Many people are confused about the role of stretching these days. Should you stretch before or after exercise? What kinds of stretches should you perform? Should you stretch at all, or just drop it from your exercise routine entirely?
Most of the confusion about stretching was triggered by several studies that found that static stretching before exercise impaired performance and increased the risk of injury. Prior to the release of these studies, a typical warm-up routine started with a lot of static stretching.
Currently, most sports medicine experts recommend engaging in dynamic stretching, not static stretching, during a pre-workout warm-up. The goal of a warm-up is to warm up the muscles and move the joints through their full range of motion (dynamic stretching). During dynamic stretching, the limbs are moved smoothly and slowly, and the stretches are not held for any length of time.
A typical pre-cycling warm-up might include:
- Start with a short, easy warm-up. Walk briskly, jog slowly, or hop on the bike for a few minutes until your heart rate goes up a little and your muscles start to feel warm from the increased blood flow.
- Move your hips through their full range of motion. Swing the straight leg forward and backward, outward and inward. Work both legs. Do each movement ten times.
- Stretch your back and glutes. Get down on your hands and knees. Alternative arching your back like a cat with curling your spine in the opposite direction. Repeat the entire movement ten times.
- Stretch your feet, ankles, and lower legs. Step forward and land on your heel. Roll your weight up the foot until you are standing on your toes, then roll back to your heel. Repeat with each leg ten times.
- Stretch your shoulders. Bend at the waist until your torso is 90 degrees to the ground. Spread your arms wide like wings and lift them backward. Sweep your arms forward as you straighten up, and then extend your arms over your head and reach for the sky. Repeat ten times.
- Stretch your knees. Do a standard mountain climber’s lunge movement, ten times for each leg. Next, swing each leg back and up and try to kick yourself in the butt, repeat ten times for each leg. Finally, do a knee-high jog in place, lifting each knee as high as possible while you count slowly to 30.
You should be warmed up and ready to go by this point.
Post Ride Cool-Down
Performing a proper cool-down is also essential to reduce muscle soreness and improve flexibility. At the end of your ride, slow down and ride slowly and gently for about eight minutes. This allows your circulatory system to remove as much lactic acid from your muscles as possible, which helps prevent muscle soreness.
After a workout, when your muscles are all warmed up, is the ideal time to perform static stretches to improve your joint flexibility. Good flexibility will reduce your risk of injury on your next ride. Focus on slowly moving each joint through its range of motion, and when you hit the end of the range of motion, push it a little bit further (not until it hurts) and hold it there for a slow count to 30.
Post-cycling, focus on stretching the following joints and muscle groups:
- Hamstrings (back of the thigh): lie on your back and lift a straight leg up and stretch it toward your head.
- Quadriceps (front of the thigh): while standing, bend the knee and press it against your butt. Grab your foot and pull the leg gently backward to stretch it.
- Glutes (your butt): while seated, bend one leg and place it over the other leg. Grab the bent leg with your hand and twist, pulling on the leg to stretch the glutes.
- Calf: Brace your arms against a wall. Step forward with one leg and keep the other leg extended behind you. Bend the front leg’s knee and lean forward to stretch the calf in the extended leg.
How Physical Therapy Can Help
Consider consulting with a physical therapist about how to perform stretching safely. In addition, a physical therapist can identify problem areas in your body and develop an individualized warm-up and cool-down program to improve your cycling performance. For more information, you can reach out to us at Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling us at 570-208-2787 for advice.