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Mobility for Cycling: Toes to Spine

By: | Wednesday, October 11th, 2017 | Comments 2

Last time, we broached the topic of how neglecting body maintenance and accumulating fascial restrictions throughout your body can contribute to cycling and/or everyday discomfort. We discussed how soft tissue release paired with mobilization can aid recovery and improve range of movement on and off the bike.

Now it’s time to start off on a “greatest hits” tour of release and mobilization techniques to try. We’ll start at the feet and work up the body from there, exploring and releasing tight areas along the way. Then we’ll take advantage of this work with some movement. You’ll need a pair of Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls and some floor and/or wall space.

Feet

Whether your feet have been trapped in stiff cycling shoes or not, they probably crave attention. A little work on the feet can be felt all the way up the chain. If your balls are new, this is also a great way to break them in. Stand near a wall or fixed object like a chair to help with balance and place your balls on the floor, out of their tote. Step one foot on top of a ball so that it nestles into the center of your arch. Keep your heel on the ground and breathe. Allow your foot to enrobe the ball. After a few breaths, CrossFiber your arch and plantar fascia by keeping your heel on the ground and pivoting at your ankle to rock your foot from side to side (invert and evert your ankle). Attempt to smush the ball as you go back and forth. Repeat with the other foot, using the other ball in the pair for equal opportunity smashing. Also check out this video with Jill for some guided techniques.

“Hamstroc”

From standing, kneel on the ground now to begin addressing the big movers of the legs. Tight calves can cause stress to the Achilles, knee, and foot. Knots and tight areas can also form in the hamstrings which are used in the pull-up stroke while cycling. Posterior knee pain, or pain at the back of the knee, often has a lot to do with the hamstrings. Here is a move to go after the hamstring-gastrocnemius connection where the two muscles interlock just above and below the knees (a brilliant fellow teacher dubbed this the “hamstroc”).

While kneeling on the ground, maneuver yourself to place a ball on top of each calf, near the back of each knee. Don’t jam the balls right up into your knee pits, but roll them out a bit down your calves. Bring your butt towards your heels to sandwich the balls between your calves and hamstrings. Keep your hands on the floor for support, but sit your butt back as far as feels appropriate. Breathe deeply, then CrossFiber by shifting your weight from side to side. Feel free to adjust and readjust your balls as necessary, perhaps exploring further down your calves as well. This move is a major multitasker, massaging the calf muscles and hamstrings of both legs, all at the same time. Check out this awesome video demonstration.

Quadriceps

The quadriceps work hard when you cycle, and as a result this can be a painful area to roll. It is also one of the most beneficial. Tight quads affect the pedaling action while cycling, pulling the knees out to the side even if you’re clipped in with cleats straight. Pain at the front of the knee, or anterior knee pain, can be caused by tightness in the quads or the IT band pulling on the patella. Get at these areas by rolling and exploring.

Lie face down and place your toted therapy balls between the floor and the quadriceps group of one of your legs. (One ball will be more intense, and any size ball(s) will work. I like the ALPHA ball for more clearance on the floor.) Just resting here and breathing is a good place to start. If the spot you’re on is too tender, try shifting so the ball lands just above or below it. From here, you can begin to slowly move around and explore. The whole area, inner and outer thigh included, is fair game. Stay off the inguinal ligament (bikini line) and avoid rolling on top of the kneecap, though. The area just above the knee can be super special, so I like to land there, bend my knee, and slowly wave my lower leg from side to side to cross fiber the tendons converging above the kneecap. Check out this video to target the rectus femoris.

Glutes

As the biggest muscle group in the body, the gluteal muscles contribute a lot when you’re cycling, so they no doubt need some TLC. Massaging this area can help loosen off the pesky piriformis, which when tight can compress the sciatic nerve and cause pain down the leg.

Sit on the ground with knees bent, both feet flat on the floor, and arms behind you for support. Then let one leg relax and flop out to the side. Place a ball under your glutes on that same side and begin to simply scrub around. Cover the whole gluteal area, down to the hamstring attachments and up to the top of the pelvis. Be random with your scrubs. Try to write your name. Draw pictures. The more upright you sit, the more weight you will place on the ball, and the more intense this will be. Do this against a wall to have more control over the pressure you feel.

Upper Back

Now let’s address the thoracic spine. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place a pair of therapy balls between you and the floor (they can be in or out of the tote) so that they rest on either side of your spine just below the lowermost cervical vertebrae. Cradle your head in your hands and lift your head and pelvis off the ground slightly. Use your legs to push your body and create a slow scroll of the balls down your back until they reach about where a bra strap or “bro strap” would be. Then use your legs again to pull your body and scroll back up. For more control over the pressure you feel, do this move while standing and leaning against a wall. This is a highly effective way to release the spine and counter some of that excessive spinal flexion.

Putting it all Together

Let’s take our newly released body through some exploratory movement. The Half Happy Baby minivini (mini vinyasa) is an awesome dynamic pose for assessing the state of the hips and lubricating that joint while also getting in some spinal rotation. Here’s Jill to demonstrate and talk you through it.

Well that should feel awesome, but we’re not quite done with our tour yet. Join me one more time to release and stretch the chest and front of the shoulders. We will also cap off our tour with a relaxing treat for the head and neck.

Liked this article? Read Neck Pain Exercises for Cyclists – Don’t Avoid The Sternocleidomastoid

About This Author

Mandy is a Yoga Tune Up® and Roll Model® Method superfan, so much so that she went ahead and completed certifications in each. She has spent most of her life in school pursuing science and engineering-related degrees while mixing in a variety of extracurricular fun with team sports and individual endurance sports. With this life-long background in academics and athletics, and a continued fascination with the human body, self massage, and healthy movement, Mandy is poised to help endurance junkies and stressed out academics alike experience the benefits of regular self-care and conscious movement practices.

Mobility for Cycling: Toes to Spine

  1. SujanaYoga says:

    These are some nice info, thanks for sharing it…

  2. Peter Southall says:

    Thanks for these ball therapy ideas, great for someone like myself who is relatively green to this modality.

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