I have briefly talked about this topic in a previous post, but it is something that I think merits an entire article. Keeping yourself physically ready to ride a bike is an often overlooked aspect to cycling. I've done it and you've probably done it too. We get excited to go for a ride, fail to do any type of proper warm up or stretching, and the next day we feel like we've been in a car accident.
Taking some time before you ride, and preferably throughout the entire week, to give your body some love and attention will do wonders for keeping you healthy and safe on the bike. We will look at tips for before you ride, while you're riding, and after your ride. Let's dive into it.
If I had a dollar for every time that I've jumped on my bike and went out for a ride without any type of warmup, I would have like 452 dollars for sure. It is so easy to forget about warming up and get impatient. And there are probably some of you out there who have never warmed up before taking a ride. That's fine, but I'm going to share some of my tips for pre-ride warmup.
A common misconception about warming up before a ride, or any type of workout, is that you should do some stretches and call it a day. In fact, static stretching is much more effective after a workout. We'll get to that later though. The best way to get ready for a ride is through a dynamic warmup.
Dynamic warmups involve movements that fire up our muscles, get our cardiovascular system pumping blood throughout our body, gets our heart rate up, and loosens the joints that we will be using for a particular activity.
Think of it this way: if you've ever been to a major league baseball game, you will see the players going through a series of warmups. Batting practice, throwing the ball around, running, pitching, fielding drills, etc. They of course do some stretching as well, but they spend a lot of time warming up their bodies and muscles to prepare for the specific movements and actions that they will perform during the game.
My point is that warming up your body in a specific way is a much better and more thorough way of preparing for a ride. Here are a few dynamic warmup movements that will help you get started: (If you're unsure how to do these moves, there are tons of examples on YouTube)
Hip Stretch With Twist
There are a few things that you can do during your ride that will help you prevent injury and stay safe. This is another area I have touched on in a previous post, but make sure that your bike is properly set up. I have spent many days with a sore neck and sore back because I had my bike set up in a way that was suboptimal for my physical abilities.
If you can afford it, I highly recommend getting a professional bike fit. They will talk you through your riding goals and assess your flexibility to fine-tune your riding position and help you get as comfortable as possible on your bike.
If you can't shell out for a bike fit (and they can be kind of expensive), there is a lot that you can do by yourself or with a more experienced cycling friend that will improve your comfort. I'm not going to go too far into specifics for dialing in each aspect. I am by no means an expert bike fitter. There are tons of great videos and articles about these different adjustments.
Saddle height: this is how high your saddle is. There are several methods for determining your saddle height. You can base it off of your inseam or the angle of your leg at the bottom of the pedal stroke or plenty of other things. As a rule of thumb, knee pain in the front of your knee is a sign that your saddle might be too low. Pain the back of the knee or in your hamstrings can point to a saddle that's too high.
Saddle fore/aft position: this refers to how far forward or backward your saddle is. Most saddles will be able to adjust forwards or backwards. There are different schools of thoughts on how to determine this measurement. There is a degree of preference involved, and different positions suit different types of riding (endurance, time trial, climbing, etc.) As far as pain goes, knee pain can mean your saddle is too far back, and arm/shoulder pain can be a sign that your saddle is too far forward and you have too much of your weight resting on your arms.
Cleat adjustment: cleat adjustment can be tricky. A good starting place is to align the ball of your feet with the axle of your pedal and make small adjustments from there. There are a lot of precision adjustments that a good bike fitter can make to your cleats and pedals. Spacers and wedges, for example, can be used to dial in the fit just right.
Handlebar height: handlebar height refers to the height of your handlebars. Shocker. I've talked about this before, but a lot of riders tend to lower their handlebars down as far as possible - slam their stems in other words. This can be okay if you are very flexible and have a strong core and lower back. If your back bothers you after riding, chances are you need to adjust your handlebars. The lower your handlebars are, the stronger you core and lower back need to be and the more flexible you need to be. I myself am not that flexible, so slamming my stem is not a good option. I prefer to have my handlebars higher so that I don't have to lean over as far when I ride.
Once you are confident that your bike is set up in an optimized way, there are a couple of things you can do while you're out on your ride
Change up your hand position: if you're riding a drop-bar bike, you have three hand positions. The hoods, the tops, and the drops. Use them all. Do yourself a favor and vary your hand positions throughout your ride. It will do wonders for cutting down hand pain/numbness, and it has the added benefit of allowing for varying back and shoulder angles to keep them from getting stiff.
Get out of the saddle: the same principle applies here. Ride in the saddle and out of the saddle. Getting out of the saddle and standing on the pedals gives your body a chance to stretch out and avoid tensing up too much. Try getting out of the saddle on climbs as a starting point.
Get off the bike: you don't have to stay clipped in for the entire ride. When I first started cycling, I often thought it was a sign of honor to not get off the bike for an entire ride. I quickly learned otherwise. There is nothing wrong with getting off the bike during your ride. Take a picture, grab a coffee; anything to give your body the chance to go through a different range of motions and again avoid getting stiff.
Stretch: while you're off the bike, take this opportunity to do some light stretching. Don't go overboard and hurt yourself, but if you're feeling tight in any area, try to loosen it up before you get back on your bike.
Stay hydrated and fueled: there will be an entire post coming about this topic, but for now lets just briefly touch on it. Eat and drink while you're out riding. Eating gives your body carbs which is what gives you the energy to keep riding, and drinking keeps you hydrated which keeps you alive. Which is dope.
Now that you are done with your ride, it's finally time to stretch. I know I know, you're tired and sweaty and want to jump in the shower. Go ahead and do that, but make time to stretch after your ride is over. Blood is pumping through your body, your muscles and joints are loose, and this is the time that you will get the most results out of static stretching.
Static stretching just means that you are holding a stretch for a prolonged period of time. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a few areas and specific stretches that you should target:
Pigeon Pose Stretch
T Spine Rotation
After you stretch it out, make sure that you get some quality protein. Whether it be through a protein powder or some real food, it is important. Protein is what helps our bodies repair the muscle damage that we incur during a workout. It will help you from being as sore over the next few days as you recover.
Another important point to note is that you should keep moving after you get off the bike. Don't go from slamming out 100 RPM for 2 hours to planting yourself on the couch for the rest of the day. It's vital to transition from one to the other. Get off your bike, walk around and do your stretches and gradually wind down so that your body doesn't go from one extreme to the other too quickly.
It goes beyond the ride itself, but it can do wonders to work some yoga routines throughout your week. It will help you increase your mobility and flexibility and make gains off and on the bike. The benefits of yoga and stretching reach far beyond athletics. I won't get on a soapbox, but seriously do some yoga and/or stretching throughout the week.
So that's it. You've warmed up, ridden a well-fitting bike, and done some appropriate post-ride work to keep your body safe and healthy. This doesn't have to be the end of your journey though. If some of these moves don't agree with your body, look into others. Google is your best friend. There is no shortage of information out there about different warmups and cool downs that you can try.
The important thing is that you properly warm your body up so that you can perform safely on your bike and avoid injury, and then cool down after your ride to enhance your recovery. That's it. Don't overthink it, just be safe.
Anywhere is home. Just ride bikes.