By James Raia

Stretching: It’s For Cyclists, Too By BRAD WALKER

Stretching is a simple and effective activity that involves placing a particular part of your body in a position that will lengthen the muscles and tendons.

This simple technique will help to enhance your athletic performance, decreases the likelihood of muscle and joint injury and minimize muscle soreness.

Unfortunately, stretching is one area of cycling training that’s often neglected.

Stretching is a vital part of any exercise program and should be looked upon as being as important as any other part of your training.

Upon undertaking a regular stretching program a number of changes occur within your body. As a result of increasing the length of your muscles and tendons, a reduction in general muscle tension is achieved and your normal range of movement is increased.

By extending your normal range of movement you’ll gain a greater ability to move freely and ultimately increase your comfort level while on your bike.

Increasing your range of movement will also mean a lessening of your susceptibility to muscle and tendon strain injuries. By increasing your range of movement you’re increasing the distance your limbs can move before damage occurs to the muscles and tendons.

For example, the large muscles in the front of your thigh (the quadriceps) do a huge amount of work while you’re on the bike. It is not uncommon for these muscles to become tight, which in turn can place a large strain on your knees and result in knee pain.

A few simple quadriceps stretches both before and after your ride will help to loosen these muscles and reduce the strain on your knees.

There is a dangerous stretching myth that says, “If you stretch too much you will lose both joint stability and muscle power.”

This is untrue. By increasing the length of your muscles and tendons, you are increasing the distance over which your muscles are able to contract.

This results in a potential increase to your muscles’ power and therefore increases your cycling ability, while also leading to an improvement in dynamic balance (the ability to control your muscles).

We have all experienced what happens when you go for a long ride or to the gym for the first time in a few months.

The following day your muscles are tight, sore, stiff and it’s usually hard to even walk down a flight of stairs.

This soreness that accompanies strenuous physical activity is often referred to as post exercise muscle soreness, and is the result of micro tears, (minute tears within the muscle fibres), blood pooling and accumulated waste products, such as lactic acid.

Stretching, as part of an effective cool-down, helps to alleviate this soreness by lengthening the individual muscle fibres; increasing blood circulation; and removing waste products.

Fatigue is a major problem for all cyclists and results in a decrease in both physical and mental performance.

Increased flexibility through stretching can help prevent the effects of fatigue by taking pressure off the working muscles.

For every muscle in the body has an opposite or opposing muscle and if the opposing muscles are more flexible, the working muscles do not have to exert as much force against the opposing muscles.

Therefore, each movement of the working muscles actually takes less effort.

Also, by reducing fatigue through improved flexibility, you’re able to reduce the effects of overuse injuries so common among cyclists.