Stretch Daily for Better Living/Better Cycling
By Lorri Lee Lown
Certified USA Cycling Expert Coach
In cycling, as in everyday life, flexibility is important to achieve
optimum performance. Think about bike maintenance for a minute. When you
lubricate your chain, you're ensuring that it moves as smoothly as possible,
hopefully helping you ride faster. Flexible joints do the same thing. If
your joints don't move smoothly, it takes more effort for you to move your
legs, and the bike. Inflexibility causes resistance to movement.
Flexibility is affected by a number of factors we can't control such as
genetics, gender, the structure of your bones and ligaments. Muscle
imbalance (for example, really strong quads but weaker hamstrings), can
cause muscle shortening and stiffness. But most importantly, flexibility can
be improved over time. The more you stretch, the more flexible you can
become. But just like muscle strength, flexibility also diminishes if you
don't keep training. So, it's important to stretch daily.
Inflexibility is a function not only of tight muscles and connective
tissues (ligaments), but also of joints that aren't sufficiently warmed up.
As you begin each training session (riding, resistance training,
stretching), start with a 10-15 minute warm-up session. Begin with general
movement such as walking or easy riding. Then slowly increase the intensity
and specificity (i.e., if you're going for a ride, then ride - if you're
doing upper body resistance training, perform arm and trunk movements).
Always stretch when your core body temperature has been warmed up. This
means you should do about ten minutes of easy cardio (focusing on the area
you plan to stretch) BEFORE you stretch. Specifically, if you're focusing on
your lower body, go for a quick spin or a jog or do jumping jacks. A gradual
warm-up is very important because it changes the focus of blood circulation
from your internal organs to your skeletal muscles. It also warms up and
thins the synovial fluid in your joints, so they're more lubricated and
prepared for movement.
So, if you're going riding, try to do a quick warm-up, then get off the
bike, stretch, then continue riding. It's also a good idea on long rides to
stretch during rest stops.
Stretching pre-ride will help lubricate your joints for optimal
performance. Stretching during a ride will help keep you limber and
alleviate the build-up of lactic acid and other muscle waste products (which
are thought to cause muscle fatigue). Stretching after a ride may help
reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which occurs 24-72 hours after
Hold each stretch for at least ten seconds (the longer the better) and
try to relax the muscles you're stretching. This will allow you to stretch
even further. Keep breathing and really focus on relaxing the muscle you're
stretching. Then rest and repeat the stretch for another ten seconds or
more. Never do ballistic (bouncing) stretches. You should be able to feel
the stretch, but stop before you're in pain.
Also be aware of the positioning of your joints. Don't perform a stretch
that places a joint in an unnatural position (i.e. twisting your knee in a
quad stretch). This will only cause stress on the joint and may contribute
to pain and injury.