After a hard workout, all you may be thinking about is sliding into a hot bath, but slow down for a minute. Adding in a few stretches after your ride can improve your flexibility and athletic performance and decrease your risk of cycling related injuries. Stretching increases the blood flow to your muscles, helping deliver nutrients and oxygen-rich blood. This helps your muscles fix minor damage suffered during your ride.
Why Muscles Tighten
As you pedal away on the bike, muscles throughout your legs continuously contract and relax. When the muscles contract, they shorten and increase in tension. Then they lengthen and reduce tension. If you ride while your muscles are tight, you forcibly stretch them, which can cause minor tears in the muscle fibers. This can lead to soreness and tightness after your workout.
Stretching for Cycling
Proper stretching increases your flexibility and range of motion. As you ride, your hips, knees and ankles all go through a wide range of motion, which affects all the muscles connected to these joints. Stretching all the major muscles used while cycling -- your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves -- is recommended by the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine to prevent pain.
Examples of Stretches
At the end of your workout, ride slowly for about five minutes to let your heart rate decrease. Then do a variety of stretches that target all your major muscle groups. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds while breathing normally. Never bounce, which can cause small tears in your muscle fibers, and don’t stretch so far that you feel pain. Perform quadriceps, hamstring, calf, glute and hip stretches. To stretch your hamstring, for example, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step forward about 6 inches and place your left heel on the floor, keeping the rest of your foot raised throughout the stretch. Bend your right knee and lean forward from your hips, placing your hands on your right thigh just above your knee. Press forward with your torso. Keep your left leg straight and maintain a flat back. You should feel a light pull in the back of your left thigh. Hold, then repeat two to three times. Perform the stretch with both legs.
Save all your static stretching for after your workout. Static stretching before you get on the bike actually reduces your efficiency, according to a 2012 report in the “Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports." When cyclists performed static stretches before their workout, muscle fatigue was reached faster and mechanical efficiency was reduced by 4 percent. Instead, add in a dynamic warm-up, which increases quadriceps strength and hamstring flexibility, according to the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" in 2012. Examples of dynamic stretches include multi-directional lunges, running with high knees, straight-leg marching, jumping jacks and arm circles.
- The American Council on Exercise: Why Do Muscles Tighten Up?
- American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine: Cycling and Your Feet
- Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports: Cycling Efficiency and Time to Exhaustion Are Reduced After Acute Passive Stretching Administration
- The American Council on Exercise: Three Things Every Exercise Program Should Have
- Mayo Clinic: Stretching: Focus On Flexibility
- University of California, Riverside: Wellness Program: Stretches for Lower and Upper Body
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research:A Dynamic Warm-up Model Increases Quadriceps Strength and Hamstring Flexibility
Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.