Foam Rolling for Cyclists
Steve McCulley, 1 May 2015
Seven out of every ten of my clients would benefit from massage, as well as a dedicated stretching regime. For many, the cost of a sports massage can be prohibitive, therefore a foam roller is a really cost effective recovery and conditioning tool.
The following guide is prescribed by Phil Burt (Lead Physiotherapist at British Cycling and Consultant Physiotherapist to the Sky Pro Cycling Team) and is used by many riders on the GB squads and Team Sky, so it’s a highly effective way for you to help keep your body in optimal condition.The exercises are designed to relieve aches and pains, as well as increase mobility in key muscle groups.
It should form a key part of your recovery routine to offer effective compression on key muscles and provide a simple means to massage sore and worn-out tissue. The aim is to provide you with a do-it-yourself massaging tool, which can be used at home without any specialist training.
Try a few of the simple exercises below for just a few minutes each day and you could see a significant improvement in mobility and performance, as well as a reduced chance of injury during exercise.
What do I need?
There are a multitude of foam rollers on the market ranging from simple expanded polystyrene to designs that supposedly mimic the action of a therapist’s fingers. The most important considerations are size and firmness. A roller needs to be large enough to be able to effectively perform the movements. Some models are hollow, which makes them especially suited for traveling. Generally, the firmer the roller the better. You’ll be putting your entire bodyweight onto it and cheaper or softer rollers will just flex, degrade and won’t deliver an effective massage. It is also recommended you purchase a mat to stretch after in comfort.
What does it do?
Using a foam roller mimics a therapy technique known as myofascial release. The myofascia is a spider’s web like network of white connective tissue that surrounds all of your muscles. All myofascia are connected and it can almost be thought of as a skin-suit surrounding our muscles. In a healthy state it’s soft, flexible and free moving, but repetitive movement, load and trauma can cause it to become tight and unyielding. Traditional passive stretching doesn’t really stretch tissue, but only desensitises it to lengthening, whereas the compression and release of foam rolling is highly effective in maintaining flexible and healthy soft tissues.
What to Do?
- The ideal time to roll is post-exercise with warm muscles, however anytime during the day is better than no time at all!
- Never roll over bone
- Initially perform the routine every day, but after approximately two weeks you can move to maintenance of every other day
- Expect it to hurt initially, but after two weeks of daily rolling, the pain will subside
- Many people, especially women, experience bruising when first starting foam rolling. This is common, but seek advice if worried by it
- Once you’re comfortable with rolling up and down the target area, focus and pause on especially tight or sore spots. Breath deeply and only move on when you feel the tissue relax and the pain subside
- If you experience any unusual pain or sensations, consult with a qualified medical professional.
Calf Muscles (Lower Leg)
The calf muscle takes a lot of strain whilst cycling. It pays to keep the muscle group loose and relaxed. Here’s a simple massaging exercise to relieve tension in the muscle by applying gentle pressure.
- Place the roller underneath your left ankle
- Cross your right leg over your left, and relax your feet to help release the muscle
- Lift your body with your hands and gently roll from your ankle to the back of your knee: roll back and forth x 4 for each leg
- Then roll the leg inside to outside x 4 (cross-friction)
- As a variation, try lifting your body off the ground with the roller underneath your ankle, then rotate your lower foot 2 x clockwise and 2 x anti-clockwise. Repeat several times on each ankle.
Your quads are your primary muscle group for cycling; one of the largest muscles in your body, they are instrumental to performance. Much like the calf muscle, a gentle application of pressure can help to relieve tension and soreness.
- Place the roller underneath your right thigh, bend your left leg at 90 degrees and extend out to the side
- Balance on your elbows with your arms outstretched
- Roll yourself slowly up and down. If you feel an area of tension or pain, pause over it for 20 seconds to allow the roller to compress this area
- Then roll forward and backwards x 4
- Replicate with the roller underneath your other thigh
- Variation: place the roller underneath your right thigh, bend your left leg at 90 degrees and extend out to the side. Bend your right leg at the knee, so that it forces your right quad into the roller. Repeat the bend x 4 for each leg. This can add extra pressure to sore spots.
The IT Band runs from your hip to your knee and is a problem area for many cyclists (if you do encounter a problem then you should have your position on the bike looked at). However, you can increase the blood supply to the area and give some relief through this foam roller exercise.
- Lay with the roller under your left hip, bend your right leg and place your right foot firmly on the floor
- Use your right foot to roll your body up and down. Again, if you feel an area of soreness, pause over this for 20 seconds to relieve the tension
- Repeat the roll four times
- Replicate with the roller underneath your right thigh.
The spine is crucial to any exercise and a bad back will significantly impair your performance. This simple exercise can help to increase mobility through aiding spinal rotation.
- Lie on your back with the roller just above the lumbar curve
- Place your feet firmly flat on the floor and cradle your head in your hands
- Roll forwards and backwards
- Repeat x 4 for each area of the spine (upper, middle, lower)
- Variation: in each area of the spine create cross friction by moving side to side. This will help to gently massage the muscle
- Repeat x 4 in each area.
The Piriformis muscle is in the gluteal area of the body. It is part of the lateral rotating group of muscles that surround the hips and therefore flexibility and strength is key to sports like cycling. The exercise helps to apply pressure to the Piriformis and can help relieve tension.
- Sit on the side of one of your buttocks, with the opposite leg bent at 45 degrees
- Balance on your elbow and fore-arm and roll the Piriformis area of your glute. If there is a point of soreness, pause over this for 20 seconds so that you can apply additional pressure
- Repeat the roll forward/backwards x 4
- Apply cross friction massage x 4
- As a variation, position the roller on the Piriformis muscle and lift your leg to increase the pressure on the area. Rotate the leg to gently roll around the muscle.
Brought to you by Steve McCulley, a former Royal Marine and owner of LIOS Bikes in the UK. He is a Cytech Level 3 Bike Technician, certified Retül 3D motion analyser and one of the first to own and utilise the revolutionary BioBike dynamic fitting system, of which there are currently only four in the world.