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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 you've ridden.

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.


Lorri Lee Lown is a Certified USA Cycling Expert coach who offers coaching services to recreational and competitive road riders. She resides in San Mateo, California.

To find out more about Lorri, and her coaching services, please go to BicycleCoach.com and visit her Professional Profile page: http://www.bicyclecoach.com/profile.php?id=Lorri@VeloGirls.com 



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