We don't all necessarily want to be faster on the bike. But I think every last one of us roadies would like to maintain the strength we have, or get even stronger, in our core. And we undoubtedly all would like to be pain-free when we ride.
A regular stretching and core strengthening routine can help you achieve any or all of those 3 aims.
But there are about a million stretching and strengthening exercises, so how do you know which ones will help you the most for cycling? There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what a cyclist should do when it comes to stretching and core work, what benefits them, and what doesn’t.
It's this confusion and lack of understanding that helps explain why so few cyclists add stretching and core strengthening to their regular exercise routine – even though they deliver myriad valuable benefits, not just for cycling but for everyday life.
In Stretching & Core Strengthening for the Cyclist, our new 57-page eBook, my co-author and I clear up the confusion and take the guesswork out of knowing what to do, and how to do it, to implement a stretching and core strengthening program. (My co-author, Amy Schultz, is my daughter; she's completing her Doctorate in Physical Therapy, is an accomplished cyclist and has done extensive research on athletes and injury prevention. Amy demonstrates the proper form for all the stretching and core exercises in the eBook.)
We start by walking you through a description of the various "cyling muscles" and what functions they perform in cycling. Example from the eBook:
"Quadriceps: A giant and powerful set of 4 muscles that make up the entire front of the thigh. They start at the hip and femur and end at the kneecap. Their main purpose is to straighten the knee and help bend or flex the hip.
"In cycling, quadriceps are used to generate the huge downforce/push required to propel the bicycle forward. Stretching and strengthening the quadriceps will allow the muscle to contract further and harder."
Then we discuss the array of benefits of both stretching and core strengthening exercises. More on these below, but here's one example:
"Bridge: Bridges help to get rid of back pain caused by sitting hunched over all day long (most positions in a daily American routine). Strengthens your spinal muscles, which can prevent slipped discs. Works core, back, glutes, and hamstrings. Conditions the spine in order to prepare for heavy and explosive movements, improves posture, gives the entire front of your body an incredible stretch, results in extra endurance."
And we take you through a series of more than 15 different stretching exercises, with additional variations, and some 32 (including variations) core strengthening exercises. Here's one example:
Hip Flexors & Obliques
The hip flexors and obliques are used in cycling to help lift the legs through the bottom dead center of the pedal stroke. This is where the legs are most extended. In this specific part of the pedal stroke, the legs are neither pushing nor pulling. This is where the cyclist uses the hip flexors and obliques to lift the (lower) leg from about 5 o'clock to about 7 o'clock, where the hamstrings start working again. Due to this fairly limited range of motion, the hip flexors and obliques are often tight, robbing the cyclist of power. Continued repetitive motion and lack of stretching often causes the hip flexors to get tighter and tighter
You will first do this stretch with your right foot forward, then with your left foot forward. Plant your forward foot firmly on the ground then step back with your other foot so that your back foot is on its toes. Raise the hand and arm that is on the same side as the rear foot and slightly bend your body. Feel the stretch in the hip flexors and obliques.
Hold for 30 seconds each side.
Most of the exercises are easy to do (with more difficult ones labeled as such), and all are clearly illustrated with actual photos of my co-author demonstrating the proper technique. (My co-author, Amy Schultz, is my daughter, who is an accomplished cyclist and is getting her doctorate in physical therapy. She's done extensive research on athletes and injury prevention and has taught me an enormous amount about human performance.)
The Key is Consistency
In general, each exercise only takes 30 seconds to 1 minute, so the time spent to complete a routine of your choosing is only 20-30 minutes! It is best to do these exercises every other day. (Of course, you could choose to do half of a full “routine” every day instead.) You should reserve 20-30 minutes to run through all of these exercises. With that said, you don’t need to do every exercise in this book each time you work out. Pick a couple from each section and try and spend up to 30 minutes stretching and strengthening. The key is consistency!
Our recommendation is to warm up then spend 30 minutes in the morning before work doing the stretching exercises. After work, in the evening, spend 30 minutes doing the core workout. Breaking this into 2x30 minute time-slices makes it so you don’t feel rushed to complete the exercises.
How About on Days I Ride?
I would switch the exercises around by doing core before your ride, then, immediately after your ride when you are still warm, do the stretching exercises. You won’t believe how good you will feel after stretching immediately after a ride!
Should I Do These Exercises Year-Round?
Yes. Because of those myriad benefits mentioned earlier.
Not only will these exercises help you stay in shape, increase your strength and prevent injuries, stretching also helps to prevent Sciatica, prevent Plantar Fasciitis, improve flexibility, dramatically improves circulation, increases the range of motion in your joints, relieves stress, leads to better posture and helps the muscles get ready for exercise.
Hips, core and back stretching and strengthening improves your mobility, improves your joint health, improves your posture, normalizes the forces on your discs, and reduces and/or relieves certain back pain.
With respect to cycling, these exercises help to maximize your power in the pedal stroke. Why? In short, they help you produce higher power output by aligning your body so that you can pedal more efficiently. For any triathletes out there, these will help with your running as well by increasing stride efficiency, increasing speed and decreasing your risk for repetitive injury.
On a final note: We believe it is very important for you to consult your physician or physical therapist if you have back pain and the source of your pain has never been diagnosed, because it is important to rule out any potential serious problem(s).
Pain originating from ligament strains, muscular fatigue, and bulging discs will respond to the correct forms of stretching. The type, frequency and direction of stretching should be prescribed by a physical therapist. The wrong type of stretching in these cases could potentially make your pain and your condition worse.
One Final Note:
All proceeds from this eBook will go to Amy to help her pay her tuition and books as she completes her Doctorate of Physical Therapy.
Stretching & Core Strengthening for the Cyclist, our new 57-page eBook, with with nearly 50 different stretching and core exercises (including variations) is just $14.95 / $12.71 for Premium Members with their automatic 15% discount.
Coach Rick Schultz is an avid cyclist who trains, races and coaches in Southern California. Rick is an engineer by trade, and in addition to being a coach, he's a bike fitter and prolific product reviewer. He's the author of Stretching & Core Strengthening for the Cyclist and Bike Fit 101: Your Toolset for a Great Bike Fit in the RBR eBookstore. Check his product reviews website, www.biketestreviews.com, and his coaching site, www.bikefitnesscoaching.com. Click to read Rick's full bio.