Just like hips, tight shoulders and backs tend to be a problem for most cyclists who spend hours in the saddle. Gentle stretching is a great way to loosen these areas up and promote mobility, and is also a great way to kickstart recovery and relaxation between training sessions.
In that vein, here are my eight favourite stretches for the trunk and shoulder girdle. These stretches focus on opening up the chest, lengthening the abdominals, reversing the hunchbacked postures that cycling promotes, and increasing thoracic (upper and mid back) mobility. I’d suggest giving these a go 2-3 times a week. After a good warm up, hold these stretches for 30 seconds to 1 minute (per side where applicable) and then repeat a second time through. Before bed is a great time – not only will it help your mobility and flexibility, but the gentle stretching will also help you relax for sleep!
1. Eagle – Arms only
This one is great for opening up the area between your shoulder blades. To start, put one arm in front of your face at a 90 degree angle. Take the other arm and bring it up under and around your other arm. If accessible, wrap your palms around to touch. If that’s to much, bring the backs of your hands to touch.
2. Upward Dog
Starting on your stomach, place your hands under your shoulders. With strong legs, push up into upward dog (lifting your knees off the floor). Focus on lengthening your crown to avoid putting pressure on your lower back. If you want to target the bend to a little higher up your back, put your knees back on the ground and lower until your elbow are half-bent (cobra) and focus on a bend in the top half of your back.
3. Side Bend
This can be done standing (a little bit of a core workout) or seated. Keeping your hips and shoulders square to the front, lean over to each side. This will give you a nice stretch down the side body (obliques).
4. Reverse Prayer
This can also be done standing or seated. The first step is to reach around your back and grab each elbow with the opposite hand. If that doesn’t open your shoulders and heart, then you can gradually move towards the full reverse prayer position.
The first step here is to come into bridge. On your back, draw your knees up until your heels are almost touching your bum. Wriggle your shoulders down your back and lift your hips in order to interlace your fingers under your bum. Lift your hips up to get a gentle back bend.
If that’s not enough, lower back to the earth and place your hands over top of your shoulders with your elbows beside your ears. Keeping your knees in alignment with your toes and hips, push up into Upward Bow/Wheel. Remember to keep breathing! When you lower down, tuck your chin to your chest and gently lower the rest of your body to the floor.
In a kneeling position (with either your toes curled under or pointed, whichever is more comfortable), place your hands on your lower back and lift your heart to the sky. If this isn’t enough of a stretch, gently reach back to grab your heel one hand at a time. Only do this if you can keep your hips stacked over your knees and do not feel stress in your lower back. Try to spread the bend throughout your back rather than feeling it all in your lower back.
This one is my favourite. Squaring your hips and shoulders, place the top of your foot in your hand (on one side at a time, obviously). Push your foot into your hand, allowing your leg to gradually draw backwards and upwards (maintaining that squared posture!). Try to keep your torso upright – we’re going for a backbend and a shoulder stretch here.
8. Reclined Twist
Okay, I lied… THIS one is my favourite. It’s pretty self explanatory. Lie on your back and draw your knees up over your hips. Allow your legs to fall to one side while keeping your shoulder on the ground. Go for a gentle twist.
That’s it! I hope you enjoy these stretches. They go down really well with a giant mug of tea and blanket to cozy up in afterwards.