Top Five Off-The-Bike Flexibility Exercises

Physiotherapist & Bike Fitter Bryan McCullough shares his top 5 exercises to help increase flexibility and reduce your risk of injury.

Maintaining flexibility not only helps reduce the risk of injury but can also make a dramatic difference in your general bike fit and position. 

This may be a crucial step in getting more comfortable to allow you apply more power to the pedals, or getting more aero so you slip through the wind more efficiently. 

Here’s a quick list of five flexibility drills that can help you. 

1. Hamstrings 

You simply will not be able to achieve a good forward bend through the hips and lumbar spine without good hamstring length, so this should be your first port of call. 

How to do it: 

  • Simply lie down on the floor with one leg up on the wall (a doorway works well for this)
  • Place the leg so that the knee is straight and relaxed, you should be able to feel a moderate stretch in this position. If you do not feel any stretch move slightly closer to the wall. If you are unable to straighten your knee you will need to move back slightly from the wall
  • Hold this position for up to 1 minute, relax
  • Repeat on the other side

2. Hip Flexors

In quite the opposite respect to the hamstrings it is very important to maintain good length in your hip flexors. These muscles spend a long time in a relatively shortened position through both time on the bike and sitting at a desk (we’ll safely assume that most of you spend pretty long hours at the desk!) which can lead to muscle tightness, weak hip drive in the pull phase of your pedal stroke, and low back pain over time.

How to do it: 

  • Place a mat on the floor and get into a half kneeling position with the knee on the floor of the hip you are stretching
  • Start by tilting your pelvis upwards (flattening your lower back) then slowly squeeze your glutes to push the hips slightly forward, you should feel a progressive stretch at the front of the hip and down the thigh
  • Hold (with glutes squeezing) for 30 seconds, relax
  • Repeat on both sides

3. Thoracic Spine
 
Once again this is an area that takes a beating both sat at the desk and riding your bike. It has to be able to sustain long periods in some degree of flexion. Some work must be done here to allow you to maintain this position with adversely affecting your posture and comfort on the bike. 

How to do it:

  • Using a foam roller, position it length-ways and lay back down along your spine, keep your knees bent so as not to put pressure on your lower back
  • Arm position can vary but placing your arms out to the side as shown is a great way to get stretch the front of the shoulders and chest at the same time
  • Hold for 2-3 minutes

4. Iliotibial Band (ITB)

This non-contractile stretch of connective tissue runs down the outside of your thigh and takes a lot of stick for ‘causing’ various knee complaints. However it’s really the muscles that it originates from (Tensor Fascia Lata and Glute Max) that we should be focusing on to alleviate some of the tension.

How to do it:

  • Lie on your side with your lower hip bent at 90 degrees, grasp the ankle on the top leg and slowly extend your hip until you feel a stretch on the front of the hip
  • Then slowly allow your knee to drop downwards to focus the stretch onto TFL
  • Hold for 30 seconds, repeat twice

5. Latissimus Dorsi

This large muscle fans out from the middle of your lower back and inserts right under your armpit, affecting what amount of reach (to your bars) you may be able to obtain on the bike. 

How to do it:

  • Start by kneeling on the floor, reach your arms out in front of with thumbs pointed upwards
  • Once in this position try to sit back onto your heels and reach your arms as far out in front of you as possible
  • Hold for 30 seconds, repeat twice

This is by no means an exhaustive list but it’s certainly a good place to get started with regards to improving your position on the bike. Its also worth paying attention to flexibility of your quadriceps and calves which undergo heavy loads during cycle training though have less of an impact on your position on the bike.