Stretching for cyclists
Cycling is usually not thought of as a sport where flexibility is important. After all, your upper body stays in a relatively fixed position and your legs never go beyond the range of motion of your pedals. Flexibility is important for cyclists; maybe not from a performance standpoint, but how you feel when you’re not on your bike or after that long, hard ride.
Unfortunately, one of the side effects of any repetitive vigorous exercise is the shortening and tightening of muscles. The leg muscles lose their elasticity as they are trained to contract repeatedly.
Tight muscles, particularly tight hamstrings (on the back of the thigh) will prevent the leg from straightening on the downward stroke. This leads to a reduction in the force that the legs can put through the pedals and, ultimately reduce cycling performance.
Tight muscles can also lead to injury. For example, tight hamstrings can cause back tightness and, on longer training rides, this can become extremely uncomfortable.
Many cyclists compensate for their tight hamstrings by lowering the saddle to a position that reduces force generation even further and overloads the knees causing knee pain.
A consistent programme of stretching may help prevent such problems occurring – and prevention is much less time consuming (and cheaper) than treatment!
The key areas to stretch for mountain bikers are:
• calf muscles
• lower back
• shoulders / chest
• hip flexors
• gluteal muscles (in the buttock)
Rules when stretching are:
• warm-up with some light aerobic exercise for a few minutes before stretching
• breathe normally – don’t hold your breath when stretching
• apply each stretch slowly and take it to the point that you feel slight tension but
• hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds
• don’t bounce up and down when stretching as this makes the muscles
automatically contract when you want them to relax.
Some recent research suggests that stretching immediately prior to exercise does not help to prevent injury. Whilst this may be the case, it is still important to warm up before an intense workout (see warming up). Do some general rhythmical shoulder, hip and ankle movements before you hop on your bike and build your speed up slowly. To increase flexibility, the best time to stretch is immediately after a workout, whilst the muscles are still warm. Try each of the following stretches after most training rides if you can, repeating each exercise 3 times on each side.
Stretches for mountain bikers
If you have an ongoing injury concern, consult a doctor or a Chartered Physiotherapist who will be able to advise you on appropriate exercises specifically for your problem.