greater the stretch.
Repeat with the other leg.
Rotated back stretch
Benefits: back and hamstrings.
Start lying on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor. Bring your knees towards your chest and then roll your knees to your right side, resting them on a pillow. Now stretch both arms out from the body, along the floor. You should feel a stretch in your back. Hold the position for a few seconds until the lower back relaxes then slowly straighten your legs. Ultimately your aim is to touch your toes to your outstretched hand.
Repeat with knees to your left side.
Reclined diamond stretch
Benefits: chest, shoulders, hips and groin.
Sit on the floor and bring the soles of the feet together so that your legs form a diamond shape. Lean back on your elbows. The lower you recline the greater the stretch. For comfort you can support yourself with pillows or lie back on a rolled up duvet. Hold the stretch of a few minutes or until you wake up.
Kickstart your Land’s End to John O’Groats planning
Everything you need to know to get you started on your Lands End to John O Groats adventure is contained within these three books: a How To, a detailed account of riding the Google Map route for LEJOG and a ‘safe’ Route Book using GPX files.
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Where to next?
The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, including training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, how to look after your bike, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O’Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.