For many cyclists, this is the time of year when past performances are evaluated, new goals are set, and plans are created to achieve those goals. If one of your goals for next season is to work towards faster bike splits, consider adding some simple stretches to your training routine. Flexibility is key for an aggressive bike position. While it’s not the only factor, it can be a significant obstacle for athletes who want to achieve a more aggressive riding position on the bike.
Targeting your hips, glutes, and hamstrings can help athletes improve flexibility and range of motion in an aggressive position. Below are four challenging stretches that will target the hips, glutes, calves, and hamstrings. As you begin to progress towards greater flexibility in these muscle groups, talk with your coach or bike fitter about how your position on the bike can be improved.
1. Figure 4 Stretch
This stretch targets the gluteus medius, maximus, lower back, and hip flexors. To perform this stretch find a carpet or yoga mat. Begin by lying on your back with feet flat on the floor. Cross your right ankle over your left knee. With both hands, grab either the back of your left thigh or front of your left shin. You should feel a stretch along the glutes. To exaggerate the stretch, push your right knee away from your body. Do three repetitions per side. Start by holding each side for 20 seconds and work up to 30.
2. Primal Squat Stretch
This stretch targets many muscle groups in the lower body including glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, quadriceps, soleus and calves. The squat is a movement pattern that many of us have lost with time. Many will find that this stretch is difficult at first. To perform this stretch find a chair, railing, or something that you can use for balance. Start with feet shoulder width apart. Slowly squat down until your thighs are resting on your calves. Once you are in the squat position, look ahead to maintain a neutral back. Do three repetitions. Start by holding this position for 30 seconds and work up from there. It’s okay to work into holding this position for four to five minutes.
Benefits: Flexibility in the hips and glutes allows for greater hip flexion, making it easier for you to achieve a hip angle that is more closed while riding in a triathlon position. As your flexibility in these muscle groups increases so does the potential to increase drop and reach from the saddle to arm pads. Greater hip and glute flexibility may also increase stability in the pelvis which limits rocking while pedaling.
3. Standing Hamstring Stretch
This stretch targets the hamstrings. This stretch comes across as easy but can be difficult to perform correctly. To begin, find an elevated surface that is at or slightly below waist height. Place one leg on the surface. From here, lean your upper body toward the elevated surface that your leg is on. The key is to maintain a very flat back and to square up your hips. Hinge forward and feel a very solid stretch along the backside of your thigh. Do three repetitions per side. Start by holding each side for 20 seconds and work up to 30.
4. Doorway Stretch
This is an alternative to doing a traditional standing hamstring stretch. Using a doorway allows you to settle into a deeper stretch than you might be able to hold in a standing hamstring stretch. To begin, find an open doorway or table. Place a yoga mat or carpet in front of the doorway. Lift your right leg up so that it is parallel to the doorway. Place the heel of your foot onto the doorway. Slide forward until you feel a stretch along the backside of your thigh. Allow your upper body to relax against the ground. As your hamstring flexibility increases slide your hips forward until your entire leg is parallel with the doorway. For extra credit, flex your toes towards your body. Perform three repetitions per side. Start by holding each side for 30 seconds and work up to 1 minute.
Benefits: Increased flexibility through the hamstrings can help a rider maintain a more aggressive back angle on the bike. Stretches that lengthen the hamstrings can help athletes avoid knee pain and/or back pain that are common when trying to ride an aggressive position. Hamstring inflexibility might limit your ability to reach peak extension in the pedal stroke.
These are only a few of the stretches you can use to improve hip, glute and hamstring flexibility. If you have a stretching routine you already use, try adding these in. Perform these stretches when your muscles are warm- either after a training session or a walk. Stretching muscles cold or pre-workout can do more harm than good. Lastly, consistency is key to a solid stretching routine. Skipping even a week can cause you to lose any advantage you might have gained.