As you work on improving your abilities as a cyclist your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and so on will likely increase in size and density, but it is also important that you do not neglect their length as doing so can severely hinder overall progress and even put you at greater risk of injury while you are riding.

I am sure that you have experienced the feeling of jumping off the bike with your legs on fire, pumping tremendous amounts of blood after a ride. Whilst this is a sign of a great workout, what you do next will ultimately determine how quickly you recover and how you feel in the next 24 – 48 hours – depending on how often you ride your bike.

Now I'm sure you are familiar with the concept of stretching your muscles as it is something that has been ingrained in us since a young age. That being said, there is a lot of noise out there in regards to proper methods for stretching. As I have found through my own experience, if you have the wrong advice, and take the wrong actions, in some cases you can do more harm than good.

In this article we're going to look at some stretching exercises that you can perform both before and after your rides to ensure that your joints stay supple and flexible, and you are always on top form while cycling.

Before we get started, always remember that you should never stretch when you are cold. Always conduct some kind of warm up prior to stretching. This is because when you are dead cold, there is less blood flow in your muscles, so stretching under these conditions can cause injury. Once you have warmed up, blood flow to your muscles increases, and this not only makes stretching easier, but a lot more productive and beneficial.

Stretches for a Cyclist

We will lay out individual stretches for each of the muscles or body parts involved in cycling; this includes both your lower and upper body so we will also be focusing on your arms and shoulders in addition to your legs and ankles:

This a great stretch for warming up the quads!

  • 1. Quadriceps

    This stretch can be performed very simply by resting your hand on a chair or wall and, with your free hand, holding onto the ankle of the leg furthest away from the supporting hand.

    Gently pull your leg so that your knee bends and the heel of your foot moves towards your buttocks; your knee cap will either be pointing directly at the ground or slightly behind your body depending on how far you can stretch your quadriceps. This exercise will stretch your quadriceps, promoting blood flow to the upper leg region. It is one of the most critical muscle groups for cyclists.

    Repeat for both sides.

This stretch promotes blood flow to the hamstring

  • 2. Hamstrings

    While standing, place one foot on a chair, table, step, or other support and straighten that leg.

    Lean your body forward in the direction of your straightened leg while reaching your hands forward across that leg. Ease yourself slowly into this stretch and ensure you breathing is kept steady and consistent. Similar to the quadriceps, it is important to stretch the hamstring to ensure maximum performance.

    Repeat for both sides.

Bend the knee to stretch the calf after a long ride!

  • 3. Calves and Ankles

    Stand on one leg with your hands against a wall in front of you.

    Now, while keeping your heel firmly planted on the ground, gradually bend your knee so that it moves forward and you feel a stretch in your soleus or lower calf muscle; this will also be felt in the ankle joint.

    You may wish to perform some ankle rotations prior to performing this stretch, so to do so slowly rotate your ankle five times clockwise and five times anti-clockwise. This will help to loosen up the ankle joint and move some blood into the area to prevent excessive strain.

    Repeat for both sides.

Gently push the knee of one leg over the other to stretch the outer hip region

  • 4. Hips

    Lie on the floor or on a bench with one leg straightened and the other bent at the knee.

    Hold onto the bent knee with both hands and gently use your hands to pull that leg across your body until you feel a stretch in the outer region of your hip. Again, ensure your breathing is kept consistent throughout this stretch, and do not force the movement.

    Repeat for both sides.

Rotate the neck and gently apply pressure to stretch it out during and after a long ride

  • 5. Neck

    This exercise helps to stretch out the muscles of the neck and other trapezius or 'traps'.

    Begin by performing five neck rotations clockwise and anti-clockwise to loosen up the muscles and move some blood into the area.

    Next, move your head to one side as if you are trying to place your ear onto your shoulder. You should feel a gentle stretch on the opposite side of your neck and this can be increased by gently assisting in the same direction with your hands. This stretch is particularly important for anybody who has experienced discomfort in the neck.

    Repeat for both sides.

This is an important stretch, particularly after a long ride where you remain static for extended periods of time.

  • 6. Triceps

    This common stretch will help to loosen up and length the muscles in the back of your arm.

    Place one arm behind your head with a bend in your elbow. Use the hand of the other arm to gently pull the bent arm back and slightly in towards the direction of your spine. Warming up the triceps is particularly important when you are going on longer rides, due to the longer time spent in the same position.

    Repeat for both sides.

General Hints and Tips for Stretching

The intensity of your stretches will vary depending on your current level of physical fitness and your experience performing any given exercise; previous injuries may also become a determining factor in this so please take this into consideration before performing any of these stretching exercises.

Stretches are to be performed between one and three times per week, so please avoid performing these exercises on an excessively frequent basis.

Do not jerk into these stretches or forcefully pull as this can result in a strain or even worse, a muscle tear.

Each stretch should be held for a minimum of 10 – 20 seconds, and as long as 60 seconds or more; longer durations are especially suitable for post-ride stretches when your muscles are already warm and full of blood.

Perform each stretch 2 – 4 times; larger muscles such as the quadriceps and hamstrings can typically withstand more than smaller muscles such as those in the neck or ankle.

You will feel some degree of discomfort while performing these stretches but if you experience any kind of extreme pain then you should stop what you are doing immediately to avoid further risk of injury.

Ensure that the majority of your stretching is performed post-ride as your joints will already be very warm. Cold muscles can be torn or otherwise injured far more easily than warm ones, and this is equally true for your joints, tendons, ligaments, and so on.

And thats about it! At least for now. I would love to here your personal stretching routine, or little stretchs you have learnt along the way that may be less commonly known! Let me know below and I will personally respond!

Until next time, enjoy your ride!