How important is flexibility for cyclists?
Updated: Sep 21, 2021
Flexibility is important for all athletes. Cycling, in particular, can lead to short and tightened muscles because of the constant pedaling with little to no range of motion. Not only is the position on the bike restricting, but you also need to be able to maintain the correct posture to prevent injury. So yes, flexibility is a very important element for cyclists.
Why does cycling make your muscle stiff?
Besides the naturally occurring muscle soreness that comes from exercise, cycling can cause body stiffness in other ways. First, by staying in one position for prolonged periods of time, whether sitting or standing, it can cause stiffness. When cycling, you are in a bent-over, forward position for hours at a time, with the position itself acting to shorten the muscles.
Think about it when you are on your bike pedaling. Notice how your legs are never quite fully extended or flexed, limiting the joints' range of motion. You are effectively contracting your muscles while shortening, which can in time lead to what is known as adaptive shortening.
The most common is the tightening and shortening of the hip flexors and hamstrings, which can lead to issues in the legs and low back.
Why is flexibility for cyclists important?
Flexibility, or rather inflexibility, can create an imbalance of the musculature, which can lead to excessive tension through the joints. With all that extra tension, the body starts experiencing weakness, discomfort, and pain. By doing stretching, a cyclist can improve their flexibility, which translates into a better moving and healthy muscular and skeletal system overall.
1. Performance and Comfort
If you are concerned with getting into an aerodynamic position on your bike, then you need to be flexible. To lean low down on your handlebars while driving power from your legs, you must be able to get into the position in the first place. For example, tight or shortened hamstrings will make the aerodynamic position impossible and tight calves can limit the power of your pedal strokes.
It is important to notice that comfort on the bike does take time, but what you do off the bike plays an important role. By doing some cross-training and stretching, you will be working on maintaining a strong core as well as reversing the cycling posture off the bike.
Often there are elements of tightness and weakness collaborating, so a combination of stretching the tight areas and strengthening the weak areas can really help you get to the root of the problem and boost your performance.
2. Injury Prevention
Maintaining proper posture on your bike can go a long way to prevent injury. The natural inclination is to round your back as you crane your head to look forward. Not only does this create drag, but it will eventually cause pain in your lower and upper back and neck.
Everything in your body is connected. So, to maintain proper bike posture you must have adequate flexibility in your lower back, hips, glutes, and hamstrings. The flatter your back can be, the fewer issues you’ll come up against in your training.
It takes stretching to maintain long muscles, as well as strength training to ensure your core is up to the task of keeping that proper position on the bike.
So, what are some exercises we recommend?
1. Thoracic Mobility Stretch
2. Neck/Upper Trap Stretch
3. Updog (Lumbar mobilization stretch)
4. Hip Flexor/Quad Stretch
5. Piriformis Stretch
6. Gastroc/Soleus Stretch