The Best Stretches For Cyclists Based On Thousands Of Miles In The Saddle
In this article on yoga stretches for cyclists I’m going to share my favourite daily yoga sequence that help support flexibility, strength and performance on the bike.
These five simple daily cycling stretches will make you more flexible and stronger on the bike
Ideally, you want to know how to stretch before cycling, how to stretch after cycling and the best stretches for all-round performance. In this article, I’m sharing my personal favourite stretches for cyclists that will limber you up, loosen your hips and improve your strength and stamina on the bike.
My top five yoga postures for cyclists to make you more flexible:
- Sun salutation – how to stretch for better flexibility
- Supine spine twist – how to prevent lower back pain when cycling
- Camel pose – stretches for cyclists knee pain
- Pigeon pose – the best hip stretches for cyclists
- Lunges – the best glute stretches for cyclists
How to prevent lower back pain when cycling
I’ve been a cyclist for a long time. I’ve crashed bikes into bushes as a child, ridden them off ramps as a teenager, commuted in a big city and cycled halfway around the world. All that repetition leads to a certain body shape with particular areas of strength and power.
Conversely, all that cycling lends itself to weak core muscles, inflexible joints and tight hamstrings. As a youngster, there’s rarely any need to stretch – it’s automatic. However, as we grow older, plainer, saner, we remember all the stretches we must do.
Stretches for cyclists lower back pain
I began a regular yoga practice early on in my London career as a salesman. I’d dipped a toe at university and found it of great benefit – a few gentle stretches would help me to relax after a busy day on campus.
These tentative first steps were only the beginning, but it was a false start. In my middle twenties, I started a company and found myself commuting north of 180km per week.
How to avoid lower back pain when cycling
By my late twenties, the distance was down to a more modest 100km a week but the miles were beginning to tell. The stiffness in my calves after a short ride was a sure sign that there was work to do.
Happily, at this time I joined a new company which happened to offer a gym membership. I enrolled and found myself attending my first proper yoga class. After just a few sessions on the mat, I was hooked.
Hot yoga – stretches for cyclists flexibility
Three years into the new job and I was a three to four times week guy. I even did a 16-week stint of Bikram Yoga, the hot room and hot pants craze that became popular in the UK circa 2013.
One of the best things about the yoga stretches that I learned during this time was the variety; I had three different teachers sharing three similar but diverse practices. This range of movement across disciplines has informed the choice of the best stretches for cyclists that I now practice.
The usefulness of any yoga posture or stretch is determined by our ability to be in the body. The success of the asana is dependent upon the awareness of our own body, our breath and the sensations that arise as we move through the sequence.
Advanced forward fold
(hang loose, don’t try to touch your toes the first time, just feel the fold at the waist)
Get there with breath – how to improve flexibility for cycling
By this I mean, it’s important to be focused on the breath (deep full breaths into the belly, up through chest into the clavicle and shoulders – you’ll notice here of your shoulders are tight), the abdomen should be ‘zipped’ up so that the tummy is flat and the hips scoop up.
Stand up straight now to feel the shape of your body with this breath.
The body fully relaxed, feet rooted firmly to the ground, knees slightly bent, shoulders rolled back, chest out.
Arms straight hanging loose but firm from your shoulders, hands about a foot apart from your sides (so there’s a wedge-shaped space between your armpits at the point to the wide end at your hands).
Now breath in deeply – feel the breath move into your belly up through your abdomen into your chest and shoulders. Great! You just did your first yoga posture – it’s called ‘mountain pose’.
Wuji – how to strengthen knees for cycling
This is the basic starting point for our practice. My list of the best stretches for cyclists aims to provide a starting point for yoga novices to cultivate their own practice.
These are the bare essentials to use daily, whether you cycled or not. They’re full range movements that support the cyclist in everyday life.
Pro tip: remember to keep your tummy tucked and sit bone pointing down to create lots of space in your ribs and chest (imagine pulling a zip up the front of your body). It should feel active, not tensed. Check in for correct posture with a few deep breaths. This is called Wuji in qigong and is your baseline posture for life.
Five yoga postures for cyclists that I love
Sun salutation – how to reduce lower back pain when cycling
A sun salutation sometimes referred to as Surya Namaskar, is a sequence of yoga postures that come together to form the basis of your new practice.
Sun salutation combines 12 of the best stretches for cyclists that are designed to promote flexibility, prepare the breath for deeper postures and to warm up the body for twists and compressions. Sun salutation is particularly good to reduce loxwer back pain for cyclists.
It’s a dynamic set that provides the foundation of a regular yoga practice. This is my personal favourite way to start the day. This is a sequence that you can do anytime; pre-ride to boost your performance or post-spin to relax.
