Flexibility is the biggest limiting factor in achieving a powerful and comfortable position on the bike. A good level of flexibility is of utmost importance to every cyclist of every level, yet the vast majority of clients that I see day in day out are lacking in this department.
Typically there will be at least one area where improvements in flexibility are needed before the client can function effectively on the bike. You don’t need to be a gymnast to ride a bike, but to remain injury free and ride comfortably and efficiently you need at least an ‘adequate’ level of flexibility and functionality, yet unfortunately a significant amount of people don’t reach this benchmark. Imbalances in flexibility are equally disruptive to a comfortable riding experience. They can cause a rider to favour one side over the other, not sit squarely on the saddle, or develop an irregular pedalling technique to name but a few of the problems created.
The more ‘aggressive’ the rider position (lower torso in relation to the ground), the more flexible the rider must be to be able to function effectively in this position. A typical time trial position that you see the pro’s riding is very aerodynamic and effective due to their excellent flexibility, functionality, joint range of motion, and years of training, and it because of this that they are able to sustain this position for race distances. For the average rider, getting in to this position would (perhaps) be achievable, but definitely not efficient and in no way sustainable. It is for this reason that a lot of riders run into issues with their bike fit – wanting that ‘pro’ look. Admittedly, a bike looks pretty cool with a 130mm stem slammed into the headtube and a load of seatpost showing, but what is not so cool is been out the back of the bunch during a race because you have to keep sitting up as your back is giving you hell, or because you can’t generate enough power in your legs due a lack of flexibility in the hips and an overly acute hip angle when riding in the drops.
So if someone tells you that your position ‘looks wrong’ you can ignore them because the person making the comments is unlikely to know your level of flexibility and functionality!
Obviously the lower body should be the focal point of your efforts, especially if you are time restricted. However developing upper body flexibility is also important. The lower back, hips, quads, glutes and hamstrings are the key areas that every cyclist should focus on making improvements in flexibility. That is not to say that they are the only areas but in terms of cycling they are the most significant. Little and often is the key here, stretching for 10-15 minutes per day is much more advantageous than doing one longer session per week. It will take time to see improvements, but you will see them so stick with it and watch as your performance on the bike improves!
Try to build yourself a weekly routine of stretching (and core work!) use as many of the examples as possible in the following pages. Try to do each stretch 3 times, holding it for 15-30 seconds each side (or longer if you have the time) and be careful not too over stretch. The ideal time for a session is immediately following a ride as your muscles will be warm – if stretching when ‘cold’ be sure to ease yourself into each stretch and under no circumstances ‘bounce’ to get a little extra stretch. The information contained in this guide is intended to give you a few simple stretches to incorporate into your weekly routine and to identify if you are particularly inflexible in any specific areas.
Targets: Hip Flexors / Quadriceps
Instructions: Kneeling, bring one foot forward with you foot infront of your knee. Slowly lean forwards and push your pelvis downwards until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip. Switch legs and repeat.
Avoid: Pushing your front knee past your ankle. The angle that your calf forms with the mat should not exceed 90 degrees.
Targets: Gluteal Muscles & IT Band
Instructions: Sit with both legs extended, bend one leg and cross it over the other. Bend your other leg so that your heels are level. Aim to elongate your spine, sitting upright with good posture.
Avoid: Slouching and forcing yourself into position. You need to relax into the stretch.
Targets: Hip Flexors / It Band
Instructions: Begin in a low lunge position, and bend your front leg to rest on the mat. Place both hands on the floor in front of you and extend your torso forwards and upwards.
Avoid: If you are particularly inflexible this stretch can be challenging. Do not sacrifice good form to get into position.
Targets: Lower Back Muscles
Instructions: On all fours, flex at the lower back until you begin to feel a stretch in the lower back. You can also arch your back the other way (like a cat) to stretch the muscles in the opposite way.
Avoid: If you feel a pinch in the lower back then be careful not to over stretch.