Essential Warm Up & Cool Down Stretching Exercises for Cyclists
Cycling is like any other aerobic sport in which you need to both, ramp up as you begin and ramp down your activity level before you stop. This is easy to overlook in the desire to hit the road ASAP, but your body will serve you better in the long run if you pay attention to the practical tips & Exercises for Cyclists mentioned in this article
Stretching is an important activity to incorporate into your daily routine. It is especially important for cyclists because biking can cause tightness in your lower body due to the repetitive nature of the motions inherent in pedalling. Smart cyclists stretch before and after riding, incorporating targeted stretches into both their warm-ups and their cool-downs.
Stretching can help keep your muscles flexible and strong, enabling you to sustain an active lifestyle. It can also improve your posture, balance, and coordination, all of which are necessary if you want to enjoy your bike outings.
Failure to stretch can result in tears or strains; lack of stretching can lead to very painful injuries that sideline you while you heal. Not stretching can contribute to poor circulation, reduced range of motion, and chronic muscle soreness, each of which can block your progress toward cycling proficiency.
Many of the common cycling injuries — both those caused by posture and injuries due to over-use — can be minimized, if not outright prevented, by regular stretching exercises. If you adopt the habit of stretching, you will find any injuries you do receive will respond much better to healing treatments.
There are mainly two types of stretching exercises, Static & Dynamic. I will touch upon what they are & which ones should you do when later in this article.
Static Stretching (SS) means those exercises where you hold your stretch over a period of 20 to 30 seconds while remaining stationary.
While Dynamic Stretching (DS) refers to those exercises where in your muscles undergo a repetitive motion to warm them up before a hectic routine like cycling.
SS helps improve the overall flexibility of your muscles, however, they are also known to slow down your muscles and hence should be avoided right before cycling. These can be good exercises to cool down post your ride.
DS, on the other hand, warms up/loosens your muscles and joints. They work great to help you avoid injuries while doing a strenuous or fast-paced activity.
Before you start off with your exercises, it is important that you warm up your body first. Warming up helps your body in several ways.
First, it increases the amount of blood flow to your heart and other muscles, which helps prepare them for an increased workload. It also boosts the amount of oxygen and nutrients that are sent to your muscles. A good warm-up will lubricate your joints, readying them for activity and can help you mentally prepare to work your body by boosting your energy level and upping your enthusiasm. To start your warm-up you want to engage in light aerobics.
This could include a brisk walk, a slow jog, or a spin on a stationary bike. You could also march in place, walk up and down a flight of stairs, bounce on a mini trampoline, take a swim or engage in any other activity that gets your heart pumping.
Once you’ve finished your light aerobic activity, you can complete a light dynamic stretching routine to continue warming up your muscles. The following dynamic routine will both engage your cardiovascular system and continue to engage your muscles.
Note: when a description below mentions only one side of your body, perform it on the other side as well. Your objective is to reach balanced flexibility.
1. Prisoner Squats:
Stand with your feet slightly farther apart than your shoulders. Place your hands behind your head. Lower your body into a squat and look upward. Squat down as far as possible without bending your knees any further.
Hold that position for a moment and then push yourself back up. For additional force building, you can propel yourself up off the ground when you push back up if you choose.
The video below will help you understand this better.
2. Jump Rope
Rapidly jump up and down while quickly twirling a jump rope underneath your feet. Spring up from the ground using primarily your feet and ankles.
I assume everyone is well aware of this activity, so I will not add a video for this routine.
3. Jumping Jacks
Stand with your feet together and your arms at rest by your sides. Keeping arms and legs relatively straight, jump up while widening your stance and raising your arms away from your sides to higher than your shoulders.
Jump up a second time, returning both feet and hands to their original position repeat this motion without pause until you feel your heart pumping.
4. Ankle Bounces
Rapidly jump and up and down, springing off the floor with your feet and ankles.
