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Training & Nutrition

How to: Look after your hamstrings for cycling

Top tips from Jo McRae on how to keep you hamstrings happy.

Prevention is better than cure

Threads have popped up on the Total Women’s Cycling forum, crying out for help with aches and pains in hamstrings, so we asked fitness expert and cyclist, Jo McRae for her best tips for happy hammies.

1. Hamstring stretches: lower hamstrings

As a preventative measure I can’t stress enough the importance of hamstring stretches for cyclists and maintaining the flexibility in your ‘lower’ hamstring muscles.

Isolating this area is really important to maintain the range of movement in the muscle as a whole and helps to minimise the chance of injuries.

Follow the video and instructions below to stretch your lower hamstring correctly. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJ1UW79KVzA

Lower hamstring stretches

Hamstring stretches to prepare the hamstring muscles
  • To stretch your lower hamstrings, lay on your back as shown with a gap or arch under your lower back
  • Then, extend your leg upwards while maintaining the arch, using your thigh muscles and adding extra pressure at the end of the movement by pulling on the strap
  • Only raise your leg as high as you can maintain the curve under your lower back
  • Move into and out of this position rhythmically, holding the stretch for 1-2 seconds, repeating 6-10 times
  • If your flexibility seems uneven from one leg to another, work on the tighter leg for more repetitions until they seem more even
  • This stretch can be used before riding to ‘pre-stretch’ and prepare the hamstring muscles
Hamstring stretches: final position for Supine hamstring stretch.

2. Hamstring stretches: upper hamstrings

More often overlooked is the need to keep strengthen and tone your upper hamstrings which can often become relatively weak and loose – especially in women who become flexible more easily.

Exercises that target the upper hamstrings in particular are best for cyclists. As a generalisation I think it is fair to say that women are more likely to incur injuries to their hamstrings when cycling because of lack of strength rather than lack of flexibility.

Hamstring stretches alone is often not enough in this instance and prioritising strengthening exercises either alongside your cycling or in the winter months can help make your muscles more robust to allow you to progress more easily on the bike.

Follow my video and instructions below to strengthen your upper hamstring. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-LbmkDOnPU

Hip extensions with feet on ball to strengthen upper hamstring

Hamstring stretches: Start position for Supine hip extension
  • Hamstrings stretches can done be using a Swiss ball, in the position shown with your legs on the ball and your arms out wide for support
  • Push down with your legs on the ball and drawing your belly button in gently, lift your hips as high as you can, so that you are in a straight diagonal line.
  • Focus on engaging your upper hamstrings, just below your buttocks and hold the position for 3-5 seconds
  • Repeat 10-12 times, for 1-3 sets with a short rest in between
  • To progress the exercise you can take the ball further away, cross your arms over your chest to reduce the base of support and make the exercise more unstable, or include a knee bend from the high position.
Hamstring stretches: finish position for Supine hip extension

Hamstring training on the bike…

In addition to taking these hamstring stretches off the bike, it is sensible to be progressive in both the loading and repetition of your riding.  You are increasing the load of the working muscles when you push hard, and in particular if you increase the amount of hills you are riding at lower cadences with higher resistance per pedal stroke.

It is therefore sensible to progressively increase the amount of hard efforts and hills that you include to avoid any muscular issues. Equally, due to the highly repetitive nature of cycling, you would be prudent to have a similarly progressive plan with regard to increasing time in the saddle gradually.

If you increase both loading and volume (duration) together you are most likely to stress your muscles to breaking point.

Bike fit

If you have been sensible with these hamstring stretches and exercises are still experiencing issues, pain and soreness, it may well be worth having a bike fitter, or someone more experienced take a look at your bike set up to check there is nothing there that is aggravating.

Usually if your saddle is too high for you, it will increase the stretch on your hamstrings and increase the risk of injury.

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