Riding Can Lead to Some Tight Muscles—We’ve Got the Fix

Elizabeth Millard
·3 mins read
Photo credit: Brian Barnhart
Photo credit: Brian Barnhart

From Bicycling

  • According to a recent study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, repetitive pedaling can lead to restricted range of motion in your lower body and potentially long-term imbalances in your muscles.

  • In order to counteract these issues, dynamic stretching before a ride and static stretching after a ride, as well as regularly cross-training with activities like yoga and strength work, is recommended.

While it’s common to feel tight muscles when hopping off the bike after a long ride, does that sensation come with a potentially long-term effect? It’s possible, according to a recent study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness.

Researchers recruited 121 road cyclists and measured their range of motion in their hips, knees, and ankles—both in their dominant and non-dominant legs.

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They found that overall, hip flexion (the motion of bringing your hip forward) was more restricted in the non-dominant limb, and knee flexion (the motion of bringing your knee forward) and ankle dorsiflexion (the extension of your foot at the ankle) was restricted in both sides. There were some differences in men and women, with the latter having slightly more range of motion in hip flexion and in the ankles.

Researchers concluded that repetitive pedaling led to restricted range of motion in general, and potentially long-term muscles imbalances. They suggested the findings should encourage more cyclists to start doing stretching exercises, as well as resistance training that could improve knee and ankle mobility.

Although cycling may have detrimental effects on range of motion in the short term, it is possible to counteract that outcome by putting more emphasis on stretching—especially the right way, according to trainer Aaron Leventhal, C.S.C.S., owner of Minneapolis-based Fit Studios.

He told Bicycling that similar to any type of pre- and post-workout routine, cyclists should focus on dynamic stretching before a ride and static stretching afterward, with a particular emphasis on the hip flexors.

Dynamic stretching should replicate what you’re going to do next, Leventhal said. For example, for a cyclist, that might mean walking lunges to prepare the hips and legs for movement. Mixing in lateral lunges as well can increase hip mobility, he added, since you’ll be warming up other hip muscles.

The static stretches can help during a cooldown to help you lower exercise-related stress on your body, and also help extend and elongate muscles that have been shortened during a ride. Good options include a standing hurdler’s stretch, slow-motion bodyweight sumo squats, and putting one foot on a higher surface and pressing the heel down—which not only stretches that calves, but also helps the ankles.

Also, pepper in some different types of movement on other days, like yoga, strength training, or swimming.

“In addition to stretching on days you’e riding, it’s also a good idea to do some type of cross-training on your non-riding days,” Leventhal said. “That can help alleviate some of the range-of-motion issues that come with repetition.”

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