We're all guilty of it: skipping the stretching portion of a workout. For some reason the last few minutes of any class can seem like an excuse to head to the shower a little early or grab a post-workout snack a little faster. But as any trainer or instructor will tell you, the cool down is there for a reason.
"The same people that leave before stretching are the same people that ask 'why am I injured,'" said Maddy Ciccone, master SoulCycle instructor. Stretching is really essential because it helps release tension, increases blood flow to the muscles, and helps prevent soreness. What's more, it can also help the body's recovery process.
For those who opt for cycling workouts, given the position you find yourself in while riding, Ciccone explained it's even more important to stretch post class. Next time you're ready to toss on your go-to tank, like the UA Armour Sport Crossback Tank ($30), to cue up your favorite cycling class or head into the studio, be sure to carve out time for a nice stretch after — featuring some of these directly from an instructor.
Standing Quad Stretch
Because the quad is the largest group of muscles located on the front of your thigh, it's important to give it some attention. To do this stretch, take the instep of your foot and bring it behind you, so that you're balancing on one foot. "Make sure you keep your hips square and you're not opening up to one side or the other but moving the leg straight back behind you," noted Ciccone. "You will feel a long stretch through that front side and possibly even into your hip flexors." Be sure to hold onto a wall or your stationary bike for stability if you have difficulty with balance.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
"You can use the bike almost like a ballet bar for this one," said Ciccone. Being careful to balance your weight on one foot, bring your opposite foot up to the handle bars so your leg is outstretched to mimic a ballerina. "Make sure the weight is bearing on the back of your heel and not toward your ankle," she added. Depending on your flexibility, you can add a slight bend in the knee as you pull and lower your chest gently toward your outstretched leg.
Figure Four Stretch
"Placing one hand on the saddle and one hand on the handlebars to keep balance, you'll bend your knee and place your right ankle over your left knee," explained Ciccone, noting this pose may actually resemble "Tree Pose" in yoga, with your ankle resting on top of your opposite knee. "Then, bearing all your weight on the left leg, you will start to slowly sit back like you're going to sit in a chair. This has the resemblance of a one-legged squat," she said. Cycling at home? Try a similar assisted stretch after class, by sitting on your couch and crossing your right leg over your left.
Lateral Squat or Side Squat Stretches
Start with your legs wider than hip distance, and bend your torso straight forward so that your hands drop to the floor. "You can slowly start to sway your weight from the right to the left, bending and straightening either leg," said Ciccone. "This almost feels like you're floating back and forth a bit and helps to get some mobilization before dropping into the full stretch." Eventually all your weight will rest on one side, with one leg bent as much as possible and the opposite leg out straight on the other side. Ciccone noted you can expect to feel this one through the inside of your groin muscles and hamstrings.
Front Hurdler/Herkie Stretch
Complete this stretch while seated on the floor with both legs out in front of you. Bend one leg and gently swing it around toward your backside. Ideally, you want your hips to stay as close on an even plane as possible, as you will get an even deeper stretch through your hip flexors while also stretching your opposite hamstring, Ciccone explained. "If you've seen Olympic track runners jump over the hurdle with one leg bent and trailing behind them, it should look similar to that. Also another popular description is a front herkie stretch made popular through a cheerleading jump."