Better Bike Stretches
Have you ever gotten off your bike and felt like you had to unbend yourself back to full, upright position like a tri-folding lawn chair?
The bike can pose a bit of a problem for many riders, especially when it comes to putting in more and more “time in the saddle.”
One issue you’ll want to be vigilantly aware of is not only stiffness, aches, and pains resulting from the bike, but the possibility of injury.
I’ve seen many riders complain about lower back pain after riding and then go straight into a series of stretches that exasperates their problem. That’s a lose-lose situation.
An easy example…
Day one: you ride hard and get tight in the hammies.
Day two: you run hills without warming up and getting flexible.
Day three: you’re hobbling like Captain Ahab with a peg leg.
The bike is an efficient machine, not an ergonomically designed machine. And the aero position on a triathlon bike takes that to another level. It’s not that being hunched over is a terribly bad thing, but being tucked for hours on end while you cranking with moderate to intense effort – that’s where the issues come creeping in that can lead to pain.
Since most triathletes agree that they would rather have speed and performance over comfort, it’s a simple trade off that must be paid for.
Think about it: your shoulders are hunched forward, back is rounded, hip angle is acute, hamstrings never fully extend… Human bodies don’t like that!
Here’s a simple triathlon stretch routine that I like to call “Better Bike Stretches”.
These stretches are build on the basics, but are enhanced to be better applicable for on-and-off-the-bike performance.
Have you ever slept on your arm wrong and when you awoke could hardly straighten it out? That’s the same “short, tight muscle” principle as the bike. Short and tight muscles don’t like to be worked hard, and then when they are, they tend to get shorter and tighter.
Bike Stretch # 1: Quad Stretch Cross with Reach
Here we’ll take an already good stretch and make it great by modifying it slightly to target more IT band, as well as combo it with an upper body, shoulder and lat stretch.
Bring your foot up to your rear and grab it with your opposite hand for the quad stretch. Press your hips laterally (out to the side) as you reach up with your arm to the sky. The idea here is to create an arch and lengthen the entire side of your body. This move will require balance, so master balancing on one leg with the quad stretch before reaching with your arm.
Bike Stretch # 2: Hip Flexors
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and couldn’t straighten out your arm because you were sleeping on it? That’s a similar idea to what your hip flexors are going through when you ride. They are about as short as can be and never do fully lengthen until you get off the bike.
Stand with a nice long scissor split stance and press your hips forward. That should be enough to start to feel the stretch in the front of your hips, however, to get a deeper stretch, lean back with your upper body to rotate your hips upward. Try lean to each side to target different angles.
My prescription for this stretch is to hold it at least one minute on each side, and then do a couple sets because hip flexors are so crucial in triathlon performance and injury prevention.
Bike Stretch #3 – Standing Hamstrings
Here’s a better way to get those hamstrings well taken care of.
Of course, the classic hamstring stretch would be to bend over and touch your toes, so why not do that with the bike routine? Again the hip flexors are the culprit, and although its a good stretch for the hamstrings, it promotes the short hip flexor.
Begin this bike stretch by finding a chair, table, wall, or even your bike seat to lift your heel upon. Think about getting a 90 degree angle from your hips and hold straight knees. If you need more stretch, press your hips forward and that will tie in a good hip flexor stretch along with the hamstring stretch.
Sometimes my neck and shoulders want to cop out long before my legs are hammered after a long ride, and then they seem to stay tight for a couple days after. So here’s a great combo stretch for the bike that will release tight shoulders, traps, neck, chest, and biceps (important note: tight bi’s can easily cause shoulder pain and poor posture).
“Hold all these Triathlon Bike Stretches for at least 30 seconds. A full 60 seconds is ideal, and do two sets of each if you have time.”
Bike Stretch #4 – Neck, Chest, Shoulders, Spine
This is one of my favorite stretches simply because it feels so good and works so well. Start this stretch by reaching one arm backward with elbow straight and palm up. Then gently bend your neck to the opposite side. It’s crucial to hold a light static stretch here and not bounce or use force. For a bit more stretch, use your other arm to pull the top of your head lower to your shoulder.
Bike Stretch #5 – Pigeon Pose Stretch
Here’s a stretch I love for the bike because it directly helps my hips and lower back stay flexible and strong. It’s very relaxing, too.
There are a couple ways to do this stretch effectively, but basically, ann you have to do is lie down with one leg bent and underneath while one leg is extended back. You can try it with your foot directly under your hips, or more out to the side to zero in on different glute muscles. I find that if I press my toes into the ground I get an additional hip flexor stretch, so give that a try.
Bike Stretch #6 – Seal Stretch
Another simple stretch to counter balance the forward hunched position of the bike. All you have to do is start face down and use your arms to press your upper body up to arch back. You’ll feel this stretch all along your abdominals and down into your anterior hips. Look up to the ceiling to add a thorastic spine and neck stretch, and also try angling it to each side so you’re looking over your shoulder.
Bike Stretch #7 – Lying Twist for Spine and Glutes
Another one of my favorite stretches because it’s relaxing and I promise you’ll feel great after committing to this exercise. It’s really good for the triathlete bike stretches arsenal because you don’t get any twisting motion to help stay loose like running or swimming. Not only is it an excellent stretch for the glutes, but this one works your flexibility all the way up your spine.
Lie on your back and pull your knee all the way up to your chest. Then drop your knee to the side and let it rest on the floor. Twist and reach to the other side with an extended arm. Practice this move until the back of your palm can easily rest on the floor.
Bike Stretch #8 – Slugger’s Stretch
I call this one the Slugger’s Stretch because you’ll see it in the big leagues before your favorite MVP smacks a homer out of the park. Instead of a bat, I’m using a cue stick as an excellent way to stretch my chest and shoulders. Grab any stick for that matter as wide (or as narrow) as possible, and then reach up and all the way back behind your body.
Bike Stretch #9 – Stability Ball
Here’s a helpful tool to get a better upper body stretch. Lie with your upper back on a stability ball and support your hips with a wide stance. Focus on letting your head and shoulders drop down into an arch. Raise your arms overhead and let gravity give you a gentle stretch throughout your neck, shoulders, chest, spine, and ribcage.
Stretching specifically for the bike is important for many reasons including injury prevention, better technique, good posture, faster run splits, and just feeling great day in and day out.
Use these bike stretches regularly to increase your performance both on and off the bike as well as stay healthy for the long haul. That way you can enjoy every aspect of triathlon training and be successful with your goals and dreams on race day!