3 stretches and massage techniques that are great for cyclists

Any repetitive movement can put stress on your body, and cycling is certainly that – if you pedal at 90 rpm, that’s 5,400 revolutions an hour, so it’s understandable that from time to time you might feel the odd ache.

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DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness – are a normal sign that your body is being forced to adapt, and as the saying goes ‘No Pain, No Gain’, but sharp pains, or those that feel out of the ordinary or are persistent are quite another thing.

Injuries are often the result of tight muscles elsewhere – so for example, fatigue and tightness in your hips or glutes can extend to pain in the hamstrings and calves if not treated with some careful TLC. When large muscles, such as the glutes, are not able to complete their work, the load is placed upon smaller muscles, and that can lead to injury.

The best form of defense is to stretch and massage muscles before they begin to really suffer. We’ve taken a look at 3 areas that need regular TLC, and how to care for them.

However, if you are struggling with regular discomfort from cycling, it’s a very good idea to have a bike fit – as all 3 of the below (and more!) can be down to an ill fitting bike – easily fixed with a tape measure, plum lines, spirit levels, and a little know how.

1) Glutes/Pirafirmis

Your glutes are made up of your gluteus minimus, gluteus medius, gluteus maximus and tensor fasciae latae. The gluteus maximus is the largest of all, and is the most obvious – making up most of your bum cheek – it does a lot of  the work in cycling. Very close to it, is your Piraformis, a very tiny muscle that is actually used to rotate your leg outwards. When this muscle gets tight, or stressed, it can cause quite a bit of pain – even tightening up and putting pressure on the sciatic nerve, creating a condition called Piraformis Syndrome, where pain runs down the back of the entire leg.

I’ve struggled with a knotty Piraformis on multiple occasions and can vouch for two treatment methods:

> Rolling on a tennis ball/lacrosse ball: This sounds bizarre, and I’ll admit it’s somewhat (very) painful – but it absolutely works. Simply place the ball on the ground, and sit on it, placing all your body weight on one side, then roll. When you find the right spot (Piraformis Syndrome can also be called Wallet Syndrome – X marks the spot right where your back pockets sit) you’ll know about it. Don’t be too brutal, as too much massage can cause more damage, take it easy and do this little and often if you can.

> Piraformis Stretch: Lie on your back, with both knees bent. Lift your left leg, and place the ankle on your right knee – this should result in a stretch right through your left glutes. If this isn’t strong enough, place both hands behind the thigh of your right leg, and raise the leg off the ground. Do this on both sides – remember pain in the left can be as a result of tightness in the right, and vice versa.

2) IT Band

The IT band – or Iliotibial band – runs alongside your outer thigh, right from the hip to your knee. Knee pain is one of the most common complaints cyclists suffer from, and there are very many causes – but one of them is a tight IT band, pulling on the knee cap.

Regular TLC for the IT band can help to prevent this sort of knee pain:

> Use a foam roller along the outer thigh:  If you don’t have a foam roller, a tennis ball, deodorant can, or even a bottle of water filler with ice will do the job.  To do this, lie on one side with your foam roller below your knee, and gently roll so that you are resting on your hip. Do this slowly, and if you find a point that is more painful, stop there for 10 seconds or so to help the muscle release. If the IT band is tight, this can be painful, but stick at it as it is worth it.

> Stretch the IT band: Stand with your legs crossed, your right leg behind your left. Lean to your left, holding on to a railing/chair/door if you need to keep your balance. If you don’t feel this stretch strongly enough, lift your left hand above your head. If you still struggle to feel the stretch, lean forwards to touch your toes (or get as close as you can).

3) Back pain

Many cyclists spend a lot of time with their backs curved, and their arms reaching forwards for the handlebars. This isn’t a natural position, and to make matters worse, many of us are compounding the problem with desk jobs that have us leaning over computers during the day, too.

