British Cycling flexibility routine

British Cycling flexibility routine

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Knowledge Level: Intermediate

We’re all time pressed and, even when working with full time riders, Phil Burt, lead physiotherapist to the Great Britain Cycling Team and consultant physiotherapist to Team Sky, has seen that it’s pointless prescribing long multi-exercise routines.

He remembers Bradley Wiggins coming to him with a list of 27 exercises that his then team had given to him and was wondering when he’d fit in actually riding his bike. Four effective and targeted exercises done well and regularly are far better than a list of ten done haphazardly every so often.

Here are his four must-do cycling specific exercises that are the staple post ride flexibility work of the Great Britain Cycling Team and Team Sky cyclists.


The common misconception about flexibility work that Phil is keen to dismiss is that what most of us think of stretching muscles lengthens them. This is simply untrue as, with fixed points of origin and insertion, muscle length is essentially fixed.

No amount of acute or short term stretching will lengthen muscles and the only time that muscles do lengthen is when you’re growing or under very sustained long duration, years, worth of stretch loading. What flexibility work does address is a heightened sensitivity in the muscle to ranges of movement beyond those which you experience when sat on your bike or at your desk.

This perceived tightness, if left unaddressed, can easily lead to imbalances, poor muscle function and potentially pain or injury.


The optimal time to work on flexibility is immediately after you get back from a ride but within an hour, after you’ve had a shower and put on some clean clothes, is still good. You’ll still get benefits in the evening following a ride and, if you’re more likely to do a good job when relaxed in front of the TV, this is preferable to a rushed token effort straight after riding.

How long to hold?

Start off holding stretches for 30 seconds and, once you can manage that with good form, build up to 90 seconds.

With the foam roller work on 10 times up and down taking approximately 3 seconds on the upstroke and 3 seconds on the downstroke. As you get more comfortable with the exercise, pause on any especially tight or sore areas.

The exercises

Bulgarian squat

You probably spend a vast proportion of your time sat at a desk or driving your car, this is then compounded by the hours you spend on your bike. All this time spent in a leant forward seated position, leads to tight hip flexors which can be responsible for discomfort both on and off the bike. This dynamic squat is an excellent way to counter tight hip flexors.

- Elevate your rear foot on a bed or bench.

- Squeeze your glutes and you might find this is enough to begin to initiate a stretch.

- Keeping your glutes tight, bend the front knee until you feel a deep stretch through your hip flexors.

- Hold for 30-90 seconds three times on each side.                                  

Above: Bulgarian Squat End Position

Indian Knot

The opposite muscle group to the hip flexors, your glute muscles also suffer from too much time spent seated. Maintaining their flexibility is important if they’re to function properly. This exercise is ideal for targeting the glutes and will also work on a smaller muscle known as the piriformis that can be responsible for referred pain in the back and legs.

- Sit on the floor with one leg bent in front so the heel rests near the opposite buttock.

- Cross the other leg over, maintain a strong upright posture and elongate through your spine.

- You should aim to distribute your weight evenly through both buttocks although don’t be surprised if one side is elevated. As you ease into the position it will even out.

- Hold for 30-90 seconds three times on each side.

Below: The Indian Knot

Modified Hurdler Stretch

Hamstring tightness or inflexibility limits many riders’ ability to adopt a lower and more aerodynamic position on the bike. Whilst not a muscle group that we have to stretch due to time spent on the bike, they represent a major limiting factor for being able to ride fast for extended periods.

- Using a low step or a bench, elevate one foot. Keep that leg straight with your toes up. Your supporting leg should be slightly bent.

- Keep your head up, pelvis rotated back, back hollow and then slowly lean forward from your hips to develop a stretch in your hamstrings.

- Hold for 30-90 seconds three times on each side.

Above: Modified Hurdler Start.

Above: Modified Hurdler end.                                                                  

ITB Foam Roller

The illiotibial band is a thick strap of soft tissue that extends down the outside of your leg. It’s notoriously hard to work on using traditional stretching movements but, if allowed to become overly tight, can be at the root of a number of common and painful knee problem.

The best method for keeping your ITB functioning optimally is to use a foam roller. Phil points out that if you’re finding that your ITB gets tight constantly it may be due to a problem with your bike setup such as a too high seat or poor cleat alignment. With any recurring problem always try to seek professional advice and find the underlying cause.

- Lie on the foam roller with your full body weight on it and feet stacked on top of each other.

- Roll up and down the length of the outside of your thigh taking care not to go onto the bones.

- Work for 10 strokes up and down each side. With a slow three count on the upstrokes and downstrokes.

- Do not be surprised if this is initially very painful and even causes bruising. This is particularly common with female cyclists. It will become easier with regular rolling.

Look here for full details, images and further exercises on the British Cycling foam roller routine.

Before you undertake any form of physical activity or make significant changes to your routine it is a good idea to check with your GP that you are able to undertake the intended programme.


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