Most cyclists would probably admit that they are generally lacking in flexibility despite their cardiovascular fitness.
Because cycling consists of constant repetitive movement, muscles and joints are not taken through a full range of motion, the legs are never fully extended nor fully flexed.
The forward leaning position on the bike causes the lower back, shoulders and chest muscles to become tight.
All of which has a negative influence on flexibility.
How to become more flexible
To maintain good flexibility, it is important to pay attention to all vectors of movement - if not the fascial ‘chains’ will become weak and the body will become out of balance.
Fascia is one of the largest systems of the body which affects performance, and it plays an important role in support of our bodies.
Ultimately cyclists and all athletes are looking to get to the next level of performance and therefore the condition of their fascia should be addressed.
Fascia is a very dense connective tissue which is ubiquitous and surrounds every muscle, bone and nerve - and all of our internal organs; heart, lungs, brain, and spinal cord.
It is a very intricate, 3-D web that acts as a shock absorber to the body and stabilises muscles and bones. The fascial system is, in fact, one structure that exists from head to toe without interruption.
Repetitive motion, bad posture, physical injury, illness, and emotional stress can put the body out of alignment and cause the fascia to become constricted and to lose its flexibility, gradually limiting free movement of the related muscles and joints.
The body responds to this by adapting to these limitations and misalignment and these changes will eventually stress the entire body.
When the body is out of alignment imbalances will occur and result in stiffness, discomfort, loss of energy, and pain. Ultimately this equals poor performance.
Focus on stretching
To become more flexible you need to invest time in stretching.
You don’t become stronger by lifting weights five minutes a day twice a week and stretching should not be an afterthought either after a gruelling ride.
Stretching and your flexibility program should be well thought out to address your weaknesses and imbalances. The fascial system works together, so it is important to utilise the whole body when stretching; feet to hands, left and right, front and back.
With resistance stretching, we can address unhealthy holding patterns and by implementing a 30-60 minute stretching session you can start to realign and rebalance the body, thereby gaining more power with less effort to cycle further for longer.
Here's are six of the most effective resistance stretches for cyclists:
Extended child's pose
Get down on your hands and knees. Extend your hands a little further forward, shoulder width apart or a little wider, knees hip distance apart.
Push your hands firmly into the ground as you draw your hips back towards your heels, all the time generating resistance with your hands.
Do not lock your elbows. Move forward and back in this movement 5 to 10 times. This stretches the upper back and shoulders.
Cross legs and lean forward
Sitting down and cross your legs. Have knees and feet pushing down into the ground and try to gently lean forward, bending from the hips rather than hunching and rounding your back down.
You may not get much movement. Do 5 to 10 repetitions and then cross your legs the other way round and repeat.
This is a good stretch for the back and front of the hips and adductors.
Elbow pulling away behind head
Put your arm behind your head with the other hand on your elbow. Have your elbow pull down and away slightly as your hand on your elbow gently guides it, bringing it back behind you again.
You can also slightly bend the torso forward with this stretch.
Repeat 5 to 10 times on each side. It's a good stretch for the triceps, trapezius and the lats.
Extend leg to the side
Go on your hands and knees and then extend one leg out to the side.
Pushing the foot of the straight leg into the ground and generating tension and resistance, gently sit back towards the ground.
The foot of the extended leg can either be flat on the ground, if that is available to you, or angled. Move in and out of this stretch between 5 and 10 times. Swap sides and repeat.
This is a strong stretch for the adductors.
Kneeling pushing one arm into floor
Go on your hands and knees. Place one arm out to the side and push the hand (don’t lock the elbow) into the ground to generate resistance as you turn your torso in the opposite direction (away from the extended arm).
You can change the position of the extended arm to change the stretch.
Repeat this movement 5 to 10 times and then change arms and repeat.
This is a great stretch for the chest and deltoid muscles.
Leaning forward over bent leg
Sit with one leg bent at the knee in front of you at a 90 degrees, push this leg into the floor as you gently lean forwards for the stretch (you may find that you don’t achieve a great deal of forward movement in the torso, take it slowly).
You can put a cushion under the front knee for support if it does not fully go down to the ground. Your back leg can be bent or a little straighter, whatever is most comfortable for you.
Repeat the movement 5 to 10 times. Repeat on the other side. It's a great stretch for the muscles of the gluteal region.
(All stretching images in this article are copyright Sarah Gavaghan and www.stretch2health.com)