Cycling Body Maintenance

By: Dr. Seth Hosmer, DC

Dr. Hosmer and Dr. Jelen recently completed a mobility workshop with the amazing cycling instructors at BurnCycle–Whole Body Cycling. As sports chiropractic physicians, we treat a lot of athletes from the cycling world and we have noticed a few key patterns and conditions that are present in most cyclists. Dr. Hosmer has certainly experienced his fair share of these conditions in his past as an elite cyclist, as has Dr. Jelen who currently teaches cycling classes. We thought it would be beneficial to share these common cycling trends and related home care exercises that you can perform to help overcome these symptoms. Keep an eye out for Dr. Jelen at BurnCycle and never hesitate to ask us any questions you may have!

Neck Stiffness/Discomfort 

The majority of cycling is performed with the head and neck propped up into extension. Over time, this can cause significant amounts of overuse tension and discomfort along the posterior and lateral neck muscles. Along with removing the visor on your helmet, stretching and changing the position of your neck during easier stretches of your ride can be helpful. Here is our favorite series of neck stretches to be performed pre-, during, and post-cycling.

Chest Tightness/Mid-Back Rounding

The nature of the bike’s handlebar setup along with the rider’s shoulder and upper back position create prolonged rounding of the upper and mid-back. Over time, this can affect the position and alignment of the shoulder blades, ribcage, and the mid-back (thoracic) spine. The thoracic spine naturally has some degree of forward curvature (called kyphosis), but cyclists often suffer from excessive rounding (termed thoracic hyperkyphosis) of this region of the spine.

Upper Shoulder Tightness

(Video for this section will be coming in the near future!)
Similar to the neck muscles working too much due to the neck position while riding, the top of the shoulder muscles are also very much engaged while cycling. This is especially true when the cyclist’s arms are extended out in front onto the handlebars. The primary muscle in this region—the upper trapezius—is commonly tender and tight as a result.

Low Back Stiffness/Discomfort

Due to improper posture and weakness/fatigue of the abdominal muscles, the low back and pelvic region muscles and joints can become overly tight, uncomfortable, and even locked up. Having an overly dominant leg or a tendency to shift weight more towards one side compared to the other can create an imbalance in a critical joint at the base of your lower back—the sacroiliac joint. This joint is located along the belt line on both sides of the spine.

Tight Hips/Hip Overuse

Repetitive motion of the hips can certainly lead to imbalance, tension, and discomfort in this region. This can affect a cyclist particularly if the bike is not set with the proper seat height and pedal position. Due to its attachments to the gluteal/hip muscles along the outside of the thigh, the iliotibial band (IT band) can be a key player in this region.

Tight Hips/Hip Overuse

Cycling, like running, naturally involves repetitive flexion of the hip (when the knee is pulled up towards the chest). This can lead to chronically tight hip flexor muscles, especially if the seat height is set too low and the rider is constantly pushing/pulling their legs through a smaller, close-packed stride/revolution. The Spiderman Hip Stretch is a multi-step series of positions that effectively targets all aspects of the hip muscles.

Tight Quadricep Muscles

The quadriceps muscles—set along the front side of the thighs—are often tight due to the repetitive hip flexion (knee to chest) and knee extension (straightening the leg at the knee). This stretch allows you to release the tension throughout the entire length of this large muscle group.

Back Stiffness/Compression

As mentioned above, the thoracic and lumbar spine regions, along with the sacroiliac joints and hips, can all be too compressed and locked up with cycling, especially during longer, more difficult rides. This simple technique is effective at unwinding and decompressing the spine, while at the same time implementing a chest and hip stretch.

Lower Extremity Tightness

More so than the upper extremity, the lower extremity (hips, thighs, knees, calves, and ankles) is in constant motion and under constant load. Improper form can lead to imbalances of the lower kinetic chain. For example, if the rider is improperly pointing the toes downward throughout the pedal stroke (as opposed to driving down through the hips and heels of his/her feet), this will quickly lead to extreme tightness and potential cramping of the calf muscles. The foam roller is an extremely versatile tool that can be utilized to target the specific area of concern of the lower extremity.