Cycling Pre-Ride Activation Exercises
In order to maximize on the bike performance our guest writer, Liam, has shared some pre-ride activation exercises to help increase mobility and comfort on the bike.
Most often our scheduled rides occur early morning or after a long day at the office. Without adequate preparation, taking the body from a position of rest or extended inactivity (desk work?) and thrusting it into the dynamic demands of road, gravel or mountain bike riding increases the likelihood of injury and diminishes optimal performance and enjoyment. With this in mind building transition activities like warm-ups, activation routines and cool downs allow the body to adjust to the new demands about to be placed on it. The purpose of this article is to detail some movement patterns that will prepare your body and mind for your next adventure or training session on the bike.
Time Requirements - Activation and Warmups
Activations or warm-ups don’t need to be very long in length to be effective and the following routine should take no more than ten minutes. There are a few boxes that we want to check transitioning from your morning or day onto the bike:
- Open up the body starting from the spine and working out to the hips, shoulders and onto the arms and legs.
- Activating (read “turn on”) the core, hips (glutes, hip flexors, and abductors) and extremities in a way that most closely resembles being on a bike.
- Move from simple to more complex patterns until we’re ready to get riding
Activation 1: Child’s pose to cobra pattern
- We’re starting with flexion of the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles (child’s pose) and transitioning into extension or all those same joints including the spine (cobra).
- This is a wonderful opportunity to check in to see how the body is feeling at that point in time in a very gentle way. Remember that variables like sleep, stress, hydration and activities of the last 24-48 hours will all play into how the body presents itself.
- Alternate between these two positions five to ten times each and take one to two deep and easy breaths per position.
Activation2: Downward dog to cobra
- Think of these positions and the transition between them as an evolution of the first (and more gentle) patterns; the focus migrates from gentle and easy to creating tension in the trunk as you drive through your hands, arms and shoulders. Keep your spine long and neutral in both positions and start to feel your strength and stability as your pause into the plank; you’re starting to wake up the nervous system!
- The focus here is opening up the shoulders in a very active way as well as giving length to the posterior chain (specifically the hamstrings, calves and ankles). Your core should be supporting you in both positions.
- Alternative five to ten times between each position pausing with a deep and intentional breath at both end points.
Activation 3: Deadbug
- This exercise is primarily focused on the activation of the deep core. The best queue or focus is on your spine: maintain constant contact between your spine and the ground as you move through the alternating leg/arm pattern. Note that if this is hard on your neck, placing a pillow or yoga block underneath your head will take some of the tension out of that area and allow you to focus on the core.
- Start with arms and legs (knees bent at ninety degrees) up above you in the air. Focus on drawing your belly button down towards your spine which in turn is ideally flat to the ground (the most important part here is that your spine isn’t arching/moving in response to the exercise). Drop a leg down to the ground along with the opposite (contralateral) arm, pause and then return to the starting position.
- Repeat on the other side and alternate ten times per side. Ideally you feel the same steady core activation regardless of which arm or leg is moving.
Activation 4: Supine bridge with thoracic rotation
- The focus of activation switches to the back of the body (glutes, hamstrings and back) so your setup is such that you’re sitting as if at the beach looking down at the water; hands pointed back and beneath your shoulder, hips, knees and ankles at ninety degrees.
- Drive your hips into the air as you load onto one of your arms and reach with the opposite arm up the sky. The effect is engaging the glutes and hamstrings into almost 180 degrees of extension while opening up the chest and shoulders through rotation of the spine. Alternate sides, five times each.
- If you find this challenging due to tightness of the hip flexors or chest/shoulder then simply drive the hips into the air with both hands planted beneath you and return to the ground. Repeat ten times.
Activation 5: Side bridge with hip abduction
- The focus of activation turns to the lateral chain which is imperative for things like single leg balance, moving laterally through space and stable/repeatable force production into the crank arm on your bike.
- Start on your side with your elbow directly under your shoulder (which should be stable and packed against your trunk), bottom leg bent at ninety degrees slightly in front of you and your top leg straight down in-line with your trunk. Drive your hips up and forward (very similar to the bridge you just did from a sitting position) so that your glutes and abductors are activated and maintain the core activation that was established in the deadbug. You should feel your glutes and muscles on the outside of your hip engage as well as the side of your trunk that is facing the ground.
- Repeat ten times on one side, pausing at the top of each repetition with a single, deliberate breath. Switch sides and repeat.
Activation 6: Alternating Spiderman lunge with thoracic rotation
- Following the progression of increasing athletic/complex movement, we start in a tall plank then drive a leg up beside the arms. Open up towards the raised leg (right leg up, open to the right with your right arm), hold the end position for one breath, return the arm back to ground below you, return the leg to the tall plank position.
- Challenge yourself by raising a given leg up to the top position with control. This takes athleticism and core strength; if you swing it up and flop in the top position you lose a lot of the value.
- If you are finding it difficult to drive the leg up into a stable lunge position with control then placing your hands on a yoga block or something that raises your upper body up off the ground will give your hips and legs more room to move.
- There is a lot going on here including but not limited to: deep stretches/active lengthening of the hip flexors, proximal hamstring, chest and shoulders and activation of hip flexors, core, mid and upper back.
- Repeat this pattern on the opposite side and alternate between sides, five times each (again always maintaining your breath).
Activation 7: Deep lunge to single leg stand with knee drive
- The final activation pattern is designed to get your legs moving in a relatively similar pattern to how they will operate on the bike albeit with far more range of motion. It reinforces glute, hip flexor, abductor and core activation.
- Start in a deep lunge keeping your weight on top of the front leg and your back knee off the ground (active hip mobility). Stand up on your forward leg up and follow with your opposite leg/knee driving up in the air. Hold this position for a single breath and feel the glute of your standing leg engaging, your core maintaining your pelvic and lower back stability and the hip flexor of the opposite leg engage.
- The photos above demonstrate a “runner’s pattern” which involves the arms moving in a natural and integrated fashion with the arms. If you have no interest in this level of coordination then simply keep your arms out in front pointed straight forward which will aid in counterbalancing the leg pattern.
Conclusion: Primed and Ready to have a great ride!
At this point your body should now be primed to get on the bike and have a great ride! If you want to take your activation a little bit further…. Use the first ten to fifteen minutes of your ride to continue your activation: Start with five to ten minutes of low cadence riding. This will allow you to feel your body on the bike: are your glutes engaging? Are your knees tracking smoothly over the pedals? How do your back and neck feel? Once you have woken your body up to the specific demands of the bike and are “plugged in” you can get into a proper warm up with higher cadence drills or whatever your program/coach has called for.
- Liam is a personal trainer, kinesiology student at the University of British Columbia and passionate cycling and movement nerd.