When you think about better cycling performance, you probably think about strengthening your legs, working on your cadence, and improving your power output. But one thing often gets overlooked: Your upper body strength and posture on the bike. That’s where you could be missing out on better bike handling, improved breathing—and a secret sauce to enhanced cycling performance.
One area you should particularly pay attention to: your chest complex—which includes your pec major and pec minor muscles, as well as deltoids (shoulders) and triceps. “Essentially the chest complex’s major function is that of pushing-type motions, and on the bike it creates a ‘shock absorbing’ system to lessen impact and vibrations, in an effort to minimize strain to the back and neck while riding,” Kevin Schmidt, MSPT, physical therapist and bike fitting specialist at Pedal PT in Portland, Oregon tells Bicycling. “[These muscles] also assist in deep inspiration and breathing.”
What’s more: “The upper body complex supports the trunk, and provides stability for steering and bike handling,” Schmidt adds. The goal is to have about 25% to 30% of your weight in the hands, compared to 70% to 75% in the saddle. The wider the handlebars, the more upper body engagement.
When you have tight chest muscles—which can both lead to and result from a rounded spine, forward shoulders position—it can mess with deep breathing and potentially lead to increased risk of shoulder, neck, and upper back pain while riding, Schmidt says.
So, how do you keep your chest from getting tight while also making sure it’s strong enough to handle all the miles? Schmidt shares a few of his go-to chest stretches for cyclists, along with strength moves that target the upper body. The pay-off of these moves: Shock absorption, stability, better bike handling, sidestepping aches and pains, plus even weight distribution and better breathing. Consider that a recipe for improved rides.
5 Best Chest Stretches for Cyclists
Perform these moves after a long ride or at the end of a work day. You can do each stretch daily, though Schmidt recommends doing push-ups just two to three times per week. Ian Finestein, certified weightlifting and CrossFit coach, demonstrates each move so you can mimic proper form.
Shoulder + Chest + Thoracic Stretch
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Reach both hands behind you, clasping them. Allow the chest to open as you pull back with hands to deepen the stretch. Lift chest up toward the ceiling, but keep chin down. Hold for 4-6 deep breathes or 10-20 seconds.
Chest Opener on Foam Roller
Using a 36-inch foam roller, lay vertically on the roller. Butt, back, and head should be against the roller. Bend knees and plant feet, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Extend arms out to the sides, in line with shoulders, forming a T shape. Hold for 4-6 deep breathes or 10-20 seconds.
Stand in a doorway. Bend elbow and place forearm against the door frame, elbow in line with shoulder and palm pressing into the door frame. Take a step forward and hold this stretch for 4-6 deep breathes or 10-20 seconds. Release and repeat on the other side.
Stand against a wall, feet hip-width apart, with butt, shoulders, and head touching the wall. Bend elbows 90 degrees, and place arms against the wall, palms facing out. (Arms should form a goal post shape.) Keeping arms against the wall, extend arms up and overhead. Then pull them back down, squeezing shoulders blades together and engaging back of body. Repeat for 5-10 reps or 20 seconds.
Start in a plank position, shoulders over wrists and body forming a straight line from head to heels. With elbows about 45 degrees from torso, lower entire body to floor, maintaining a strong plank and straight line. Push back up to a plank. Repeat for 5-10 reps or 20 seconds.
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