By Mark Rago
Owner/SD Training Systems
I always try to reduce the number of components or tasks in a cyclist’s workouts from pre and post activity. I would rather you do a few things very well than a bunch of things not so well. This means I keep warmups simple, prescribe easy-to-execute (but sometimes very strenuous) interval sets, and keep strength routines short. Fewer tasks also increase the chances you’ll actually do all of them! In keeping with this philosophy, I recommend 5 simple stretches when you get off the bike. I would also recommend taking a yoga class 2x a week but that is a different topic for another day.
Should I stretch at all?
Research has shown that static stretching prior to exercise can limit sports performance. Muscles and tendons that are tight are effectively stiffer springs, which are more beneficial for some runners and power athletes. However, what we call a dynamic warmup is beneficial to getting your body ready to perform your event of choice. Please see the video link to learn more on some ideas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AW1RNkryf1k You might have to adjust the warmup but the over all idea is to get your body ready to go.
Let us look at cycling and how stretching can be applied.
Cycling is somewhat problematic in the way it utilizes muscles. In many forms of weight-supported exercise you generate force both as the muscle is shortening (concentric contraction) and as it is lengthening (eccentric contraction). Cyclists primarily produce force only as muscles are shortening. In addition, the pedal stroke does not use the complete range of motion of the hip, knee, or ankle. And the forward-leaning cycling position encourages shortening and tightening of the hip flexors and shortening and tightening of chest muscles. I have also found that Yoga right after a ride is beneficial to help loosen those areas that get tight as described above and provides a nice cool down. I recommend a 15-30 min yoga session. The Peloton app can be downloaded and under the current COVID-19 is free for 90 days. I have found the yoga classes to be great and has helped my cycling.
When I consider whether cyclists should stretch, I come at it from the range of motion perspective, because cyclists who stretch to preserve greater range of motion through the hips, knees, and lower back have less cycling-associated pain and are more able to maintain effective cycling positions on the bike. Additionally, if your tight or limited range of motion your performance will suffer. More cycling will not loosen you up to perform better.
Should Stretch After or Before I ride?
As I stated above it is recommended that a dynamic warm up at the beginning of your cycling session and I recommend the following stretches only to be done after your ride or as I stated above Yoga is another alternative. The stretches below are more valuable for the long-term process of developing and maintaining range of motion through the hips and knees primarily, and a bit for the chest/back.
The Post-Ride Stretches for Cyclists
For: Hip flexors and Psoas
Due to the forward-leaning position on the bike, cyclists are prone to tight hip flexors because the muscles are almost always in a shortened position when you are riding. Some of the lower back pain cyclists experience off the bike is caused by tight hip flexors, particularly the deep-seated psoas, pulling forward and down on the lumbar vertebrae. Consistently stretching these muscles at the end of a ride is a good way to counteract some of the chronic shortening of the hip flexors. See video https://youtu.be/tsGPYSQbZx4
Supine Piriformis Stretch
Cycling can develop a tight butt, and that is often due to tightness in the medial glutes and piriformis. Both are important for external rotation of the hip, and in cycling their purpose is to help keep your thigh moving straight up and down. When the piriformis is tight or inflamed, it can irritate the sciatic nerve, leading to pain, tingling, or numbness that can affect the buttocks, leg, and foot. We do not want to develop sciatica or pain in this area.
There are several ways to stretch the piriformis and medial glutes. I recommend the supine piriformis stretch (lying on your back) particularly because your back is supported on the ground and it is easier for people to maintain a neutral spine. I like the Pigeon Pose or Pigeon Stretch, but find many athletes arch their backs and hyperextend their spines trying to get a deeper piriformis stretch.
Please see video https://youtu.be/-g0nuyTHMrI
Doorway or belt Hamstring Stretch
For the Doorway Hamstring Stretch or using a belt, you lay on your back with one leg straight up on the wall/door jamb and the other straight on the floor through the doorway. Scoot your hips toward the doorway to increase the stretch, aiming to get your bottom all the way to the wall (eventually). IF you use a belt you put the belt around the middle of foot and gently raise the leg. You do not want to overstretch; you only want to stretch to the point that you feel a slight pull.
Bent Arm Doorway Stretch
For: Chest While lower body range of motion is my primary concern for cyclists, some upper body stretches are useful as well. The forward cycling position often leads cyclists to have tight chest and anterior shoulder muscles and hence roll their shoulders forward. This is a lot of the reason I recommend helping balance out this posture. A good post-ride stretch is simply to stand in a doorway with your right arm out to the side, hand up (like you’re waving hello to someone) against the wall. Gently push your body forward through the doorway, keeping your back straight. Do not lean forward at the waist to initiate the stretch, move forward instead. Repeat with your left arm. Additionally, you can use a lacrosse ball after a ride to help open up the pec muscle see the link on how to do this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1l4TcN7rl5Y
Kitchen Sink Stretch
For: latissimus dorsi, back, decompression
The last stretch I recommend is one you can do while you are waiting for your post-ride meal to heat up or the blender to do its job. Stand in front of the kitchen sink or a counter you can hold onto, with your feet 2-3 feet from the edge. Hold on to the sink, lower your hips into a squat so your back and arms form a straight line and your arms are by your ears. Lengthen your body by moving your hips back away from the sink and feel the stretch through the length of your back. Hold for 10 seconds, rest and repeat.
Questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 858-945-3695