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Bike Season Stretches: 10 Ways to Boost Performance and Stay Strong

Ten great stretches that help you stay healthy on your bike – and boost your performance.

As the snow melts in Summit County and Eagle County, eager mountain bikers are dusting off their bikes and hitting the trails. While jumping on your bike and pedaling away may seem like a simple way to enjoy the outdoors during National Bike Month, there are sneaky injuries that can pop up unexpectedly if you don’t properly prepare your body for the rigors of mountain biking.

Many cyclists focus solely on the ride itself, but neglect the importance of physical therapy stretches designed to prevent common overuse injuries and pain. Incorporating pre and post-ride stretches into your routine can keep you on the trails longer and ensure that you’re making the most of bike prep season in Colorado.

Let’s take a look at some of the common muscles that you work (and risk injuring) while mountain biking and the stretches that can help keep them strong and healthy!

What Muscles Are Targeted During Cycling?

Mountain biking or cycling are both fun and effective full-body workouts that engage different key muscle groups. 

Some are obvious – think the calf and glute muscles – but others may feel sore for days after your first long ride. The key is knowing which ones are being used and targeting them with specific stretches to prevent injury.

  • Calf muscles: Your soleus and gastrocnemius muscles work hard to power your pedal strokes and maintain balance on uneven terrain.
  • Thigh muscles: The quadriceps in the front of your thighs and the hamstrings in the back are essential for pushing and pulling the pedals.
  • Glutes: The gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus provide power and stability, especially when climbing hills.
  • Arm muscles: Your biceps and triceps help you steer and control your bike through technical sections.
  • Shoulder muscles: The deltoids in your shoulders support your upper body position and absorb shock from rough trails.
  • Foot muscles: Plantar flexors and dorsiflexors in your feet help with pedaling efficiency and maintaining contact with the pedals.

By incorporating physical therapy exercises that target these muscle groups into your bike prep routine, you can improve your strength, endurance, and overall performance on the trails. Let’s explore some effective pre and post-ride exercises to keep you in top shape for mountain biking season in Colorado.

Common Mountain Biking Injuries

While mountain biking is an excellent way to stay active and explore the great outdoors, it can also lead to pretty serious injuries if you don’t take the necessary precautions. Luckily, you can integrate a few pre and post-ride stretches and exercises to prevent many of the most common issues. Overlook your exercises, and the consequences can keep you off the bike for awhile:

  1. Knee pain: Overuse injuries like patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) and iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) can cause knee pain due to the repetitive pedaling motion and the stress placed on the knee joint during rides.
  2. Lower back pain: The hunched-over riding position and the shock absorption required on rough trails can strain the muscles and ligaments in the lower back, leading to pain and discomfort.
  3. Wrist and hand pain: Gripping the handlebars for extended periods and the vibration from the trail can cause numbness, tingling, or pain in the wrists and hands, especially if you have a tight grip or poor hand positioning.
  4. Neck and shoulder pain: The forward-leaning riding position can strain the neck and shoulder muscles, particularly on longer rides or when navigating technical terrain.
  5. Ankle and foot injuries: Crashes or technical sections can lead to ankle sprains or fractures, while the repetitive motion of pedaling can cause Achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis.

Pre-Ride Exercises and Stretches

Before hitting the trails, it’s essential to warm up your muscles and joints to reduce the risk of injury and improve your performance. Here are five exercises to incorporate into your pre-ride routine:

1. Leg Swings

Target: Hips, glutes, and thighs

Loosens up the hip flexors, glutes, and thigh muscles, which are crucial for pedaling power and efficiency.

How to do it:

  • Stand with your bike to one side, holding the seat for stability
  • Swing your leg forward and backward, keeping it straight
  • Repeat 10 times on each leg

2. Cat-Cow Stretch

Target: Back and core muscles

Warms up the back and core muscles, which support your riding position and help absorb shock on the trails.

How to do it:

  • Get on all fours with your shoulders over your wrists and knees under your hips
  • Inhale and arch your back, letting your stomach move towards the floor
  • Exhale and round your spine, tucking your chin to your chest
  • Repeat for 1-2 minutes

3. Heel-Toe Walk

Target: Calves and ankles

Stretches the calf muscles and improves ankle mobility, reducing the risk of strains or sprains.