5. Walking Lunges
Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step forward into a lunge and bend both knees to lower your hips to the ground. Avoid touching your back knee to the ground. Shift your weight onto your forward foot and use your back foot to push off the ground; bring your back leg forward and step into another lunge.
6. Side Step Lunge
Stand upright with your feet slightly apart and your knees slightly bent. Keeping your left knee and aligned above your left toes, step directly to your left. While your weight is still on your left leg, bring your right foot leftward until you have returned to the starting posture. Repeat several times to the left, and then reverse the lunge, stepping to the right.
The video below shows a slightly different technique. You can use it if you are short on space.
7. Toe Touches
Stand upright with your feet shoulder distance apart. Bend at the waist, allowing your arms to hang down as you lower your upper body headfirst. Relax and allow your arms and torso to naturally hang in front of your legs for 2 seconds before rising to your original position.
8. Power Skips
Skip rapidly as high and as far forward as you can.
9. Arm Circles
Stand upright with your legs shoulder-width apart, holding your arms out to each side, palms facing forward. Begin swinging your arms in small circles for at least 10 seconds. Stop and repeat, circling your arms in the opposite direction.
lie on your back on the floor. Place your hands together behind your head. Without bending your neck, raise your torso until your shoulder blades come up off the floor. Lower yourself to the starting position and repeat multiple times.
11. Lateral Leg Swings
Stand with a wall or other support to your right, touching it with your hand as needed for balance. Lift your left foot about an inch off the ground. Swing the left leg out (to the left) and back 10 times. Turn around and repeat the process with your right leg.
12. Pendulum Swings
Stand a couple of feet behind a chair back with your legs shoulder-width apart. Keeping a straight back and bending your knees slightly, lean forward at the waist and grasp the top of the chair with your right hand. Let your left arm hang loosely from the shoulder socket.
Using your upper body to start the motion, swing the left arm back and forth, both from side to side, front to back and in a circular motion, about 10 times each. Then, repeat this exercise with your right arm.
13. Shoulder Rolls
While seated on a chair, rest your hands on your legs. Breathe in and roll your shoulders backwards, up, forward and down as you breathe out. Let your shoulders rest, then take another deep breath in and roll your shoulders the opposite direction as you breathe out.
14. Running in Place
Run in place for one minute, lifting your knees high.
15. Single Leg Hops
Stand on your left leg, behind a marker of some sort. Flex your knee, and then jump forward over the marker, landing on your left leg. You can set up multiple markers for a multiple-hop exercise if you want. Remember to repeat on the right leg.
16. Standing Hip Circles
Balance on your left leg, with your left hand holding onto something for support. Raise your right knee up to a 90-degree angle and draw a circle in the air with it. This allows you to open up your hips. Draw a circle in the opposite direction, and then put your foot down. Paulwebb.tv has put together a video containing a really good stretching warm-up routine, called Full Body Dynamic Warm Up. It will demonstrate most of these exercises.
The remaining stretches in this article are in a special category; they are called static stretches because you hold a specific position for a period of time. Your body needs these stretches, don’t get me wrong. Just be careful when you perform them.
Because static stretches have been found to reduce your power output for up to an hour following their use, you should never perform these exercises right before you ride.
I prefer to do static stretching to cool down post my ride.
Note – Duration for each stretch is 10 to 30 seconds each. i.e. If you are doing leg stretches. Do a 10 to 30 stretch for each leg.
Here are some of the best stretches for the muscles in your legs and lower body. The muscle groups we’ll target here are your hamstrings, quadriceps, calf muscles, and glutes
17 Standing Quadriceps Stretch
Duration – 10 to 30 seconds per leg
Stand straight with your right hand against a wall for support; then bend your left foot behind you. Take your left hand and pull your heel to your buttocks. Stand straight and continue to pull your foot up until you feel the stretch in your thigh.
18. Seated Hamstring Stretch
Duration – 10 to 30 seconds
Sit on the floor and stretch your legs out in front of you. Keeping your knees straight, reach your arms forward as you bend at your waist.
