If you’re a cyclist and spend a lot of time on your bike, you might often feel pain and tightness. But contrary to what you may think, the pain you feel after cycling too hard isn’t caused by the buttocks muscles, otherwise known as the glutes. The pain actually comes from the stiffness in your hip rotator muscles, a group of muscles hidden beneath the glutes, which extend from the tailbone to the top of the thigh.
The reason you may feel pain is because your hips never open when you’re on a bike. They stay in a fixed position as the leg goes up and down in the same plane, but never straighten or rotate enough to open up the hip joint. As your hip rotator muscles tighten, you begin to feel pain in your deep glute area.
To learn how to stretch these muscles properly, we spoke to Marisa R. D’Adamo, a physical therapist from Dash Physical Therapy. Americans have a lot of tightness in their rotator muscles in general, says D’Adamo, and the increase in stiffness caused by biking is a huge detriment to flexibility. “What I’m worried about is not getting those hip rotator movements in your day. If you stop using them, you’ll lose them.”
Stretching the rotators will help maintain their full range of motion. D’Adamo says that the popular “figure-four” stretch you probably learned in high school is not quite effective. “The figure-four keeps the leg in line with the body,” she explains. “Instead, you need to bring it across the body to the other side to get a better stretch.”
D’Adamo has provided two stretches that fully open up the rotator muscles. There’s no limit to how often you should do them, before or after, says D’Adamo. “Stretch more if your deep glute area hurts, and less when it doesn’t.”
Perform the following stretches until you feel a comfortable stretch. There shouldn’t be any discomfort or pain.
Across the body stretch
- Lie down, keeping the head and neck rested. Pull your right knee across the chest toward the left shoulder.
- With the left hand, pull your ankle in toward your shoulder. Do not twist your knee as you pull.
- Be sure to get a good pull of the muscles deep in the glute, but not so hard that you feel strain or cannot breathe easily.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
Note: With repetition, you should find yourself stretching further over time.
Ball and pressure point stretch
- Sit on a lacrosse or tennis ball and do a pressure point massage on the muscle-y part of the glute.
- Sit on the ball so that you feel pressure in the area of the glutes that feels tight, for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on your comfort level.
- Keep yourself in position and wait for the spot to feel a little relaxed.
- You can repeat this a few times.
The above stretches are helpful to those people who ride stationary bikes at the gym as well as those who prefer outdoor cycling. D’Adamo says that there is no difference, as you’re undergoing the same movement.
If you’re a cyclist, try the above stretches several times a week. You may feel better on and off the bike. Another popular activity in which the hip rotator muscles play an important role is running: “Running and biking are similar because both keep the hip in a straight line, never opening your hip up,” says D’Adamo.
Since the muscles are used in a similar fashion, the injuries caused by biking and running tend to be the same. So runners will benefit from these stretches, too.