Stretching is a topic that is widely discussed among the cycling fraternity. Many swear by it, claiming it’s a vital part of their training, improving flexibility and suppleness and preventing injury. Others, however, believe stretching is a waste of time, serving little purpose to any bike rider.
Both have valid points. Overtime, underused muscles and tendons can shorten and stiffen, causing injury. Those that believe stretching isn’t necessary will argue their case that riding a bike doesn’t demand great flexibility or a significant range of motion in order to sit comfortably, reach the handlebars and pedal. So do cyclists need to stretch?
Static and dynamic stretching
It’s important to understand the difference between these two types of stretches.
- Static stretching
This is where you hold a position, stretching the muscle for up to 30 seconds.
- Dynamic stretching
This involves putting a muscle through its full range of movement, but importantly, without holding a prolonged stretch.
Static stretching was predominantly used as part of a vigorous warm up, thought to reduce injury risk. However, recent research has largely disproven this. In fact, certain studies have even stated that static stretching prior to cycling can impair performance and damage muscle tissue.
Dynamic stretching is far more promising, and is now advocated as a beneficial warm up, found to improve muscle’s sustainable power and endurance. Again, there is little research stating dynamic stretching – or any form of stretching for that matter – reduces injury risk.
Dynamic stretching will gradually increase reach and speed of movement, which is beneficial for cycling, despite what some people say. Having good flexibility in your ankles, knees and hips will help maintain good posture on the bike. And joints that can actively perform their full range of movement will help improve the pedalling action and performance. Dynamic stretches will also increase suppleness in muscles such as spinal erectors and quadratus lumbar, supporting stability and minimising discomfort in the lower back.
Don’t ignore dynamic stretches. They play an important role in a cyclist’s warm up, will heighten performance and reduce the risk of injuries.
Here are three great dynamic stretches for you to try:
The low lunge
This exercise will help engage the glute muscles, which are vital for cycling and help loosen and lengthen the psoas muscles (lower back) and mobilise the shoulders.
- Slowly lunge forwards and reach your arms above your head. Lower body until back knee almost touches the floor. Hold for one second.
- Squeeze your glute as you stand upwards, bringing your rear foot forwards and lower you arms to starting position.
- Repeat on opposite side. 10 times.
Knees to chest hug
This exercise will gently stretch the lumbar and gluteal muscles, which will help loosen and relax the lower back.
- Lay on the floor with your back flat.
- Draw your knees up to your chest as high as you can and hold them there.
- Hold from behind the knees for 30 seconds.
Stand tall and reach stretch
This simple stretch will help decompress and reduce tension in the spine, which can help symmetry when you ride.
- Knees and feet together and arms straight overhead.
- Gently squeeze knees together at the same time as reaching both arms upwards as high as you can.
- From this position, gently alternate stretching the left arm upwards for two seconds and then the right arm.
- Repeat three times.