The human body is primarily designed to walk, climb, and throw spears, not necessarily to cycle. Prolonged periods on the bike can cause tightening of certain muscle groups, and foam rolling is an effective way to help manage this tightness. Less tightness usually means more comfort on the bike, and improved recovery between sessions. Here are 6 foam roller exercises that I routinely give my cyclists to ensure good flexibility both on and off the bike. You should aim for 45-60sec for each muscle group, with a pain ~5/10.
Sitting upright, rest your calves over the roller. Roll slowly back and forward a few times, about 2-3 inches at a time until the whole calf has been covered. When this becomes quite comfortable, do 1 leg at a time, by resting the opposite leg on top.
The gastrocs can often be targeted better by pulling your toes gently back toward you, and by getting in behind the knee too.
2. HAMSTRINGS / ADDUCTORS
Sitting upright, place the roller under the back of 1 thigh, with the other leg resting on the ground out of the way. Roll along the back of the thigh, and along the inner thigh, seeking out parts which feel particularly tight or uncomfortable to roll. Sometimes this doesn’t get enough pressure, so using a smaller and firmer roller can usually do the trick.
3. ANTERIOR THIGH / HIP
Start by resting on your elbows, facing the ground, with the roller across the front of both thighs. With your legs straight, roll slowly back and forward about 2-3 inches at a time, from the kneecap all the way up to the front of the hip.
Repeat, but with your knees bent to ~90deg the whole time.
You will notice that it is hard to get to the uppermost part of the muscle because of the pubic bones and organs getting in the way. To get around this, roll one leg at a time, with the roller positioned so that it will clear these structures as it goes up the front of the hip.
4. LATERAL THIGH
There’s a few ways to do this, and some hurt a LOT more than others. If you roll directly side-on, this pushes your lateral quads muscle hard into the Femur, resulting in a ‘pinching’ pain that is definitely not for beginners.
I find the best way to start is by sitting upright, and tilting to one side to push the lateral thigh muscle upwards as you roll, rather than directly into the bone.
Try a similar thing from front-on, pushing the muscle backwards.
Then if brave enough, try directly side on, remembering to aim for ~5/10 discomfort only
This one is usually best done by putting the glutes in a slight stretch position before rolling, allowing the roller to get into all the deeper structures.
Start sitting, with 1 leg crossed over and that knee pulled towards the opposite shoulder. You should feel a mild stretch in the glute, and place that spot directly on top of the roller. Roll gently back and forward, using the other leg to control how much weight you end up putting through the roller.
6. LONGTITUDINAL DRAPE
This one is a great finisher, to help maintain a good thoracic posture and an open chest position.
With a long roller (ideally non-spiky), lie on your back with your head supported at one end, and pelvis at the other end. Bring your knees up so your feet sit flat on the floor, and this helps flatten out your lower back.
Allow your arms to stretch out to the side, with your palms facing the roof to get a good stretch across the front of your chest, while the roller’s pressure at the back can help maintain thoracic flexibility.
A semi-circular half-roller may make it easier to balance, but limits how much stretch your chest can get.
As always, it is best to consult a physio if you have any concerns, or nagging tight areas which aren’t getting better with rolling or other strategies.