Don’t forget the Basics
You have minimal time and want to get the most out of your ride, so of course you forgo any stretching or warm up and jump on the bike. It’s a fair strategy and while it will give you maximum saddle time, it’s not giving you maximum benefit. Taking just a couple of minutes before, and after, your ride can change the game for you.
Stretching is not what you think
Most people think of stretching as the passive forward fold type stretches you were taught in school PE. The great news is, you don’t actually want to do that before the ride, it’s not helpful. The kind of stretching you want to do is ACTIVE stretching. It’s more of a warming up of the muscles you are going to use and positions you are going to be in. Picture soccer players on the pitch swinging one leg back and forth, this is active stretching. What active stretching is doing is helping to release and hydrate the fascia. That is the connective tissue that wraps around your muscles, and each muscle fibre.
When fascia is tight or stuck the muscle is limited in it’s ability to contract effectively. It can’t expand and the fibres can’t slide against each other. Do you want to use less energy for the same movement or be working against your own internal resistance? Active stretching of your cycling muscles introduces space and fluid for the muscles to move. It also increases the potential power output of each contraction.
Focus your Mind for the Ride at Hand
If that isn’t enough motivation, let’s go further. Connect your breathing to the movement of your targeted stretches you also prepare the nervous system for the ride. For example, inhale to bring one knee towards your chest (standing), exhale to extend the leg as your active stretch. Deliberate concentration on moving with the breath sharpens the focus, brings both body and mind into the moment. The heart rate and breathing rate slow to a relaxed state, giving further ability to work hard during the ride. The fuller and focused breathing prepares the body for action by boosting oxygen saturation and lowering carbon dioxide, helping to balance the surge of carbon dioxide and acidity produced by the ride. The rhythm and repetition have a calming effect on the nervous system, a great state to begin in that leads to better endurance. Make the ride more of a moving meditation.
The movement combined with the breath encourages physiological coherence. Coherence is one of the key indicators of body health, the more coherence between the body systems the healthier the body is. High coherence increases energy, efficiency and effectiveness of the body. This internal stability brings greater resilience to negative influences, at the same time making us more receptive or in tune to the rhythm of others in the peloton.
Now is the time to Squeeze those muscles
After the ride you can go back to some of what you know about stretching. The more passive type stretches are beneficial after the effort. The muscle action of the ride has squeezed the muscles and fascia of a lot of fluid. Passive stretching, with longer holds allows new, nutrient rich fluid to be absorbed into those hard worked tissues. Think of it as a sponge, flexible when hydrated, the cycling has wrung it dry, the passive stretch releases the squeeze to allow that reabsorption.
Encouraging healthier muscles and fascia, less effort and less chance of soreness later, stretching really is an important component of every ride.
Lets us know what preparations you take when you are riding!
With thanks to Erin Bourne for the wonderful insights on this post!