Flexibility exercises for cyclists
Updated: Feb 17
Doing stretches/flexibility exercises for the whole body is always a good idea and you’ll do yourself a favour if you get into the habit while you’re young and things still move (relatively) easy. In this blog I’m going to focus on the 3 main areas that I find can become problematic if you don’t do exercises that counter the cycling posture.
Tight chest and upper back
The bent over position that’s so important for aerodynamics when cycling can cause your upper back to stiffen up in that position. This can cause problems both on and off the bike.
On the bike, it can place more strain on your neck – especially at the junction between you neck and upper back, causing those joints to become painful and the muscles in your neck and shoulders to feel tight and sore.
Off the bike, it can cause trouble when you’re doing other activities that require large ranges of movement. For example I’ve seen a few triathletes through the years struggling with neck pain and arm pain while swimming which was mainly caused by the stiffness in their upper backs and necks.
An increased rounding in your upper back also forces your shoulders into a more rounded posture which, combined with the pectoral muscles in the chest becoming tight, may predispose you to injuries like shoulder impingement. You may not even realise that your cycling has contributed to your shoulder pain as it will often come on with repetitive activities like gardening or swimming.
Top tip: Include flexibility exercises aimed at improving your thoracic spine (upper back) extension and rotation as well as pec stretches. I demonstrate some of my favourite stretches in the video above.
Cycling can give you extremely strong hip flexor muscles – especially if you use cleats. But due to the cycling posture you always use them in their shortened position and they’re never moved through their full range.
Overly tight hip flexors can contribute to a range of injuries including lower back and knee pain. If you’re a triathlete you should have extra incentive to keep them flexible as you’ll be able to stride better when running if your hips can easily move into extension.
Top tip: I tend to stretch off the hip flexors first (iliopsoas) and then do a combined hip flexor quad stretch. Part of the quadricep muscle attaches to the front of the pelvis, so you have to incorporate knee flexion into the stretch to allow full hip extension range (see video).
The gluteal muscles work pretty hard on the bike and I find that tight glutes can also affect your lower back. Check out the video for 2 of my favourite stretches for the glutes.
Let me know if you have any questions. Remember, you can consult me online via video call for an assessment of any injury and a tailored treatment plan.
About the Author
Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 15 years' experience and a Masters Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.