Cycling is a great way to exercise, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s also very unique in that it puts your body in the same position and has you performing the same motion thousands of times every time you ride.
Over time you may start feeling stiff as increased muscle tone will lead you to being less limber than you used to be. Stretching and increasing your flexibility will give you more freedom of movement – both on and off the bike.
How & when should I stretch?
Much has been said and written about whether it’s better to stretch before or after a workout. They’re both great, but you need to take some things into consideration!
If you’re stretching before exercising, you should do dynamic stretching: slow and deliberate movements. Since your muscles haven’t been warmed up yet, you should avoid any serious pulling, as you may be at increased risk of tearing muscle fibres apart. Instead, incorporate movements. For example, you could do walking lunges instead of kneeling hip flexor stretches (more on these later!).
This blog will focus on static stretching, the kind that most people will be familiar with; pull a leg or an arm in a certain direction and hold it there. The key is to do it after exercising, when the muscles are warmed up and have increased blood supply.
You’ll want to do each stretch for at least 20 seconds, but how long is too long? There’s probably no such thing, but you definitely reach a point of diminished returns after around 90 seconds. Keep in mind too, you need to prioritise good form over how long you stretch for. 20 seconds of good form is better than 40 seconds of poor form!
How hard should you stretch? It’s hard to answer this question because there are no objective metrics to go by and stretching will feel different to everyone. As a rule of thumb, you should take it to a point where your muscles are giving you resistance, but you shouldn’t push into pain. You may feel some discomfort, especially if you are new to stretching, but you should not feel any sharp, sudden or intense pain.
The basics of stretching
- Dynamic stretching before working out is a great warm-up.
- Keep static stretching limited to after a ride.
- Focus on correct form and gradually increase how long you stretch for.
- Feel the burn, but don’t push into pain!
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Keep an eye out for part two in our series, where we will go through some of the best stretches for cyclists!