If you’re cycling on a regular basis, the bent-over head-up position is not a natural position. You don’t walk or run in that position or you’d be plowing the ground with your nose. Your neck and shoulders take the brunt of cycling form. Over the long-term, your body will adapt to the classic riding position, resulting in muscular imbalances. Stretch and strengthen your neck and shoulders to relieve muscle strain as well as counteract physiological adaptations.
For a cyclist, effective resistance exercises to strengthen your neck and shoulder area are the shoulder press and the dumbbell raise and sweep. For the shoulder press, perch on a stability ball, holding dumbbells with arms bent. Hands should be at shoulder height with palms facing forward. Raise both dumbbells straight up until your arms are fully extended. Slowly lower them back to starting position. Also, you can do the shoulder press on a machine or use a barbell.
For a dumbbell raise and sweep, hold a dumbbell in each hand using an overhand grip. Raise your right arm in front of you until it’s parallel to the ground. At the same time, lift your left arm to the side. Swap arm positions, staying on the horizontal plane. Move your right arm to the side and your left arm to your front. Lower the dumbbells back to starting position, counting those movements as one rep. Switch sides and repeat the exercise. For both exercises, perform two sets of eight to 12 reps.
Stretching and Flexibility
Simple stretches can help to relieve tension and tightness in your neck and shoulders. You can perform these exercises standing next to your bike on a roadside. For example, stand with your arms by your sides. Lower one arm by depressing one shoulder to feel the stretch in the trapezius muscle. Repeat on the other side and then try depressing both shoulders at the same time. To stretch your neck, depress one shoulder and tilt your neck to the other side. Place your hand on your head and gently add resistance to the neck tilt. Hug yourself, rounding your upper back and crossing your arms in front of your chest. This exercise pulls both sides of the trapezius forward and stretches your shoulders.
Body Weight Exercises
If you focus too much on your quads and ignore your core, you’re setting yourself up for neck, back and shoulder pain. If your abs, back and chest are strong, you won’t have to lean on your shoulders to do all the work. Perform body weight exercises, such as pushups, pull-ups and planks, to strengthen your core. For two days a week, perform two to three sets of each of these exercises. Try and work up to 25 pushups, which will strengthen your shoulders, triceps and chest. To build your abs and back, hold your body in the plank position for up to a minute. If you’re really ambitious, aim to do a dozen pull-ups to strengthen your shoulders and arms.
If you want to become a better cyclist, take some time off from your bike, says cyclist and orthopedic surgeon Kevin Stone of the Stone Clinic in San Francisco in Selene Yeager’s "Bicycling" article, “Take a Vacation from Your Bike." Do other types of exercises to straighten out and stretch your body. For example, swimming laps can increase the range of motion in your shoulder joints and expand your breathing capacity. Because you have to keep your rib cage open to encourage airflow, you also build the muscles in the back and shoulders.
- Cycling Anatomy; Shannon Sovndal
- Distance Cycling; John Hughes, et al.
- Bicycling Magazine's New Cyclist Handbook: Ride with Confidence and Avoid…; Ed Pavelka
- Supplementary Training for Endurance Sports: Optimize Performance – Avoid…; Dietmar Luchtënberg
- Bicycling: Troubleshoot Your Weak Spots
- Bicycling: Take a Vacation from Your Bike; Selene Yeager
- Cyclesport Coaching: Cyclists: Keep Neck and Upper Back Pain at Bay
Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.