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Stretching for Cycling

Moving your muscles before and after your workout will help you get the most out of your ride
Written by 
Nicole Dorsey
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 

Getting on a bike is a fun way to burn calories, increase your aerobic fitness and even reduce stress. But just like any other type of exercise, it’s important to stretch your muscles before and after your ride to help your body properly warm up and cool down. Whether you’re bicycling outdoors or hitting a stationary bike for some indoor cycling, spend five to 10 minutes stretching pre- and post-pedaling session to prepare and relieve your hardworking quads, hamstrings and calf muscles. Stretching will also extend muscles in your back, neck and arms—all of which can become tense as you maintain proper cycling form.


Warm-Up Stretches

Before you hop on your bike, get your body moving with dynamic (active) stretches, which help lubricate your muscles and joints. Try the following moves:

  • Alternating Toe Touch

Stand up straight with your arms at your sides. Step forward with your right foot and lift your left leg in front of you until it is parallel to the floor while reaching your right hand toward your left foot. Lower your leg and arm. That’s one rep. Next, step forward with your left foot and lift your right leg in front of you while reaching your left hand toward your right foot. Continue alternating legs for a total of 10 reps as you walk forward. Turn around and repeat as you walk back.

  • Arm Swings

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, your back straight and your arms down by your sides. Then, in one fluid movement, swing both arms up toward the ceiling, back down and behind you. Repeat this movement 10 to 15 times. Next, raise your arms to the side so they’re parallel to the floor and swing them forward and across your body, so they cross over each other, and back out to the side. Alternate which arm crosses over the top. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

  • Lateral Squat

Stand up straight with your feet spread twice the width of your shoulders. Push your hips back, keep your right leg straight and bend your left knee while lowering down until your left thigh is parallel to the floor. Rise back up. That’s one rep. Repeat, this time bending your right knee. Continue alternating legs for a total of 10 reps. Complete two sets.

  • Walking Lunge

Stand up straight with your feet together and your arms at your sides. Step forward with your left foot, bending both knees and lowering your hips toward the floor until your left leg is almost at a 90-degree angle. Avoid touching the ground with your right knee. Then, push off with your right foot and bring it forward to meet your left foot so you’re in a standing position. That’s one rep. Do your next one on the other side, stepping forward with your right foot. Continue alternating legs for a total of 15 reps. Complete two sets.
 

Once you’re on the bike, continue your warm-up by pedaling slowly for a few minutes. Then stop and stretch lightly right from your seat by doing a few pelvic tilts and tailbone tucks to loosen up your lower back muscles before committing to the constant forward-bend posture you’ll take during your ride. When you’re done, resume a slow pedaling pace as you ease into your full workout.

 

Cool-Down Stretches

Start winding down your workout by gradually decreasing your speed and pace for a safe recovery. This allows your blood pressure and heart rate to begin to return to normal.

Once you’re off the bike, continue your cool-down with some static stretches that are optimal to do post-workout when your muscles are supple and warm:

  • Kneeling Shin Stretch

Remove your shoes and kneel so the tops of your feet are on the floor. Point your toes and contract your calf muscles, feeling the extension in your shins. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat two or three more times. 
 

  • Reclining Hamstring Stretch

Lie flat on your back with your legs extended straight on the floor. Keeping your tailbone and pelvis grounded, raise your right leg and grasp behind your lower thigh, interlacing your fingers. Flex your foot and keep your leg straight as you gently pull your leg toward your head. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then release your grip and slowly lower your leg to the floor. Repeat on the other side.
 

  • Quad Stretch

Stand up straight with your legs together. Bend your right knee and raise your right foot up behind you, grasping the top of your foot with your right hand. Hold your foot so your heel is touching your right buttock (or is close to it), keeping your knees together throughout the stretch. If you’re having trouble balancing, hold onto the back of a chair, a counter or other support (avoid anything that requires you to reach too low). Engage your abdominals and tighten your glutes to increase the stretch. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and then release your grip slowly, lowering your foot to the floor. Repeat on the other side.


This popular yoga stretch, which provides a release in your back, hips and neck, is also a great choice post-ride:

  • Tabletop Cat-Cow

Start on your hands and knees with your fingers spread directly under your shoulders and your toes tucked under (“tabletop” position). Inhale and as you exhale, round your back toward the ceiling, letting your head fall toward the floor without forcing your chin to your chest (Cat Pose). Inhale and return to tabletop position briefly, exhaling. Then inhale and let your belly sink toward the floor as you lift your chest upward, your gaze straight forward (Cow Pose). Exhale and return to your starting position. Move mindfully back and forth between these two poses for one minute.

 

Reference(s) 
American Council on Exercise
About the author 
Nicole Dorsey is a Los Angeles-based exercise physiologist who loves writing about women’s wellness and healthier parenting.