The 10 Best Stretches to Do Before Biking
Last Updated: Aug 01, 2017
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Two young men and a young woman with mountain bikes
Whether you bike to work, are training for a triathlon or swear by your favorite Spin class, stretching beforehand can improve your performance and protect you from injury. Dynamic stretches, which involve movement (rather than holding a static stretch), are most effective before a workout because they warm up your muscles and joints and prime them for movement. Scott Seamster, triathlon coach and certified strength and conditioning specialist, recommends hopping on your bike for a short warm-up ride, and then doing some (or all) of the following stretches to target the major muscles used during biking -- the glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, quadriceps and calves.
young woman exercising on an exercise bike
The hips don't lie! As any cyclist can attest, your hips can get really tight from riding your bike too long, says certified personal trainer Stephanie Duryea. “Working on hip-flexor mobility and your hip mobility in general is really important.” HOW TO DO THEM: Stand with your bike to one side, holding the seat for stability. Swing your outside leg forward and backward, keeping it straight and extending the length of the swing with each repetition. Repeat 10 times. Next, turn to face your bike and swing your leg side to side, stretching the outer hip and thigh muscles and the groin muscles. Repeat 10 times, and then change sides to work the other leg.
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When it comes to biking, your glutes are your powerhouse, says triathlon coach Scott Seamster. So flexibility in that region is crucial, he says. Since your back may also become stiff from hunching over throughout your ride, Seamster recommends doing this stretch to warm and loosen the muscles surrounding the spine. HOW TO DO IT: Get onto all fours with your shoulders over your wrists and your knees underneath your hips. Inhale as you slowly arch your back, letting your belly drop down toward the floor and your hips and shoulders rise up. Then reverse the position as you exhale, rounding your spine and tucking your pelvis. Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.
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Cycling can be brutal on your calves. To show them some love, triathlon coach Scott Seamster, suggests parking your bike and doing a heel-toe walk. You'll warm up your calves and help facilitate ankle flexibility. Plus, it’s good for your shins as well, says Seamster. HOW TO DO IT: Take a step forward, landing on the heel of your right foot. Stay on the heel and briefly lower your torso down over your right leg. Raise your torso back up and transfer the weight onto your right foot, rolling from the heel to the ball of the foot. Rise up on the ball of the foot as high as you can, and then lower down and take a step forward with your left leg, landing on your heel. Continue to walk in this way for 30 to 60 seconds.
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“I'm a big believer in the foam roller before any activity,” says personal trainer Stephanie Duryea. It's like a mini-massage for your joints that also warms up your muscles. HOW TO DO IT: Use the foam foam to target your glutes, hamstrings, quads and hip flexors. Put as much of your body weight on the roller as you can. For example, when targeting your glutes, sit on the foam roller and shift your weight so that all your weight is on one glute at a time. Roll back and forth over the muscle slowly. If you feel a particularly tight or painful spot in your muscle, pause there and roll over just that spot to release potential knots. Spend about one minute on each area.
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Hunching over your handlebars for endless miles can cause your chest muscles to tighten. Before you start peddling, triathlon coach Scott Seamster recommends doing a quick dynamic chest stretch that also targets your legs and back. HOW TO DO IT: Stand facing the side of your bike with your feet hip-distance apart. Grab the top tube (or your seat and handlebars for a little wider grip) and lean forward at your waist so that your back is parallel to the ground. "Hold there with a slight flexion in your elbows and press your chest down toward the ground,” Seamster says. To make this dynamic, hold for three seconds, stand up tall, and then assume the position again for five to 10 repetitions.
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DYNAMIC RUNNER’S LUNGE
Even bikers can benefit from a runner’s lunge! It targets your quads, hip flexors and hamstrings. HOW TO DO IT: Take a big step forward with your right leg and bend the front knee to 90 degrees. Keep the knee over or just behind the front toes and straighten the back leg as much as you can. Bring your hands down on the floor on each side of your front foot. Personal trainer Stephanie Duryea recommends doing a dynamic version by raising your torso perpendicular to your legs and lifting your arms up in the air. Repeat five to eight times, and then do the stretch with your left leg in front.
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Open up your quads and hip flexors pre-ride with butt kicks. Just don’t jump too hard or too high -- it’s the kick part of this exercise that’s most important to open up the fronts of the legs. HOW TO DO THEM: You can do this one standing in place or on the move. Jump up and down on alternating feet, bending one knee at a time and kicking the foot of that leg toward the glute on the same side. Try to get your foot as close to your butt as you can for the maximum stretch, says personal trainer Stephanie Duryea. Keep your torso upright and your pelvis tucked just slightly. Continue kicking for 30 to 60 seconds.
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With this stretch, imagine yourself riding an imaginary bike. As personal trainer Stephanie Duryea says, dynamic warm-up stretches are most effective when they simulate the activity you’re about to do. HOW TO DO THEM: Stand in place and lift one bent knee up at a time as high as you can. To make it a little more challenging, speed up the pace, hopping back and forth and kicking alternate knees up as high as you can. “That's the motion that you're doing in biking -- your knees are coming up and pulling on your glutes and your low back. Your body's like, 'OK, this is what I'm going to be doing for the next 30 to 90 minutes,' and then your body's getting warmed up in the way that it's going to be used,” says Duryea.
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Your shoulders do a lot more work in biking than you might realize. So it’s a good idea to loosen them up with a targeted stretch before getting on your bike. HOW TO DO IT: Stand tall, reach your arms up over your head and shrug your shoulders up and down. “Keep your biceps next to your ears and reach your fingertips for the sky so you get a stretch in your latissimus dorsi,” says triathlon coach Scott Seamster. This muscle (your lats) runs underneath the shoulder and down the sides of the back and is responsible in part for bringing your shoulder in toward the body.
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Sure, squats are a standard in your strength-training workouts, but they can also help stretch out your lower body. They get your low back, quadriceps, glutes and calves, says triathlon coach Scott Seamster. HOW TO DO IT: Grip the top tube and the handlebar and lower your hips all way to the ground into a squatting position, says Seamster. Make this dynamic by holding at the bottom of the squat for one or two counts, and then rising up again and repeating. Seamster instructs that you should keep your heels on the floor and squat as low as you can while keeping your torso erect and your gaze forward.
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KNOW YOUR LIMITS
Be careful that you don't overstretch, says personal trainer Stephanie Duryea. When you're going for a 20-mile bike ride, your muscles are going to get fatigued, she says, so the more you're stretching before, the more you're going to wear them out even more than you would have without stretching. "You want to make sure you're warm before you head out on your activity, but you never want to overstretch," Duryea says. "You should never go too deep, too hard or too long, until after the activity is over.”
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Do you bike regularly? How often do you ride? How many miles do you usually go for? Are you commuting to work or training for a race? Do you do any stretches before you head out on a ride? Which stretches have you found to be most effective? Are there any great stretches that we missed on our list? Leave a comment below and let us know!
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