19. Standing Calf Stretch
Duration – 10 to 30 seconds per leg
Stand facing a wall, one step behind it. Step forward with your left leg. Pressing your right heel into the ground, lower your body and keep your back leg straight as you lean against the wall. Lower yourself until you can feel a stretch.
20. Hip Flexor Stretch
Duration – 10 to 30 seconds
This stretch will work your hip flexors. Lie down on the floor and bend your knees over your upper body like a baby. Use both hands to grasp your feet between your knees and feel the stretch.
21. Hip Flexor Stretch 2
Sit on the floor and straighten out your legs before you. Breathe in and bend your left knee, putting the sole of your left foot against the top of your right inner thigh. Keeping both hips firmly on the floor, breathe in as you reach your right arm straight up and then forward, breathing out as you lower your arm and let your hand land naturally on your right leg. Slowly bend your right shoulder down toward your right knee, allowing your right elbow to lower to the floor inside your leg until you feel a stretch.
22. Plantar Fasciitis Stretch
Sit in a chair and cross your left leg over your right ankle. Grasp your toes just above the ball of your foot and pull them back until you feel a stretch in the bottom of your heel.
23. Achilles Stretch
Stand facing a wall, one step behind it. Step forward with your left leg. Pressing your right heel into the ground, lower your body and keep your back leg straight as you lean toward the wall. Lower yourself toward the wall until you can feel a stretch.
Upper Body Stretches: It is also important to stretch your chest and shoulders. Since you will spend much of your time with your upper body bent over your handlebars, it is important to counter your body’s tendency to shorten those muscles that would otherwise eventually leave your back hunched over a caved-in chest.
24. Shoulder Stretch
Sit on a chair. Raise your right arm, bending it at the elbow behind your head so that your hand stretches down
the centre of your back. Use your left hand to grasp your wrist and pull it downwards until a stretch occurs in your triceps and shoulders. If you cannot reach your wrist you can simply pull your arm back from below the elbow. An alternative is to grasp a towel in your right hand, letting it fall down your back for the left hand to grab and pull downward.
25. Chest Stretch
Stand straight with your feet shoulder width apart and your chest high. Extend both arms straight out from your sides with your palms facing the floor. Move your arms as far back as you can until a stretch occurs in your chest.
26. Camel Pose (5 breaths)
Get down on your knees; placing them at least two fist widths apart. Place your hands on your lower back. Tighten your abdomen and tip your tailbone down. Gazing toward the far wall, lift your chest up and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
Whole-Body Stretches: Your body needs these stretches both to engage muscles that haven’t otherwise been targeted and to program your body to balance the use of multiple muscles.
27. Downward Facing Dog (5 breaths)
Get down on all fours. Inhale as you relax your upper back and straighten your elbows. Exhale, extending your hips upward, and straightening your legs to form an upside down “V” shape. Relax your head and let it hang down between your arms.
28. Runner’s Lunge
Stand straight and inhale. Exhale as you step forward with your right foot into a lunge position and lower your body until your fingers can make contact with the ground. Inhale as you straighten out your right leg. Exhale as you slowly return to the lunge position and then back to your starting position. Repeat this stretch four times on each leg.
29. Bridge Pose (5 breaths)
Lie down on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor with your heels against your hips. Placing your hands by your sides for stability, raise your hips off the floor. As your hips rise, lift your chest also keeping your back straight.
30. Lower Back Stretch
Sit on the floor and bend your knees, keeping your feet on the ground. Use your hands to pull your chest toward your knees. You will find it much safer to start cycling after completing this stretching routine. Once you are finished cycling for the day, it is equally important to follow a cool down routine to ensure that you will protect your muscles even further.
To cool down you can simply repeat some of the dynamic stretches from your warm-up routine. The most important areas to focus on when cooling down are your lower legs, thighs, hips and lower back.