Stretching – we all know about it, know we should do it, but never manage to squeeze it in. Here is how to make it work for you.
Cyclists (like most athletes) are not diligent with stretching. Lack of flexibility in cyclists tends to manifest itself rather quickly and severely through tight quads, hip flexors, and ITBs, which can lead to lower back and knee injuries. In fact, as far as I see it, there are 3 major causes of soft tissue injury in cycling (excluding crashing!):
- improper setup,
- and lack of soft tissue flexibility.
The last 2 are the easiest to remedy through good habits.
Aside from reduced risk of injury, stretching can be pretty good for your hip pocket. For those who regularly get a massage, stretching can prolong intervals between massages, as it aids in muscle recovery.
Looking at it another way, stretching is a key enabler to higher training mileage—through enabling both faster recovery, and reduced risk of injury. Consequently it is important for any cyclist training regularly to make stretching a habit and incorporate it into their schedule.
Before stretching, it’s best to be warm and have broken a sweat. This may suggest post training stretching, however time and motivation can be an issue. Alternatively, I suggest stretching at a more convenient time and incorporate a small warm up if you can. First thing in the morning while my coffee is brewing works for me, or after a commuting ride home. Being warm for a session is important, and does undeniably make a stretching session more effective, however do not forfeit a session just because you do not have the time or will to warm up!
Static stretching is usually sufficient, however dynamic stretching may achieve greater benefit in some instances, but requires expert guidance in it’s application (and it’s beyond scope of this article). Choose a set of movements that works for you—there are endless variations on how to stretch a given muscle group. Start with what you know, and diversify, compare the results and use the movements that work for you in your sessions.
A regime that has worked well for me is spending 30-40 seconds on each movement. Hold the stretch at 3 intensity/hold levels for roughly 10 seconds. Start easy, hold, and as the intensity of the stretch declines, exhale and increase the range of movement on the stretch. Consensus is divided on repeating each movement in a session, my take on this is repeat if a muscle group needs additional attention, or if you feel so inclined on a recovery day. Always stretch the tight side first
A basic session with 5-10 movements should take around 10 minutes (excluding warm up), so should in theory be easy to fit into a riders schedule—particularly those that manage to sneak 20 hr + weeks while working! If every serious cyclist managed to stick to just a few sessions a week, I’m sure some physios would be closing up shop.
Ten minutes twice a week is not a lot, so If you have the time to train, you have the time to incorporate stretching, it’s just a case of making it a habit. To make the habit stick, I suggest:
- Incorporating it with a mundane task, e.g. while others are watching TV.
- Make it part of your schedule—slot it in first thing in the morning, or after rides on recovery days.
- For those that regularly participate in group rides, arrive a little early and sneak a session in whilst waiting for your riding buddies to turn up.
Stretching is one of those rare things where “The more the better” holds true most of the time, so don’t be afraid to put in more. I get the impression that a lot of folks like to tout long sessions. Ten minute sessions as described are easier to stick to and will deliver more benefits for most.
Finally, don’t skip it just because you have not warmed up or can’t get a whole session in. A small session cold delivers more benefits than no session!