If you played sports in school or university, you probably remember that the coach made a big deal of everyone warming up before doing any exercise. What they were trying to ensure, was that you at least began by doing a few minutes of cardio and stretching to make the muscles more flexible and less prone to injury.
Many weekend warriors have learned the hard way that hopping on a bike with your buddies for a ten-mile ride without giving your body a chance to prepare itself can mean a long, painful work week, as well as a visit to the local chiropractor.
To avoid injury and stiffness, there are some stretches you can do as part of your warm-up before you start pedaling.
Stretching the Neck
As a cyclist, you spend a lot of time turning your head back and forth to check on other cyclists and oncoming traffic, and also head down on the road. It’s easy to get a painful kink in your neck if you haven’t stretched it out properly.
To stretch your neck, stand upright and let your chin drop to your chest. Hold for 20 seconds and return to normal position. Next, lean your head back so that you chin points upward; hold that position for 20 seconds. Then, move your ear towards you left shoulder and again on the other side. This is a north-south-east-west movement, try not to twist your neck.
Another way to limber up the neck is to do a series of slow head rolls. You can also shrug your shoulders up, hold for 20 seconds and release.
Upper Back and Shoulder Stretch
This upper body exercise can help with balance and flexibility during a long ride. From a standing position, bring your left arm across the body to your right shoulder. Using your right arm to gently assist the left, apply pressure and extend your reach further. Maintain an erect posture and do not roll your shoulders forward. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and release. Repeat the stretch with the right arm.
Stretching the Wrists
Although proper cycling form maintains centered body weight over the hips and feet, navigating rough terrain and slowing down with handbrakes requires applying pressure using your wrists; as a result, stretching the wrists is essential for avoiding injury. One classic wrist stretch is to put your palms together, fingers up, under your chin. Press your palms together and lower your wrists to slightly above waist level. Observe the stretch in your wrists and arms. Hold for 20 seconds and release.
Lower Back Stretch
To stretch your lower back, lie down, bend your left knee only and place your left foot flat on the ground. Grasp the front of your left knee with your right hand and pull the bent leg gently over your straight right leg until your left knee touches the ground. Hold for 20 seconds, release and repeat with the right knee. If you have a history of back problems, check with your doctor before attempting this stretch.
Stretching the Glutes
Continue lying down, straighten both legs and bend the right leg so that your right foot is on the ground. Bend your left leg and place your left ankle on your right thigh. With both hands, grasp behind your right thigh and gently pull it toward you; hold for 20 seconds. Repeat the stretch on the opposite side.
Stretching the Hips and Quads
Get down on one knee, as if you were making a marriage proposal. Push your hips forward until you feel the stretch. Hold it for 20 seconds, release, get down on the other knee, and repeat. This stretch is relatively easy to perform, and it will limber up your legs for the ride ahead.
Stretching the Achilles Tendon and the Muscles of the Calf
If you’ve ever seen a footballer sidelined by an Achilles injury, you know how important these tendons and muscle groups are. Place the balls of your feet firmly on the edge of a sturdy block or step. Slowly lower the heels until you feel a stretch. Hold the position for 20 seconds and release. You can also perform this stretch one leg at a time.
Stretching out may seem like a time-waster or a pain in the neck, especially if you are eager to jump on your bike and start the ride. Just remember that preparing your body in advance will translate into fewer injuries and less soreness the next day. Have fun riding and never forget to stretch.