The positions and movements of cycling stress certain muscle groups, which can create muscular imbalances and dysfunction. The hip flexors (iliacus and psoas, sometimes together called iliopsoas) are muscles responsible for pulling the thigh towards the abdomen and are used for both core stability and power production. Also, these muscles are used for everyday activities and can become tight just from extended sitting time. Coupling sitting with cycling can make hip flexors excessively shortened and tight. Through a series of interaction with other muscles, tight hip flexors reduce our effective reach to the handlebar drops, compromise the TT position and power production, and tend to weaken the muscle groups that create the opposite movement. One of the indicators of increasing hip flexor tightness is low back soreness.
Low back pain may also be associated with weak core muscles, medical issues, muscle imbalances, or bike fit. Ask your coach about a core strengthening program or professional bike fitting through Wenzel Coaching.
Secondary Targeted Muscle Group: Rectus femoris and Rectus abdominis
Note: Stretches should be held at mild discomfort for 10-30 seconds with the goal of reaching 60 seconds. Two to four repetitions for each stretch, 2 to 3 days per week. Exhale slowly as you move towards the end point of a stretch and inhale as you return to the starting position
Hip Flexor Lunge
Assume a lunge position with your left knee bent over your foot, and your right leg fully extended. The top of your right foot should be flat on the floor. Keeping a straight back and torso near vertical gently move your hips forward until you feel a gentle stretch in your right groin/hip area. Hold the stretch for 15-20 second or until you feel the muscles relax. You can deepen the stretch by continuing to move your hips forward until you feel mild discomfort. Repeat on opposite leg.
Hip Flexor Lunge with Therapy Ball
Kneel on your right knee (hip to be stretched) with your left knee up and a therapy ball in front of your hip. This will help stabilize the opposite leg and allow you to increase the stretch by rolling forward. Keep your back straight and your torso near vertical. Raise your right arm and lean away from the side being stretched. Place your left arm on your left thigh. Lean forward into the ball while extending your right hip. Hold the stretch for 15-20 second or until you feel the muscles relax. Repeat on opposite leg.
Cat-Cow- Yoga position (back stretch)
This stretch incorporates both back flexion and extension. Start on your hands and knees, with your wrist directly below your shoulders and knees under your hips and as wide. Your head should be in-line with your torso and eyes looking downward. This is our starting position.
- Cow Position-Inhale as you drop your belly towards the floor creating a sag in your low back. Lift your head up and look towards the ceiling.
- Cat Position-Exhale as you draw your belly towards your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. Move your head back down with your eyes looking towards your hips, but don’t force your chin towards your chest.
The movements are designed to flow into one another as a continuous stretch of the spine. Inhale, while coming back into the Cow pose and exhale as you return to the Cat pose. Repeat 5-20 times.
Prone Back Extension (back stretch)
This is a key exercise to counter the constant spinal flexion of cycling. Begin in a prone position (face down) with hands under your shoulders. Slowly lift your torso up by pushing with hands on the ground. At this point your low back will have a slight arch. Slowly straighten your elbows increasing the arch in your back. Only go up as comfortable, if you feel pain stop. You should feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 15 seconds and return to original position and repeat.
A simpler exercise achieving similar goal is the Standing Back Extension. Place hands on your low back and gently lean backwards keeping your hips straight and in line with your knees. This simple move can be done throughout your day and also stretches your abdominal muscle group.
——Have a coach help you with your flexibility and performance
This stretching series was created by Coach John Hall and John A. Andrew DPT &Cert. MDT, CSCS with 18 years of experience in strength and conditioning. Andrew Physical Therapy, McMinnville, OR, 503-435-1900.
Wenzel Coaching provides quality, affordable coaching services to cyclists and multisport athletes of all ages and abilities. The coaches of Wenzel Coaching can be reached at 503-233-4346 or www.wenzelcoaching.com.