Whether you’re an athlete or not, stretching should be a part of everyone’s routine. Flexibility and mobility are key components that help with range of motion and overall quality of life.
Let’s be honest though…not everyone loves to stretch. In fact, I fought hard against it for several years. I just felt like I spent so much time training that adding in another daily routine was way too much time and energy. Plus, if I can easily touch my toes or put my hands flat on the ground, then I’m all good right? Unfortunately, no.
Stretching and I have rekindled our relationship in the last year or two and I have found that while I won’t be a yogi any time soon I have enough respect for the importance of stretching that I have carved out that extra time each and every day. And you know what? It’s helping.
What Does Stretching Do?
Stretching has so many benefits, both simple and vastly complex, so let’s just talk about enough to convince ourselves that it’s worthwhile.
1, Stretching increases Range of Motion: This is an important one. If your muscles are so tight that you aren’t able to reach a full range of motion, you’ll struggle to produce power on the bike and risk injury.
For example: If your calves are so tight that you are unable to flex your foot at the bottom of the pedal stroke, you’re likely to form compensations that will cause you to lean from side to side. Another common example would be having tight muscles that make it difficult to bend over to reach the handlebars which might prevent you from riding in a more aggressive position.
2. Stretching Increases Blood Flow to Muscles: It has been shown that stretching can increase blood flow to muscles. This means that stretching can help to reduce soreness and help to assist with recovery!
3. Stretching Can Help Prevent Injury: A lack of flexibility, mobility, or range of motion can all lead to injury. It might be that tight muscles force compensations that create pain (as described above) or it might be that your muscles are physically pulling your body out of alignment. Remember that muscles attach to tendons and tendons attach directly onto bone.
For Example: If your hip flexors are too tight, they can actually put on their attachments at your pelvis and cause your entire pelvis to tilt forward. This is very common and can create the dreaded low back pain.
4. Stretching Can Help Improve Performance: Faster recovery, limiting pain and injury, increasing range of motion, all of those things help to create a speedier you. If you can work harder with less pain then you will be able to create greater training progress.
If all of those facts aren’t enough to convince you to stretch, then give me a shout and we can discuss what stretching does on a deeply physiological level. (Sarcomeres, myofilaments etc.)
When Should I Stretch?
Static stretching is best completed after your workout! This is a time when the body is prepared to soak in the benefits of stretching.
While many people like to stretch before workouts, stretching prior to exercise should only be dynamic! This means that all of your stretching should be moving stretches such as leg swings, walking lunges etc. Static stretching before exercise has been suggested to decrease endurance and power.
What Should I Stretch?
If you’re a cyclist, think through all of the muscles we use on the bike and start there. Here is your simplified cheat sheet to get you started:
Gluteus Maximus: The gluteus maximus is considered the largest muscle in the body and works to extend the hip. It is used when you push down on the pedal stroke.
Stretches: Knee to chest, Pigeon, reclined pigeon, half lord of the fishes
Hamstrings (Semimembranosus and Biceps Femoris): The hamstrings work to flex the knee and will be activated with you pull up on the pedal stroke.
Stretches: Touch your toes, pull your leg back with a towel, scissor hamstring stretch
Quadriceps (Vastus Medialis, Lateralis, and Rectus Femoris): The quadriceps help to straighten the legs and are going to help you push down hard on the pedal.
Stretches: Lying Quad Stretch, kneeling quad stretch, frog pose
Hip Flexors (Iliopsoas): The hip flexors bend the hip and flex your trunk. It will help to pull up on the pedal stroke. Your hip flexors also play a role in keeping your pelvis neutral which can help relieve back pain.
Stretches: All lunge variations
Calves (Soleus and Gastrocnemius): Your calves help to point your toes and will help you push down on the pedal. They all need to be flexible enough to be stretched at the bottom of your pedal stroke when you pull back up.
Stretches: Downward dog (Your gastrocnemius will be stretched when your knee is straight and your soleus will be stretched when your knee is bent). “Pedal” your feet while in downward dog and feel the differences.
Be Flexible! Be flexible both in your active lifestyle and with your routine. Allow yourself the flexibility in your schedule to incorporate stretching.