Whether you bike to work, are training for a triathlon or swear by your favorite indoor cycling class, stretching before you hop on the bike can improve your performance and protect you from injury.
Triathlon coach Scott Seamster, CSCS, recommends hopping on your bike for a short warm-up ride, and then doing some dynamic stretches, which involve movement rather than holding a static stretch.
"Make sure you're warm before you head out on your activity, but you never want to overstretch," says Stephanie Duryea, certified personal trainer. When you're going for a 20-mile bike ride, your muscles are going to get fatigued, she says, so the more you stretch before, the more easily you're going to get fatigued. "You should never go too deep, too hard or too long, until after the activity is over."
The Best Pre-Biking Stretches
The following stretches target the major muscles used during biking — the glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, quadriceps and calves, warming them up and priming them for movement.
1. Leg Swings
The hips don't lie! As any cyclist can attest, your hips can get really tight from riding your bike too long, Duryea says. "Working on hip-flexor mobility and your hip mobility in general is really important."
- Stand with your bike to one side, holding the seat for stability (see top photo).
- 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.
2. Cat-Cow Stretch
When it comes to biking, your glutes are your powerhouse, says Seamster. So flexibility in that region is crucial. Since your back may also become stiff from hunching over throughout your ride, Seamster recommends doing this stretch to warm up the muscles around the spine.
- 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.
- Reverse the position as you exhale, rounding your spine and tucking your pelvis.
- Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.
3. Heel-Toe Walk
Cycling can be brutal on your calves. To show them some love, 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, he says.
- 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.
4. Foam Rolling
"I'm a big believer in the foam roller before any activity," says Duryea. It's like a mini-massage for your joints that also warms up your muscles.
- Put as much of your body weight on the roller as you can as you target 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.
5. Chest Stretch
Hunching over your handlebars for endless miles can cause your chest muscles to tighten. Before you start peddling, Seamster recommends doing a quick dynamic chest stretch that also targets your legs and back.
- 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, pressing your chest down toward the ground.
- Hold for three seconds, stand up tall, and then assume the position again for five to 10 repetitions.
6. Dynamic Runner’s Lunge
Even bikers can benefit from a runner's lunge! It targets your quads, hip flexors and hamstrings.
- 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.
- Raise your torso perpendicular to your legs and lift your arms up in the air to make the stretch dynamic.
- Repeat five to eight times, and then do the stretch with your left leg in front.
7. Butt Kicks
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.
- Standing in place or moving forward, 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.
- Get your foot as close to your butt as you can for the maximum stretch.
- Keep your torso upright and your pelvis tucked just slightly.
- Continue kicking for 30 to 60 seconds.
8. High Knees
With this stretch, imagine yourself riding an imaginary bike. As Duryea says, dynamic warm-up stretches are most effective when they simulate the activity you're about to do. That way, your body's getting warmed up in the way that it's going to be used.
- Stand in place and lift one bent knee up at a time as high as you can.
- Speed up the pace, hopping back and forth and kicking alternate knees up as high as you can for more challenge.
- Continue for 30 to 60 seconds.
9. Shoulder Reach
"Keep your biceps next to your ears and reach your fingertips for the sky so you get a stretch in your latissimus dorsi," says 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.
- Stand and reach your arms over your head, keeping your biceps next to your ears.
- Shrug your shoulders up and down.
- Continue for 30 seconds.
10. Active Squat
Sure, squats are a standard in your strength-training workouts, but they can also help stretch out your lower body. They hit your lower back, quads, glutes and calves, says Seamster.
- Grip the top tube and the handlebar and lower your hips all way to the ground into a squat.
- Make this dynamic by holding at the bottom of the squat for one or two counts, and then rising up again and repeating.
- Keep your heels on the floor and squat as low as you can while keeping your torso erect and your gaze forward.
- Continue for 30 to 60 seconds.