If there’s one thing we cyclists all have in common across any two-wheeled discipline, it’s ultra tight hamstrings. Those things are like concrete rubber bands. They are the workhorses of our pulling up on pedals, balance, and they take a ton of abuse from being our internal de facto suspension. In every yoga class I’ve ever taken I always let out a little groan when we get deep into our hamstrings. Yet, introducing a regular stretching routine to your daily routine can do wonders for not just your flexibility, but also your balance and overall performance.
Here are three simple stretches that will help lengthen your hammies while providing release to your glutes (aka, your butt), so they can come back stronger, sharper, and ready for action the following day. As with all yoga, breathing is extremely important. Breathe in and out through your nose and focus on long, deep inhales and exhales. Don’t rush your breathing and don’t rush your movements. Pay special attention to relax muscles you don’t need to use (your face, jaw, neck).
1. Pyramid Pose – Pyramid is one of those poses that doesn’t require much effort to get a seriously deep stretch. Stand with your right foot in front of you, toes pointed forward. Your left foot should be about 3 feet behind your right, and your toes and knee should be pointed as forward as possible. To achieve this place your hands on your hips to begin with and make sure your hips are squared directly in front of you. With your spine as straight as possible, hinge at your hips and lean your upper body forward. For most of us, it won’t take long to REALLY feel that in our right hamstring. Be careful not to hyper extend your front leg.
But what to do with your hands? Well, do what feels comfortable. You can have your hands on your hips to keep them pointed forward. You can clasp your hands at your low back and reach your arms up off your back for an additional shoulder and chest opening (as pictured), or you can rest your hands on your thigh or shin. Yoga is all about doing what feels good for your body while pushing past mental boundaries to learn to open your muscles up to new lengths. Hold this pose for 10 deep breaths, then switch legs and repeat on the second side.
2. Figure 4- Figure 4 is one of those poses that hits on so many different awesome cycling muscles, that we should be doing it every day anyway. In fact, try doing this when you’re just standing around and have a few minutes to spare throughout your day. You may look a little weird, but at least you’ll be doing something good for yourself. Balance poses are incredibly awesome for athletes because they get into those teeny tiny stabilizer muscles that we so often neglect in our normal workouts. These are the muscles that support us best when we crash or tweak something. When these are strong and open, we’re less likely to suffer a severe injury.
To get into Figure four, stand tall and start to lift your right leg off the ground, shifting all of your balance into your left leg. If this is challenging enough for you then just practice this until you’re comfortable balancing on one leg. Next, cross your right shin over your left thigh. Bend your standing leg and start to sit into the bent leg. You should feel an immediate hamstring and glute stretch on your right side. It’s important to keep your right toes flexed back towards your knee, on order to protect the soft tissues. If you’re feeling stable, bring your hands to your heart and press your palms together. This action will begin to open your shoulders, chest and upper back all at once. If you still feel balanced, sit lower into the pose to deepen the stretch and really begin to your stabilizers in your left leg and ankle. Try to keep your spine upright as long as possible. Remember to breathe deeply. Hold for 5 long breaths and then switch sides.
3. Reclined Pigeon – This pose will feel like the best vacation ever after completing the other two. Lie on your back and cross your right shin over your left thigh just as you did in Figure 4. Your left leg can either be bent or straight – the stretch will vary slightly so try them both to see what feels best. Reach behind your left thigh and in between your right leg and left thigh to clasp your hands. Flex your right toes to protect soft tissue in your right knee area. Gently pull your left leg closer in toward your chest. This probably feels amazing and perhaps a bit intense. Try gently rocking side to side on your back to find different spots in your hamstring and glute to stretch. Relax your neck and shoulders. Hold for 10 deep breaths. Release and repeat on the second side.
If you can’t do these stretches every day, try doing them a couple days a week in the morning when you wake up. It’s a great way to get your body open for your rides. As with any and all stretching pay attention to what your body is saying. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Drink a lot of water before and after stretching to hydrate your muscles.