Words by Taylor Thomas of Thomas Endurance Coaching
Stretching is one of those topics that athletes seem to have strong opinions about. Some swear by it, and some swear that it’s not needed. Regardless of what side of the aisle you find yourself on, there are some proven benefits to carving out some time for stretching. Specific to cycling, there are some areas that should be focused on more than others, and the timing of the stretches is also important to receive the maximum benefit.
Why Should You Stretch?
Everyone knows that cycling is great for the aerobic system but unlike some other aerobic exercises like running, cycling does not allow for a full range of motion. In the position a cyclist holds on the bike force is only produced as the muscles required for the pedal stroke are shortening. This is different than many other exercises where the body produces force during both concentric and eccentric contractions. This fact means that the full range of motion of the muscles in the hips, knees, and ankles isn’t achieved. This can lead to shortened hip flexors, tight back, chest, legs, and more. Through stretching a cyclist can achieve a more efficient position on the bike, generating more power and a more comfortable position for longer periods of time. More power, comfort, and longevity should be the goal of every cyclist.
When Should You Stretch?
It’s a commonly held misconception that stretching should be performed prior to a workout. This often stems from the idea that muscles and tendons should be “warmed up” before any real force work begins. While a proper warm-up should always be included before a workout, actual stretches are best-performed post-workout to receive the maximum benefit. Studies have shown a decrease in force production when static stretching is performed before cycling sessions. A good way to think about this is that muscles and tendons that are tighter are like springs that are poised to deliver power. If static stretching is performed prior to a workout some of that tension is released and power can deteriorate. With a goal increasing overall range of motion, mobility, and comfort on the bike, stretching should be performed post-workout for best results.
How Should You Stretch?
There’s any number of stretches cyclists can do to help with performance and alleviate pain and discomfort in problem areas. However, assuming that time is limited, it’s best to focus on hips, glutes, calves, and hamstrings. If you have more time feel free to extend your areas of focus. Remember that the goal is to hold each stretch (both sides) for at least 30 seconds, and to get deep enough into the stretch that you feel the stretch without too much discomfort. Unlike your time interval session on the bike, pain is not the goal here! Below are three go-to stretches that you can use as a starting place. Work to get deeper into each movement, and hold each side for longer as you become more comfortable.
Pigeon Pose: This popular yoga pose is one of the best stretches for hips, low back, and hamstrings. Start with your knee bent, your foot/ankle closer to your body, and your hips off of the ground. As you progress you can push your lower leg further out in front of you, sink your hips towards the floor, and bend over your front leg.
Couch Stretch: Use a couch, chair, or bench. Position your body so that you can place one foot on the couch and the opposite knee on the floor in a half-kneeling position. Once you’re set up bring your hips forward, and your upper body back until you feel a comfortable stretch in the front of your hip.
Doorway Hamstring Stretch: Lay on the floor and position your body outside of a doorway. Raise one leg straight up and rest it on the door jamb, while the opposite leg lays flat on the floor. Move your hips closer to the door to increase the stretch. The goal is for your bottom to touch the wall eventually.
Stretching not only makes us more well-rounded and mobile athletes, but it also makes for a more powerful and comfortable position on the bike. Get into the habit of spending a few minutes after each ride to work on your mobility and range of motion. Stretching isn’t about how flexible you can become, but rather a way to ensure you’re increasing your body’s ability to continue to pursue the sport you love.
Taylor Thomas is the founder and head coach of Thomas Endurance Coaching (TEC) and has more than a decade of experience in the endurance sports industry as an athlete, coach, team organizer, writer, and podcast host. TEC provides expert level coaching to athletes of all ability levels and specializes in both a scientific and metrics-based approach to endurance sports. They guide athletes in a wide variety of disciplines ranging from running and cycling to mountaineering. For more information on their personal coaching and training plan options visit http://www.thomasendurancecoaching.com/. Also, listen to their top-rated podcast Endurance Minded everywhere you get your podcasts.