How to do it:

  • Step forward and land on your right heel
  • Lean your torso forward over your right leg, keeping your heel on the ground
  • Raise your torso and shift your weight to the ball of your right foot
  • Rise up as high as you can before lowering and stepping forward with your left leg
  • Continue alternating for 1-2 minutes

4. Shoulder Rolls

Target: Shoulders and upper back

Loosens up the shoulder and upper back muscles, which can become tight from the hunched-over riding position.

How to do it:

  • Stand with your feet hip-distance apart
  • Roll your shoulders forward 10 times, then backward 10 times
  • Repeat 2-3 times

5. Standing Chest Stretch

Target: Chest and front shoulders

Stretches the chest and front shoulder muscles, helping to counteract the rounded-shoulder posture common in cycling.

How to do it:

  • Stand facing your bike and place your hands on the seat
  • Step back until your arms are straight and your back is parallel to the ground
  • Press down on the seat and hold for 15-30 seconds
  • Repeat 2-3 times

Post-Ride Exercises and Stretches

After a challenging ride, it’s important to stretch and cool down to help your muscles recover and reduce the risk of injury. Here are five exercises to incorporate into your post-ride routine:

6. Hip Flexor Stretch

Target: Hip flexors

Stretches the hip flexors, which can become tight from the repeated pedaling motion.

How to do it:

  • Kneel on one knee with your other foot in front, knee bent at a 90-degree angle
  • Lean forward, keeping your back straight and engaging your glutes
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds, then switch legs
  • Repeat 2-3 times on each side

7. Hamstring Stretch

Target: Hamstrings

Stretches the hamstrings, which work hard during cycling and can become tight.

How to do it:

  • Sit on the ground with one leg extended and the other bent, foot resting against your inner thigh
  • Reach forward towards your toes, keeping your back straight
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds, then switch legs
  • Repeat 2-3 times on each side

8. Glute Stretch

Target: Glutes

Stretches the glutes, which provide power during pedaling and can become tight.

How to do it:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor
  • Cross your right ankle over your left knee
  • Reach behind your left thigh and pull your left knee towards your chest
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds, then switch legs
  • Repeat 2-3 times on each side

9. Lower Back Twist

Target: Lower back and core

Stretches the lower back and core muscles, which support your riding position and can become fatigued.

How to do it:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor
  • Extend your arms out to the sides, palms facing down
  • Keeping your shoulders flat on the ground, gently lower your knees to the left
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds, then switch sides
  • Repeat 2-3 times on each side

10. Standing Quad Stretch

Target: Quadriceps

Stretches the quadriceps, which work hard during pedaling and can become tight.

How to do it:

  • Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, holding onto a wall or your bike for balance if needed
  • Bend your right knee and bring your heel towards your buttocks
  • Grasp your right ankle with your right hand and gently pull your heel closer to your body
  • Keep your knees close together and your back straight
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds, then switch legs
  • Repeat 2-3 times on each side

Stay Healthy On The Trails This Year

Integrating these ten pre and post-ride stretches into your mountain biking routine can significantly improve your performance, reduce the risk of injuries, plus enhance your overall cycling health and wellness. 

While these exercises provide a solid foundation for injury prevention and recovery, working directly with a skilled physical therapist or athletic trainer can take your cycling fitness to the next level. 

At Axis Sports Medicine, our experienced professionals can create personalized workout plans and stretching routines tailored to your unique needs, goals, and any pre-existing conditions.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newcomer to the world of mountain biking, the team at Axis Sports Medicine is here to help you achieve your full potential. Don’t let pain or limited mobility keep you from enjoying the breathtaking beauty of Colorado’s mountain biking scene. Contact Axis Sports Medicine today to schedule a consultation and discover how our personalized physical therapy services can help you make the most of every ride.

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Avon + Edwards are Joining Forces

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After much thought and evaluation by our team, we have decided to consolidate our Edwards clinic into our Avon clinic location. 

Our staff and resources from our Edwards location will be moved into our Avon clinic on October 31, 2023.

We are excited to be able to offer a wider option of appointment times to accommodate patient needs in one location.

Our Avon location is 142 E Beaver Creek Blvd, Suite 109, next door to Doctors on Call and Kiwi International Delights.