I am tired and my butt hurts.
Is it time for a break yet?
How much longer?
Have these thoughts ever taken center stage in your mind during a bike ride? Biking can be fun, adventuresome, and inspiring – but it can also be tiring. Sometimes you just need a break. Stop. Eat. Recharge. Yes, that is one way to rest up, and sometimes the best way. But when you are pressed for time, want to stick with friends who are rolling ahead, or simply want to squeeze in a few more miles, can you rest without stopping? Is it possible to rest while you are on your bike?
Now before you think, “There goes Carolyn again, displaying her never-slow-down, Type-A tendencies. When is Intel going to call her back to work?”, keep in mind that I am not advocating skipping breaks altogether. Personally, I have learned that my wish-it-was-younger body needs regular breaks – and I take them. Regularly. If I didn’t, I would have serious issues with a neck that protests at being in an extended position for prolonged periods of time. You must get to know your own physical needs and preferences and own all decisions related to your health, safety, and performance. I charge every woman who joins a Ride Like A Girl bike ride to assume responsibility for her own safety. Dear Reader, you must do the same.
So what do I mean by resting on your bike? Think of it as a creative way to give your body a mini break, renew your energy, and find rest while your bike continues to carry you forward. Drawing from my own experience and inquiring about the practices of fellow-cyclists*, I’ve found the following positions, stretches, and techniques to be quite helpful.
Shift Your Position
Ask any woman if she can feel the difference between a 3-inch and a 3 1/4-inch heel on a pair of shoes and she will assure you that the quarter inch is detectable as soon as she takes her first steps in the little beauties. Similarly, the smallest of adjustments can be felt when riding a bike. Try these minor shifts in position next time you feel a bit tired:
Slide backward. According to Livestrong.com, “Your ‘sit bones’ — technically, your ischial tuberosities — are the two protruding bones that carry most of your weight when you’re sitting.” Make sure your sit bones are resting upon the widest part of the saddle. When you are feeling a bit sore or fatigued, slide back to make sure you are utilizing those sit bones. Shift around to alter your position slightly. Think about shifting your weight from cheek to cheek. Even a small shift can relieve pressure and make it easier to continue riding.
- Stand up. The fastest way to get relief to your bum is simply to remove the pressure by standing up. Position your pedals in the 3- and 9- o’clock positions and then stand on them. This is easiest when the road is flat (or has a slight downward grade) and your bike is rolling at a good speed. Otherwise, you’ll quickly lose momentum and have to start pedaling before you realize the benefit of this mini rest. A variation of this is to just lift your bum slightly such that you are hovering an inch or so above the saddle.
- Stand and pedal. A variation of the stand up position is to stand and pedal. This may take some practice at first, but it is a great way to give your bottom a rest. It is often likened to running or jogging on a bike (so if you like to run, you will probably enjoy this position). It will engage your cardio system and a different set of leg muscles. You may find it tiring in the beginning, but with practice, your cardio system will get stronger and you will find this to be very effective, even if utilized for just a few pedal strokes.
Stretch Those Muscles: There are various stretches and yoga-inspired positions you can move into while on your bike. Whether you are uber-flexible or a wanna-be yogi, these simple moves can bring rest and refreshment to tired muscles:
Cat and Cow. First, arch your back into a rounded hump while pulling your belly inward (cat) and then reverse by arching your back, squeeze your shoulder blades together and let your tummy stick out (cow). Assuming this feels good, repeat a couple times. See this Back in Business article from Bicycling.com for more back stretches (off-the-bike).
- Calf Stretch. For a gentle leg stretch, position your pedals in the 5 o’clock and 11 o’clock position which allows one leg to be almost fully extended. Drop the heel of the extended leg while lifting your toes to gently stretch the calf muscle. This should feel good. Hold for a few seconds, then rotate your pedals till the opposite foot is extended and stretch the other calf in the same manner.
- Relax that upper body. New and experienced cyclists alike need to be reminded to loosen up. Consciously relaxing your upper body will relieve unnecessary tension and stress and help you feel more relaxed. Shoulders: Let them drop. One way to do this is to scrunch them up towards your ears and then let them relax so they fall to a lower position. Arms: let them bend at the elbow. This engages your core and further helps your arms and shoulders stay in a more restful position. Hands: loosen your grip. There is no need to maintain a death-grip on the handle bars. Holding them loosely with fingers close to the break levers is sufficient to maintain control of steering and braking.
Try a Technique:
- Slow down. At the risk of stating the obvious, some of us compulsive/competitive types need the reminder. When you’re feeling fatigued, dropping your speed by 1-3 mph can provide some short-term rest and help you regain some energy for the remainder of the ride.
- Stop pedaling downhill. Many of us find that pedaling downhill is fun and productive. It can help you gain momentum to catch up to a friend or get a jump start on an upcoming hill. Instead, try coasting down the hill. A few seconds (or minutes) of simply riding without exerting any energy can offer a delicious rest and reward you with new energy for whatever lies ahead.
- Breathe. There is no shortage of information about the benefits of breathing to help relax. Try it on your bike. Think about inhaling to fill your entire lung capacity. Yep, let that belly swell with the expansion and then release it. “When the lungs and the surrounding intercostal and diaphragm muscles are supported, the body is free to spend more energy on your muscular effort…” (for more, see Breathing Techniques at Livestrong.com)
- Pedal backwards. Legs tired? Give ’em a rest and a simple stretch at the same time by pedaling backwards. You might be surprised at how nice this feels to rotate them in the opposite direction.
- Increase cadence. One reason we fatigue is because we are pedaling too hard. Biking in a high gear requires our legs to operate in power mode, using our leg strength to push down with each pedal stroke. By dropping to a lower gear you increase your cadence (rate of pedal rotation). Using an easier gear at a faster rate relieves the power demand from your leg muscles and thereby allows you to “spin” and conserve your energy.
Leave something in the tank. Rather than finishing a ride on empty, use the last fifteen minutes to cool down. Reduce your speed, increase your cadence and let your legs spin. The cool down offers some rest and helps with muscle recovery so you feel better the next day. Similarly, think about spinning to warm up at the beginning of a ride. Don’t charge into hammer mode right away. Use the first 10-15 minutes to warm up.
There you have it – creative resting positions, stretches, and techniques. Give them a try and see which one works for you. Then come back and tell us what you found.
A special thanks to my fellow BoB’ers* for contributing on-bike resting suggestions: Vest, Meg, Alan, Diana, Einer, and Paul.
* Northwest Butts on Bikes (BoB) cycling friends.