THE FIT: Flex Time
Anyone who’s gone overboard on a ride—maybe a few too many miles or hours—knows the consequences. Whether you’re a weekend warrior, daily grinder, or fair-weather rider, biking can lead to tight, stiff muscles and an aching back, as well as regret and perhaps a plan to get in better shape.
Funnily enough, I get that feeling from sitting at my computer too long. Think what an eight-hour day on your bike would feel like, then consider the multiple eight-hour days you spend in similar position at your desk: shoulders hunched, arms outstretched, knees and hips bent forward. Never do I think I need to improve my desk-sitting durability!
This month, I reached out to local physical therapist, sports-certified specialist, and bio-mechanics virtuoso Wendy Hurd. Hosted by Solcana Fitness, a social justice–focused gym in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, Hurd guided our group through a series of body-changing conditioning exercises to ease the tension in our beleaguered muscles and corroded joints.
The most extravagant piece of equipment we needed was a foam roller. The most valuable takeaway: the key to avoiding injury and maintaining our ability to be a champ on the bike or at the desk, especially as we age, is muscle mobility.
Flexibility is your muscles’ range of motion—how close you can get your fingers to your toes. Stretching can help to lengthen muscles, to allow taut muscles to extend further. Mobility is about how loose or pliable the muscle is, allowing joints the freedom to move through the full range of motion. Easing muscle tension through massage or foam rolling can help maintain muscle tissue quality and proper alignment of joints for better stability and fewer sore backs.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that if I spend too much time on my single-speed, my lower back is done in. Lower-back issues like mine often result from tension in the hamstrings or hip flexors, as each affects the position of the pelvis and therefore the lower back, straining those muscles. Keeping the hamstrings and hip flexors loose allows better mobility and stability of the back. It’s all connected!
“So,” I asked nervously during class, sensing my impending failure at the body-conditioning Hurd was putting us through, “is this something we have to do after every ride?” My rides often end places that have no foam roller and where it would be bad form to be on the floor—like at a pizza joint or a bakery. Or a bar.
“Oh no,” Hurd replied (and I exhaled). “I’m usually too tired after a ride and just want a recovery shake, shower, and to put my gear away.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking too,” I said.
Despite having ticked off several 100+ mile events this year, including Le Grand du Nord, Dairy Roubaix, and Rebecca’s Private Idaho, Hurd’s real reason for her nearly daily 5–10–minute lunchtime mobility and stretching practice is to survive her desk job. She told me that getting into the habit was a chore at first, but once she got the groove down and realized the benefits, it’s easier to do her routine than not do it.
Let’s face it: There’s really not much range of motion or muscle mobility necessary for cycling. It’s when you get off your bike that you need it. Same goes for getting up off that desk chair! A regular muscle flexibility and mobility practice can help prevent injuries or conditions such as hip impingement (when there is abnormal contact between the ball and socket of the hip joint). Muscle mobility will help you survive the ride with fewer consequences.
St. Paul–based personal trainer Meghan Brown echoes these recommendations: “Just five minutes of mobility work a day makes a huge difference, and most people will do great with this if they are consistent.” Further, she added that “sitting for extended times, whether it’s at a desk or on a bike, changes the resting length of your muscles, especially at the hips. This in turn can change your posture, leading to pain and dysfunction.”
Is sitting the new smoking? Only if you sit still!
These movements are a small-time investment to avoid the ache and prolong the ride, and that foam roller is a lot less expensive than even a single professional massage. Taking the time to practice these moves during the desk shift is a great excuse to take a break from the grind and a better alternative than heading to the snack drawer when you’re not even hungry.
It’s like the seven-minute smoke break 2.0: a chance to step away from the desk, breathe deep and release tension—without the cancerous side effects.
Releasing muscle tension after a ride with some gentle stretches for warm muscles can feel divine. Wendy took a seat on the bench beside her and adapted many of the below moves to be easily done sitting on barstool or standing with a bike, fully kitted-up and fit for public spaces.
The flexibility and clear rewards of this mobility practice make it a winner. As we chatted after class, I was feeling newly empowered by the promise of many more comfortable rides ahead.
Below are eight mobility and flexibility exercises offered to us by the camera-shy Wendy Hurd. Recommended as a 5–10–minute practice you can do most days. Pick those that work best for you and the way you use your body.
GUIDELINES FROM THE PRO:
- You’ve got to do what feels good in your body
- So often people say, “I’m not flexible.” Learn to be comfortable in your body and work with where you are.
- How far do you take the move? You have to be able to breathe. If you can’t breathe then back down.
- Initially, as you’re cultivating more flexibility and mobility, try to breathe through the discomfort, but stop with pain.
- Melissa Ho: coach at Solcana Fitness
- Tommy “Hurl” Everson: single speeder masquerading as a roadie, likes drop bars in the dirt.
- Sean “Bootsy” Collins: road rider, hockey player, BMX background.
- Our pro, Wendy Hurd, PT, Ph.D, works at the Mayo Clinic and has taught yoga at Solcana. She points clients and friends to yoga in general, as well as EXOS and Solcana Fitness, both in Minneapolis.
- Solcana Fitness offers group mobility and yoga classes in a social justice–minded environment that welcomes folks of all fitness levels and backgrounds
I ALSO RECOMMEND: Trailhead Cycles, Hastings, Minn.
Shop ambassadors offer a free monthly stretching and yoga for cyclists class right in the shop. The vibe at Trailhead is community-centered and fun. Owner Pam Sayler makes a point of encouraging women of all ages and abilities to embrace cycling as a lifelong activity. Find classes and events here. Next Yoga for Cyclists class is November 29, 7 p.m.