Stretch to Better Bike Fitness
Top 10 reasons cyclists don’t stretch after riding:
- Flexibility is overrated.
- They want to get that last scone at the café.
- They’d rather drink beer.
- They need to go home and mow the lawn/clean the oven.
- No one else from the pace line is doing it.
- A cup of coffee is waiting…
- They can’t.
- Busy downloading power meter results.
- Real men don’t do yoga.
- They want another beer.
While this list may reflect the cyclists I hang around with more than reality, it is interesting that so many cyclists are stretching-averse, and take better care of their bikes than they take care of themselves.
Current thinking on flexibility is evolving, but there is general agreement that focused stretching after a cycling workout or race is helpful in a number of ways.
Like running, cycling is a one dimensional sport: We move continually forward, repeating the same pedaling motion thousands of times in a position that is unnatural, in terms of how our bodies are built to move. This creates strong, tight muscles (quads, hamstrings, hip flexors) with limited range of motion. Less-used muscles can become weak and loose, creating imbalances between the strong muscles overworking and the weaker muscles under-contributing. This can lead to chronic pain and injury, particularly in the lower back, knees, and IT band.
In addition, the neck and shoulders can suffer from the cycling position—rounded lower back and neck arched, as the chin pulls forward. Tight, hunched shoulders are common among cyclists as well, especially late in the ride when we start tiring.
If, like me, you work in an office, or spend a lot of time sitting at a computer, the issues can be aggravated, as the seated office position is essentially the same as the cycling position, just rotated backward. Many hours a week in this position can really take a toll on our bodies, if we don’t counteract it in some way.
Yoga and Pilates can both help loosen and relax tight muscles, as well as strengthen less-used muscles, leading to a healthier muscular balance, better muscular range of motion, and cycling longevity. As well, both of these practices develop a different kind of endurance that can positively affect cycling performance. Many cyclists say that their time trialing in particular is improved by the core strengthening, focus, and breath work gained in a yoga or Pilates practice.
Some of the other benefits of yoga and Pilates are reduced muscle soreness, enhanced concentration, injury prevention, and more efficient and effective breathing.
There are many schools of yoga that practice in different ways. Many offer dynamic stretches to warm up the body, then a series of poses that strengthen, stretch, and challenge the body’s abilities, and last, cooling poses to bring the body to rest. Both Yoga and Pilates stress the importance of strengthening the core muscles.
These are 7 simple yoga poses that hit some of the key areas for a short, post-ride stretching session. This routine is based on Jelly Belly sprinter Brad Huff’s post-race routine, and is great for after riding, when your legs are warmed up.
I’ve adapted some of the poses for those of us who are somewhat older and less flexible. Repeat the same pose on both sides. (Click link for example)
1. Forward Bend Stretches the hamstrings, thighs and hips Variation: rest your hands on a yoga block or stool if you can’t reach the floor, or rest your hands against the wall, parallel to the floor.
2. Downward Dog Stretches shoulders, hamstrings, calves Tips: push away from the floor to keep hips high. Hinge at the hips, keeping a flat back Variation: use a block or chair for your hands if you have shoulder issues.
3. Low Lunge Stretches quads, hip flexors, psoas Tips: lengthen torso, keep tailbone tucked under, and relax the shoulders.
4. Wide Legged Forward Bend Stretches hips, hamstrings, calves Variation: Rest hands on a block or chair if you aren’t able to reach the floor keeping your back flat.
5. Quad Stretch Stretches: Quads (duh!) Variation: Sit up tall on your heels if reclining is too intense.
6. Spinal Twist Stretches shoulders, neck and hips Tips: sit tall with a straight back. Inhale and lengthen your torso, exhale and deepen the twist.
7. Knee to chest Stretches: hamstrings, glutes Tips: after bringing the knee to the chest, gently pull the ankle toward the midline with the opposite hand for a glute stretch.