Neck pain after cycling? Try these exercises for upper body relief (video)

Neck and shoulder issues are common among cyclists. Here are some simple exercises that can help to relieve symptoms and keep you cycling pain-free

Upper back mobility
Upper back mobility

Many cyclists ignore the body’s warning signs that they may be overdoing it and experience pain in the neck and shoulders that makes it uncomfortable to ride.

Whenever you feel discomfort you should take notice. Long hours spent in the saddle, maintaining your position on the bike, gripping the handlebars, frequently shifting gears and squeezing the brakes puts a lot of stress on your arms and the muscles that sit in and around the shoulders, so pay attention to any warning signs.

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That’s not to say you should completely refrain from riding. There are some simple exercises you can do at home to limit the risk of these discomforts turning into serious injuries. Here are five of the best.

The shoulder roll (warm-up)

Shoulder roll B

(Image credit: mike prior)

This quick but effective exercise will help warm the muscles in the shoulder girdle and upper back regions — two areas that are prone to tightness through cycling.

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  • Sitting upright, make your neck tall and roll your shoulders in a slow, exaggerated, circular movement.
  • Repeat three times in a forward motion, then three times going the other way.

Pectoral muscle tennis ball release

Pectoral muscle tennis ball release

Many hours spent in the saddle can result in extremely tight pectoral muscles. Massaging them will make the chest wall feel more open and may even help prevent slouching.

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  • Place the ball over the pectoral muscle, applying gentle pressure with a reinforced hand.
  • Roll the ball around until you find a tender spot, and spend 10-15 seconds rolling the ball over and around the tight muscle area.

Scapula stabiliser activation

Scapula stabiliser activation

This exercise helps switch on the muscles between the shoulder blades; these muscles are very important for upper body and shoulder stability.

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Switching these muscles on will help reduce the tension in the shoulder muscles.

  • Lie on your back, knees raised and feet flat on the floor with your arms by your side and palms facing the ceiling.
  • Slowly draw your shoulders downwards and backwards and gently squeeze the muscles between your shoulder blades while continuing to breathe normally.
  • Hold position for 30 seconds then relax. Repeat three times.

Upper back mobility

Upper back mobility

Upper back mobility

The thoracic spine (middle to upper part) is an often under-appreciated region of the spine. This exercise will help to loosen and mobilise tight spots.

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You won’t necessarily have noticed this area was tight until you feel the benefit of having loosened it.

  • Start on all fours, with your hips directly above your knees and your hands directly underneath your shoulders. Keep your knees apart and your hands shoulder width apart.
  • Bring your right hand against the side of your head.
  • Slowly lift your elbow outwards away from the midline, keeping your hand against the side of your head.
  • Keeping your head square to your shoulders, rotate your upper body round as far as you can and hold for three seconds before returning to the midline.

Rotator cuff (internal and external)

This exercise is a great way to gently engage the muscles responsible for shoulder rotation. Loose shoulder muscles will help with comfort when on the bike, and increase stability by being able to maintain position and control brakes and levers.


Rotator cuff INTERNAL

  • Standing in a doorway, arm down by your side, bend your elbow to 90 degrees, make a fist and place the inside of your forearm against the inside of the door frame.
  • Press your forearm into the doorframe. Your arm will not move but the internal rotator muscles of your shoulder will contract.
  • Hold for 10 seconds before repeating a further three times.


Rotator cuff external

  • Standing in a doorway, arm down by your side, bend your elbow to 90 degrees, make a fist and place the outside of your elbow against the door frame and reverse the movement.
  • Press the outside of the forearm against the doorframe as if you are attempting to move your forearm away from the body.
  • Hold position for 30 seconds then relax. Repeat three times.

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