You don’t need to be a genius to know the primary muscle groups cyclists use are their legs. But riders also call upon powerful muscles in our buttocks too. Our abs and back muscles keep us stable on our bikes, and cyclists trigger their arms and shoulders into action when climbing out of the saddle.
Muscles work in pairs, like levers, to move our skeletal system. One set flexes or tightens the muscle, while the other extends or relaxes the muscle. This is how we pedal and move ourselves forward on our bicycles. So, when doing a self-massage, it’s important to treat both sides.
Quick anatomy lesson
Unless you are a health professional, you know these groups as the glutes, hamstrings, quads, calf and shin muscles. The glutes refer to your gluteus maximus in your bottom. They work with the quad muscles (the four muscles on the front of your thigh), incorporating our calves too, as we push down on the pedals.
The hamstrings run down the back of the leg and pull the pedal back up from the bottom of the pedal stroke. They can’t do it alone, and count on small lower leg muscles to assist. Let’s look at their proper scientific names.
- Glutes: Gluteus Maximus (buttocks)
- Hamstrings: Semimembranosus and Biceps Femoris
- Quads: Vastus Medialis, Rectus Femoris and Vastus Lateralis
- Calf: Gastrocnemius Medialis, Lateralis and Soleus
- Shin: Tibialis Anterior
The benefits of massage post workout
When you’re done working out, you want to sit and rest. But this isn’t what your muscles need. As soon as you become inactive, they do too, and that slows down blood flow, causing a metabolic backup in muscle fibres.
A deep tissue massage post workout increases blood flow to muscles, speeding up their recovery by delivering valuable nutrients needed for tissue repair and normal function. Changes in pressure and movement during a massage act like a bilge to pump out the metabolic waste produced as a byproduct of high-intensity exercise.
Before you start
Wash your skin. Use a lubricant like a cream, lotion or oil to facilitate a deep tissue massage. For an extra boost of relief, look for brands with Arnica or lavender extract or add your own. Both are natural anti-inflammatory agents easily purchased in pharmacies and health-food stores. If olive oil is all you got, that’ll work too.
Use your fingers and thumbs to feel for any knots or “trigger points”. That’s where you want to concentrate your efforts. People have different ideas of how much pressure or discomfort should accompany a sports massage but the goal is to break up stubborn areas and increase blood flow. Don’t be shy, it’s not a day at the spa.
Luckily today, there are massage aids such as self-kneading sticks, foam and star rollers and prickly balls to help you get the knots out and the job done in tough to reach spots using your own body weight or arm strength. A tennis ball is a good alternative to a prickly ball and you may have one around the house.
The most important rule in massage is to work toward your heart. It’s not the easiest angle or direction, but it promotes flow in the right direction. Begin with gentle pressure and work progressively deeper and stronger with your hands or massage aid. You should feel the muscles gradually loosen.
How to perform a self-massage
Warm up your oil or lotion in some hot water or zap it a few seconds in the microwave. Make sure your bottle won’t melt in the micro and check the temperature isn’t too hot. Apply the product in your hands, not directly on the skin.
Position the area to massage so it’s completely relaxed and supple. Warm up the skin with your hands, spreading the warm lubricant liberally. We’ll be focusing on leg techniques but there are many ways to maximise your recovery.
Sit on the ground with your legs out straight in front of you. One leg at a time, take the girth of your thigh in your hands and squeeze and shake the muscles out. Knead with your hands and work your thumbs (or elbows) across the muscle fibres, meaning to the left and right, starting at the knee and working your way up to the upper thigh.
Get face down on the floor as if doing a plank exercise. Your weight should be on your elbows with your forearms out in front of you for stability. Place a foam roller under your hips. Massage one thigh at a time by leaning your weight to one side and rolling your body weight over the foam roller, walking yourself forward on your forearms.
You can also use a massage stick on your quads, always working from the knee toward the hip
Outer hip and quads
Turn onto your side, keeping the foam roller under your hip. Balance yourself and slowly roll your body weight up from your knee to your hip. Switch sides and repeat.
Sit up against a wall or closed door with one knee in the air and the foot from the same side flat on the floor. Using the same kneading and cross-fibre pressure technique as for the quads, work your way from the back of your knee to your buttocks, driving your fingers from both hands into the muscle belly.
Sit on the floor with your hands behind you and your legs out in front. Take one leg and lay it over the other, so your feet cross over your ankles. Now place the roller under the hamstrings of the bottom leg. Balance yourself as you move your weight over the roller from your knee to butt cheek. Switch sides and repeat.
Shin and calf
Sitting on the ground with one leg in front of you, place the foot of the opposite leg over the knee of the straight leg, as if making a number 4. Use your thumbs and fingers to massage the muscle belly going against the muscle fibres. Work your way from the ankle to the knee.
For your shins, sit on the floor with a bent knee and your foot flat on the floor with the opposite leg out in front. Use your fingers or a massage stick to work the small muscles in your shin.
If you can handle the pressure, take a prickly ball and roll it around under the bodyweight of your left or right cheek (one at a time). You can also try this with the foam roller.
Don’t forget your feet! Sit in a chair or on the couch as you roll the prickly ball under one foot at a time, from heel to toe. You can also cross one leg over the other and work on each foot with your thumbs.
After any high-intensity exercise and your post workout massage, drink lots of water to help your body eliminate toxins from your body. If you don’t, you may get a headache.