A great way to reverse the forward bend is to counter it with a backwards bend. When you get off the bike, place your hands on your bum, and lean back to look at the sky. If need be, you can nonchalantly whistle and pretend to be bird watching.

Another great way to stretch your back out is to lie on your front, with your hands on the floor either side of you. Push up from this position, keeping your hips on the ground – and extend as far as you can – you should feel a stretch all the way down your lower back. My ballet teacher used to make us then lift our feet up to tough the crown of our heads – but this isn’t entirely necessary for most cyclists!

Remember – these are stretches and massage techniques to help prevent problems caused by tight muscles – if you are already experiencing pain that is out of the ordinary for you, see a physiotherapist or osteopath, and get a bike fit!

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7 Responses to 3 stretches and massage techniques that are great for cyclists

  1. Roger Blake 18/02/2015 at 3:03 am #

    Some illustrations would of helped. This is a great topic.

  2. Phil 19/02/2015 at 9:27 am #

    Back pain is easily avoided by setting your bike up so you can sit upright, using North Road bars to eliminate stretching and pressure on the wrists.

  3. Steph 20/02/2015 at 10:26 am #

    Yes, illustrations (or a little film clip) would HAVE helped indeed!

  4. Rob Eggleshaw 20/02/2015 at 12:27 pm #

    I highly recommend stretching the hip-flexors

  5. Mike 20/02/2015 at 4:51 pm #

    Phil, adopting the “sit up and beg” riding style is not the only way to eliminate back pain. That style is not recommended for people who have difficulty sitting bolt upgright. Nor is it the most efficient riding position, and yes, sometimes efficiency on a bicycle is important. It’s better to have your bike properly fitted to your body. If that means the “sit up and beg” style, then so be it; others may go for a slightly more angled style. My preference is for an approx. 30 degree forward angle from the seat post. It’s a good compromise between between the bolt-upright and completely-bent-over aero styles.

    Also very important is the saddle on the bike. Some people may need, or prefer, the wide saddles, often cushioned by padding and/or springs. My own saddle is quite comfortable for me, but it is neither plush nor ultra-thin. It’s a middle ground, and it’s sized for my anatomy and body size. I must confess that I did not have much professional help when picking out the saddle years ago. I picked it at my local cycle shop based on the product packaging and my riding style. I did get somewhat lucky with the comfort level. Even with a bit of luck involved, it still was a major improvement over the original one, which after 30 years had deteriorated so much that it no longer had any cushioning. the old one felt like it was directly connected to my skeleton. I dreaded going over any bumps. I have no such qualms now.

    Basically, there is no one strict riding style that works for everyone and eliminates back pain. Choose a bike that fits your basic riding style; have it properly fitted (or do some tests yourself to find the best fit); get a good saddle (good=comfort for you, not high-priced); and fill your tires properly. Follow these stretches here for the occasional sore muscles.

  6. Mike 20/02/2015 at 5:01 pm #

    For wrist pain, I’ve found that getting a good set of ergonomic handlebar grips is essential. I had writ pain after longer rides when my bike had it’s original grips. Switching to a set of ergonomic grips (which have a large flat area for resting your palm) solved that problem. I use Ergon GP1 grips, which is their basic model, but there are other models with more grip options, which allow you to change hand positions mid-ride, taking away some of the stress on your wrists.

    Here’s one exercise for temporary relief of wrist pain: extend arm straight out, palms down. Use your other hand to grip your fingers and pull back, so that your palm is facing forward, as if you were to wave at someone, or miming “stop!”. Hold for a while, then repeat with the other arm.

  7. Gemma 22/02/2015 at 12:43 pm #

    I’d definitely second the idea of getting measured for a saddle. Especially if, like me, you have a wide sit-bone.
    Also ergo-grips are brilliant, especially for ladies – frames are often ‘male’ sized and don;t take into account women’s slightly shorter arms, it’s amazing what that extra inch or two can do! They also encourage a better arm position.

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