Stretching is an often overlooked but important part of becoming a better cyclist. Hamstrings, quads and calves are all obvious areas to stretch. Less obvious might be the hip flexors area. The muscles in this region of the body are constantly shortened because we spend a lot of time sitting. Your position on a bike also shortens these muscles. Getting the hips open through stretching will help both your cycling and overall health.
The couch stretch is an exercise developed by coach and physical therapist Kelly Starrett. It is something you can do easily at home, or even at work or while travelling. It will help open up the hips and relieve some of that tension that comes from being in a flexed position. As the name implies, you’ll need a couch.
With your back to the couch, stand on your left leg, bend the right knee and place it in the middle of the seat cushion, hooking your toes and foot over the back of the couch. Squeeze your butt to stabilize your hips and lower back. One of the keys to this stretch is to keep the spine in a neutral position. Don’t arch your back. The distance between your ribcage and pelvis should stay constant. Keep the shin of the left leg vertical. You want to keep the stretch light, at an intensity of four or five out of 10. Hold for five minutes.
Once you feel improvement in this position – the stretch dissipating – you are ready to move to the next progression. The next time you set up to do the stretch, move your knee farther back on the seat cushion into the crease between the seatback and cushion, which will help open up the hip and increase the stretch. As before, keep your glutes squeezed.
Use a chair or the arm of the couch for balance. You will find it best to balance with the hand on the side of the hip flexor you are stretching.
Doing this stretch consistently will help release the tension in your hip, making you smoother on the bike. Being smoother on the bike will make you more efficient and able to focus on a proper pedal stroke.