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Stretching to Optimize Cycling Performance

Stretching has many well-known benefits across the spectrum of physical activity and exercise. The question many people ask is, “what is the correct dosage and regimen?” I would like to dive into answering that question with a few elaborations to make sure that your time stretching is worthwhile and as effective and efficient as possible. I will discuss the muscles of your hips and legs to help make sure these are in the best condition for cycling. Research shows that static stretching for 30 seconds per session yields the same benefit as longer stretching beyond 2 minutes. The normal response of muscles will be to stretch and then over time, recoil to similar length. This process is known as hysteresis. Each stretch helps to make your muscle slightly more flexible than it previously was.

When possible, avoid stretching a “cold muscle” meaning  a brief warmup on the bike will prepare the specific muscles that you are going to want to stretch. If you are completing an outdoor ride, around the block a couple times or using your easy on/off trainer is perfect. The major muscle groups are hamstrings, which are made up of 3 muscles. These muscles attach around the bottom of your hip and extend to just below the knee. There are a few ways to stretch these depending on your position options. The following are some recommendations that have proven to be effective.

Stretches

Seated

Sitting on the edge of a chair, place your heel on the floor in front of you with your leg straight. With your chest up, lean forward until a stretch is felt in the back of your leg. Hold this for 30 seconds.

STANDING

Stand with one leg in front of you, farther out than the other. Place your heel on the ground and hands on your hips. Lean forward until a stretch is felt in the back of your leg. It is important to keep your chest up to properly position the hips and low back during this stretch.

Quad Stretch 1

Your quadriceps muscle group is made up of 4 muscles.These muscles help to straighten the knee and bend the hip. You can lean backwards to increase the stretch.

Quad Stretch 2

If you feel off balance completing this, you can achieve the same stretch on a bed or the floor.

Abduction

Stretching the muscles in the side of the hip that are responsible for both moving your leg away from you (abduction) or rotating your hip inward (internal rotation) can be stretched by crossing your legs while seated and pressing downward on your knee.

External Rotation

To stretch the muscles that turn your hip outwards (external rotation), you can bring one knee towards your chest and pull across your body. You can either pull further across your body or closer to your chest to increase the stretch felt.

Abduction

To stretch the muscles of the hip that pull your legs together (adduction), a warmup of squeezing something between your legs 30 times will work well. To stretch these muscles, place your leg on the ground and lean away from it. This stretch is commonly taught through sports or general stretching, so you are probably familiar with it. This stretch can also be completed by lying on your back with your knees bent and allowing the knees to stretch out to the side.

Tips for Stretching at Work

You can still complete a warm up without having to break a sweat. It’s all about targeting the desired area. In the case of the hamstrings, you can complete 30 standing hamstring curls or squats for warm up and then stretch your legs at your desk. You can complete the stretch sitting as described above or to enhance the stretch, place a small wastebasket upside down and place your foot on top. Make sure you empty it before you turn it upside down!

The same pattern can be used for your quadriceps muscles. To warm up this muscle group, perform 30 kicks in a seated position. Squats can also help to target these muscles and warm them up. Bending your knee can stretch these muscles. You can stretch on the floor like the image above, you can modify this movement to be completed in a chair, or you can do it in standing. The images in this blog can serve as a reference for each of these.

I hope this helped to provide some insight on how and why we should stretch. The muscles that we use on a daily basis are often not evenly moved and, consequently, run the risk of becoming tight or imbalanced. Remember that stretches are not a “no pain, no gain” mentality. Once you feel a gentle pull in the muscle, hold that position for a static stretch. You can stretch in a static fashion, which has been described throughout this article and is recommended in place of dynamic stretching, or a brief and repetitive on/off stretch. When stretching dynamically, you are still accomplishing elongation of your muscles, but it has been shown to be less effective. If anyone has any further questions or would like me to elaborate more, please feel free to reach out to me directly.

 

Your on the road PT,

Easton Osborn