Sussing out the Stretching Scene

There has always been some debate over whether to stretch or not, and if so for how long. So Sarah Walker has a look at the facts.

If the muscles covering a joint are not at their normal length, it affects mobility of the joint. Reduced movement (immobility) of a joint affects the movement abilities of the sports person in varying degrees, and some sports will be affected more by immobility than others.  As an inflexible cyclist you’ll feel or experience the following:

  • The sensation of heavy or forced movement
  • A decrease in strength, speed and power
  • A general feeling of irritability
  • And you’ll have a higher incidence of injury

Not all muscles tighten in response to repetitive loading, some shorten and tighten, some lengthen and weaken, it depends on the action of the muscle in that particular sport. It makes sense then to target the muscles that shorten with stretching. As a cyclist, these are the main muscles that are prone to tightening:

  • Hip flexors (short muscles across front of hip)
  • Quadriceps (thigh)
  • Glutes and Piriformis (butt muscles)
  • Calves
  • Neck and shoulder muscles

A stretch of all these muscles would take 10 minutes after a ride and given the problems associated with inflexibility don’t you think it’s worth it?

There are various ways of stretching, the most common being static stretching which offers long term muscle lengthening benefits and allows the muscle to relax. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Hold muscle in lengthened position for 15 – 30 seconds.
  • Repeat twice adjusting further into the stretch to keep the muscle at maximum tension.
  • Stretch into moderate discomfort, not pain!
  • NB! Stretch after cycling and not before – the muscle force drops after stretching for one to two hours and there is no benefit to static stretching pre-exercise.
  • If one side is tighter than the other stretch the tighter side in a 3:1 ratio.

Dynamic stretching is stretching on the move. This would be part of a warm-up to “wake muscles up” (stimulate neural pathways); literally warm them up and increase blood flow and oxygen to the muscles. Pre-race a 15 minute warm-up avoids the heavy tight slow feeling at the start of a race, especially if temperatures are cold and the start is going to be quick. Here’s how:

  • 10 minute build up from the lowest gear to moving up a gear every 2 minutes
  • Slowly reduce speed and effort in a 5 minute cool down back to the lowest gear again
  • If there is nowhere to ride pre-race, warm up at home on the road or on a trainer before heading out.Col

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