Sun salutation sequence
- Begin by standing with feet together, place your hands in prayer at the centre of your chest, focus on the breath
- On the inhale, stretch your hands up above your head, slightly arch into a backbend
- As you exhale, with your tummy pulled flat, fold at the waist as you place your hands on your feet, touch your toes if you can, however, the focus should be on the quality of the stretch from the waist – you’ll feel the pull in your hamstrings as you release the breath
- Hands to the mat, inhale, step back with your left foot into a deep lunge, weight balanced between your right foot and left toes, arch into a backbend raising your hands above your head in prayer
- Fall forward, release the breath, hands to the front of the mat, step both feet to the back of the mat, fold at the waist, push up into downward facing dog
Take a breath
- Drop into a press-up position, knees raised from the ground, bum in the air, exhale as you glide through your outstretched arms
- Into upward-facing dog; top of your feet flat to the ground, legs straight, hands at your waist as you push your upper body up, stretching the lower back and tailbone
- Inhale now as you push back into downward facing dog
- Exhale, step back with your right foot, lunging deep into the left side of your body as we reverse the sequence, hands above your head in prayer into a backbend
- Step forward, inhale, tummy tucked in, exhale as you fold at the waist arms relaxed to the ground
- Inhale, come up with a straight back, hands above your head in prayer
- Exhale, hands to chest in prayer
The best stretching sequence for a cyclist before a ride
That is one full round of salutation to the sun. Typically, I repeat this asana three-five times. I’d recommend at least three sun salutations as a way to warm up in readiness for the next stretch.
There are many variations on this classic sequence, the best stretches for cyclists are the ones easily incorporated into your day. Stretch towards greater strength, flexibility and relaxation-based performance improvement.
Spine twist – how to improve flexibility for cycling
I love spine twists. It’s my new favourite. Arguably, the best stretch for cyclists because it puts space between each vertebra of the spine and helps the erector spine do its thing. An essential stretch for improved flexibility for cycling.
Riding a bike puts us hunched over the bars more often than not. The lower back is compressed and the shoulders become rounded. This is not a natural position.
Supine (lying down) spinal twist is the perfect remedy for those long days in the saddle.
- Lie down on your back, legs straight together, spread arms out to form a T shape
- Bend your left leg and place the foot on the right knee
- Drop your left knee across you body to the ground on your right side
- Keep your left shoulder on the ground, head stays neutral, facing up
- Breath in this posture with deep relaxation for 8 – 10 breaths
- Repeat on the right side
Spine twist is a great stretch for cyclists
For me, this posture brings awareness to many parts of the body. There can be tension in my lower spine, upper back or hips. It varies day to day on what activity I’ve been doing.
Spine twist can feel uncomfortable at times, which means it is an important stretch to do. Practice where the pain is! I continue to persevere with this asana with variations.
It’s absolutely OK to drop the knee fully to the ground and work to bring the shoulder down. It’s also fine to place the foot flat on the ground on the outside of the knee if the original position is too strong.
Feel into it with your breath and figure out what’s most comfortable for you. The benefits are many, your back will be very grateful.
Camel pose – stretches for cyclists knees and hips
Camel pose will work your quads, open up your chest and put a juicy bend in your back. This simple stretch for cyclists should form part of your daily practice. Its important to wriggle your knee caps and be warm in readiness for this stretch.
The benefits of this stretch are centred on flexibility and strength. You may want to have a bolster handy in the early days – getting tight quads to yield can be a tricksy.
Pro tip: fold your mat into two or three thick layers for extra comfort on your knees.
- Kneel down on your mat, coming to sit on your heels
- Lift up off your heels to hold your heel with your hands
- Slowly, lean back until your head touches the ground
- Arms can be by your side or for a deeper stretch, stretched out behind your head
- Rest here for 8 – 10 breaths
You may find that 1. is enough for you. You may find the full extension more comfortable with a bolster. Play with the possibilities until you figure your sweet spot.
Pigeon pose – stretches for cyclists hips and kness
I really love the pigeon pose. It’s a full power hip opener that activates your lower back, stretches out your hips and balances the body in equal parts.
An essential post-ride stretch for cyclists that has proven to be the bee’s knees for optimal performance on and off the bike. You can get into this pose from any sequence.
I tend to go in the running order of these best stretches for cyclists as listed but you can just as easily jump straight in when you feel the call.
Pro tip: don’t force your way into it, work with your breath to feel your way through the posture
How to stretch knees after cycling
- From standing position, tummy tucked, like you’ve zipped up the front of your body, lots of space between your ribs, across your chest, arms into the air in a wide arc
- Fold forward, hands to the ground, step or jump back to a plank, toes touching the ground, feet flexed
- Step your right leg forward, foot to the outside of your right hand
- Glide your left foot flat, left leg on the ground
- Tuck your right leg at a right angle across your body along the mat in front of you with your foot flexed, toes pointing forward
- Lower your torso down so your left hip rests on your right heel
- Walk your fingers like a spider out in front and apart, like you’re making a Y shape
- Feel the stretch in your hips, your lower back and the expansion through the rest of your body
- Take 10 breaths as you relax into the pose
- Unfold yourself, repeat the process on your left side
Lunges – the best glute stretch for cyclists
Lunges are THE BEST stretches for cyclists. The range of movement activates so much of the body that is lazy during cycling that lunges are hard to beat.
Lunges have been a game-changer for me. Before and after cycling this stretch is the business.
After months of inactivity, I found that I had weak abdominals, low back stiffness and lazy buttocks. Lunges changed all that. There are tons of variations and they’re super easy to do.
So easy in fact that you can do them almost anywhere without and kit. No excuses!
- Take a full step forward with your right leg
- Dip your left knee to the ground
- Keep your back straight and dip vertically
- Squeeze your legs tight and come up
- Repeat on the right
- Walking lunges at least twenty on each side
- Add a dumbbell or similar in each hand as you progress to improve your strength
- Advanced lunge: one leg straight out in front
These are my top five stretches for cyclists. Do you have a favourite stretch? Share your top recommendations below: