I am by no means a cyclist and some may say I'm even the opposite of one (no idea what that makes me, a bus rider/walker/frolicker??) but I do have a whole bunch of cyclists in my life and a great affinity for the sport in general. Don't get me wrong, I do ride my 800lb commuter to and from school five days a week, up that gosh-forsaken Broadway hill, swearing the whole dang way, "loving" every minute of it. But my Monday-Friday, quad-burning, lung-killing commute is by no means near the volume or intensity that many of my main buds endure in the name of their beloved sport. So, I thought this week I'd throw out a little tender love and care to my friendly two-wheeled crew (all of my roommates included) and address some common mobility challenges they encounter along their strava-tracked, sweat-dripping, Flagstaff rides. (BOOM. Look at all that bike lingo.)
So your low back hates you, your hip flexors are the length of a baby carrot, and the muscle fibers of your quads look like guitar strings ready to snap. Yeah, we should probs look at that. A common awesome sauce rule for any activity, sport, or repetitive movement pattern (sitting at a desk, walking the hospital halls, work stuff, etc.) is to make sure you move your body parts in their counter ranges of motion (ROM). If you are always sitting: stand up, always walking: get your feet above your head, always hunched over your handle bars: do back bending and let those hip flexors stretch! Okay, here we go cyclist comrades of mine, get ready to be mobile.
THE QUADRATUS LUMBORUM (yeah anatomy!)
The quadratus lumborum, or QL, is a smallish muscle deep in your low back that connects the twelfth rib to the spine and the top of the hip bone. The main functions of the QL are to facilitate side bending, hiking your hip up, and to extend (bend over) or flex (bend backwards) your back. So when you are hunched over, like you are when riding your bike, the QL is in a constant state of stretching. Stretching isn't bad of course, but stretching one little muscle for hours and hours multiple times a week can definitely put it over the top. Now I mentioned that your QL is also responsible for hiking your hip up and side bending. Think about when you ride, do your hips shift (even if just slightly) side to side and hike up and down depending on which leg is bent vs. straight? Yes. The answer is yes, even if you said no. Now your QL is not only in a fully stretched position by being bent over, you are also trying to contract it side to side over and over. No wonder it starts saying "to heck with you!" after so many hours in the saddle. Don't worry, I'm not suggesting that you should abandon ship and swear off biking. I am suggesting that you give that QL some tender love and care. We can do this in two ways: myofascial release to the QL directly with counter movement patterns and release of the hip flexors/hips.
BRIDGE ON THE ROLLER (myofascial release for QL)
Lay backwards over a foam roller with your low back, directly above the hip crest, resting on the roller. Shoulders and shoulder blades are on the ground and feet are planted. If possible, start to relax your glutes and hamstrings to let your back kind of lay up and over the roller. Imagine your butt is trying to touch the ground (this may or may not happen, no worries either way). For some of us with less flexi-spines, this will be the end game until we get more comfortable and that's totally cool. If this is working out well and you still have oxygen pumping in and out of your lungs then I want you to take your right foot and tuck it behind your left achilles/heel while letting your right knee start to drop out to the right and towards the floor. This is going to isolate your right QL by shifting most of your body weight towards the right side of your low back. If this just got way too intense then back off and either come back to both feet on the floor or just modify how far your knee is from the floor. You can even use your right hand to support that knee. Hang-out here for two to five minutes before switching sides. IMPORTANT: You must, must, must move slowly when coming out of this exercise. The whole idea is you have relaxed the muscle in the opposite direction it is accustomed to. If you go wrenching it out from this relaxed state it's not only gonna feel like crap but you will also tense the muscle right back up. So chill.
BANDED HIP FLEXOR STRETCH
Attach one of those monster bands (resistance bands) we've been using for a while now to a rig or anything else sturdy at about knee height. While facing the band, step your right leg into it and shimmy it up so it's right under your bum cheek. From here take a giant step back with your right leg and bring your right knee down to the ground so that you are in a low lunge. Two options from here: 1) Keep it dynamic by pressing up into a high lunge while squeezing that right glute, then lower back knee down, come back up etc. or 2) Remain at the bottom with right knee on the ground and flex your right bum cheek to lock your pelvis in place and avoid overextension while leaning your chest back. Want to kick it up even more? Bring that right arm up and behind the head while you lean back, you might be able to feel this in your QL if you side bend as well. Do 15-20 reps before switching sides.
SMASH THE BUM CHEEK
Lastly, we want to get a little more mobility around the outer hip socket. Tight outer hips and glutes can contribute greatly to extra firing/stress of the QL. Using a lacrosse ball or softball to roll those areas out is baller (haha get it, cause it's a ball). Sit down on your bum with the lax ball under your right cheek. With your hands behind you to prop you up, lean over to the right and bring your right ankle onto your left knee, making a bit of a figure-four. Roll around on that cheek looking for any sticky areas, especially around the head of your femur and where it meets the hip socket. Hang here really as long as you want/have time for but do it for at least two minutes.
So to all my sweet bikers out there, I applaud you for your tireless (or tiresome) efforts on your two-wheeled modes of transportation. I may not love biking but I do have mad love for you so take care of your back and do some mobility for Pete's sake! (See that's hilarious because my roommates name is Pete) Oh and also, wear a helmet even if it does give you helmet hair. May the gears be with you!