Training & Nutrition

How to: Use a Foam Roller for Tired Cycling Muscles

We explore the benefits of this little cyclinder of pain that can get you feeling right as rain...

No one enjoys tired, aching limbs after a ride – but the good news is that delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a sure sign that you’re getting stronger. The even better news is that foam rolling is a great way to help speed up the recovery process. 

Working your muscles hard causes tiny tears in the fibres, as well as creating knots and tight areas – often around the quads, hamstrings and back for cyclists. When these repair, they become stronger – which will help you to get stronger, but in the meantime, your legs and back can feel pretty awful. Foam rolling helps to speed up the repair by smoothing out the knots and encouraging blood flow to the area.

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Foam rollers are available in various different sizes and densities, and as a result, they come in at different costs. However, you can get a perfectly good one for about £20, and though you’ll never get the same targeted treatment you would from a sports massage, rolling daily could save you needing to splash out when your muscles finally give in.

So you know the benefits of foam rolling. The negatives? If you’ve not done it for a while or been riding a lot at high intensity, it can hurt – rather a lot. However, after just a few days of spending five to ten minutes in the foam-roll-chamber each morning or evening, riders often find the self-treatment method becomes much less painful. Why? Because it’s working.

Here’s a look at some of the best foam rolling exercises for cyclists… 

Quad Roll (ouch)

The quadriceps work hard when you cycle, and as a result, this is often one of the most painful foam rolling exercises. However, it’s also often one of the most beneficial.

Start in a plank position, with the roller below your upper thigh. Place weight on one side of your body, then roll slowly towards the knee. Try to keep the movement steady for the best results. Roll back, and repeat six times, before moving on to the other leg.

IT band roll (ouch)

A tight IT band is very often the cause of cyclist’s knee niggles, and unfortunately, it’s all too common that we don’t realise this is the culprit.

To roll the IT band, lie on one side, and keep the other leg out the way – either resting on top of the supporting leg or bent. Start at the hip, and roll slowly to the knee, then back again – repeat six times before moving on to the other side.

Glute roll (ouch)

The biggest muscle group in your body, the glutes also contribute a lot when you’re cycling, so they’ll no doubt need some TLC. To roll the glute, sit on the cylindrical bringer of pain, and rest one foot on the opposite knee. Place your weight onto the side with the resting foot, and roll slowly back and forth.

To get further into the glutes, you can also try a trigger point massage with a tennis ball – simply sit with your weight on the tennis ball and gradually roll around until you find a tender spot. Though often uncomfortable, this can help to loosen off the pesky piriformis, which when tight can compress the sciatic nerve and cause pain down the leg.

Hamstring roll

Perhaps I don’t use my hamstrings enough when riding, but I tend to find this one less tender. Simply lie on your back, place the roller beneath your thigh, and roll from your lower bum to your knee.

It can also be a good idea to continue right to the ankle and massage the calfs as these can become tight, and cause stress to the Achilles, knee and foot.

Back roll (ahhh…)

We wouldn’t have added all the ‘ouch’ comments if one of these didn’t feel amazing. Cyclists, and indeed anyone who works at a desk, have a tendency to carry tightness through the shoulders and back. Rolling these out provides a gentle massage and also extends the spine the opposite direction to the overly familiar hunch.

To do this, lie on your back and place the roller below your shoulders, then gently work towards your ribs, roll back, and repeat.

Foam rolling can aid recovery alongside proper nutrition and regular stretching – try to incorporate all three into an all-round better cycling life!

If you’re looking for more information on the benefits and uses of foam rollers, check out the collection of research here.


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