If you could go to the store today and buy a supplement that increases recovery and circulation, strengthens correct biomechanics in running, biking and swimming and prevents injuries, would you do it?
The trip to the store would take about 20 to 30 minutes. You'd get optimal results by taking the supplement three or four times per week. It would be guaranteed to work, and it would be free. Is there anything that would stop you from getting this product?
The fact is that no such supplement exists, but a regular stretching routine can offer the same benefits in the same 20 to 30 minutes. Stretching, like nutritional support, will supplement your training in an important way.
The following stretches will target the front, outside and inside of the leg and pelvic girdle. The relevant muscles that we'll focus on are the quadriceps (quads), gluteus (glutes) and adductors.
These three muscles combine to create a significant amount of force. Because they all attach on the pelvic girdle or knee joint, it's helpful to stretch them as a group.
To get relief from blood pooling and muscle bloating, pro cyclists receive massage almost daily and spend a great deal of time with their legs elevated. The same benefit can be realized with a lunge stretch.
To recover from cycling, the emphasis should be on elongating and circulating the compressed areas of the hip and lower back. This will give your legs the opportunity they need to recover faster and more completely.
The lunge stretch focuses on the quadriceps and iliopsoas muscles, and the lymph nodes at the lower abdomen. This will stimulate recovery of the legs and create elasticity of the quad area while the lower back elongates.
During this lunge you should feel a strong stretch in the front of the leg, but it should be comfortable. If you go too hard, you won't receive the benefits of the stretch. Look for that fine line between pleasure and pain and let pleasure be dominant for best results.
While cycling, the top of the hips rotate forward and this fixed position is maintained for hours at a time. Even the best position on a bike can change over time and with different bikes. But all positions should be comfortable and aid the extension of the lower back.
Often as an athlete develops strength in the back muscles, a corresponding tension and immobility can develop in the lower back. Much of this lower-back tension on the bike can be avoided by moving the hips back and the torso forward.
I recommend this next stretch to every athlete I've worked with and it's a favorite. Pure hip is easy to do and targets several muscle groups.
A final adjustment can be made by moving the right foot farther down the wall.
The role of the inner-leg muscles in cycling is multifunctional. The muscles are involved in flexion and extension of the leg, but the inner leg is home to the large veins, arteries and lymph ducts. These circulation pathways add to the work of the inner leg during exercise and recovery. It's no wonder that the inner leg is such a common area to strain.
Because the inner leg is prone to injury and is easy to hurt when stretching, the stretch must be done with care. To reduce the risk, this next stretch is done with the feet on the wall and the knees bent.
When stretching the inner leg, let time and gravity help—never force a stretch. If you spend time in this stretch, the benefits will be realized. The hands can be on the inside of the knees for support and apply a little pressure in an outward direction.
The purpose of stretching is to allow the whole system to recover. If you push past the initial sensation of tension in your stretch, you'll hinder progress. When you feel the stretch in an area, go easy. Flexibility isn't a competitive activity and can be over done. Pay close attention to how you feel—expand your boundaries and stay with in your limits.
Additional Stretches for Cyclists:
Over the past decade it has become increasingly apparent that an efficient aerodynamic riding position when time trialing is crucial to performance, whether you are a road cyclist or a triathlete.
The advent of various types of aero handlebars has been one of the most significant developments in this area, and riders and equipment manufacturers have been flocking to wind tunnel facilities in order to discover the best ways to use this new equipment.
I have observed some of these tests, and it has become obvious that riders using clip-on or other types of aero bars can achieve a much more aerodynamic position by moving their arms closer together, thereby cutting airflow to the chest.
But although such a position is easy to adopt in the static conditions of a wind tunnel test, incorporating it into the real world of competition is another story.
Wind tunnel air-drag data have also shown the need to flatten the back so as not to ride with a mid-back "hump." Jeff Broker, biomechanist at the Olympic Training Center, states that a cyclist can achieve this flat-back position by training to ride with the pelvis rotated more forward, or horizontally, until the hump is eliminated. This technique should also help alleviate any shoulder strain when trying to accomplish a narrow-arm position.
As noted, it can take time to adapt one's body so that it performs well while riding in an efficient aerodynamic position. We know that when time-trialists try to stretch their backs while riding or suffer shoulder tension during time trialing, they lose aerodynamic and pedaling efficiency, and power output goes down.
I am often asked if there are any exercises that can help one achieve an aero riding position more quickly and which will also alleviate the post-ride residual soreness riders often experience while they are trying to adapt to the new position.
The answer is yes. A few years ago while working at the Olympic Training Center I had a chance to work with Lance Armstrong on trying to improve his aero bike position. I invited my riding partner, Bob Anderson, who is also the author of the book Stretching, to give Lance some suggestions on stretches that would help him achieve his new aero position more quickly and also allow him to maintain the correct position longer while time trialing.
Anderson agreed to help, and we developed this series of stretches for Lance. By incorporating this routine into your own training program, you should be able to alleviate most muscle soreness and obtain a more comfortable position while riding with clip-on or aero bars.
It should take about eight to 10 minutes to complete the set of six stretches. I recommend that you complete one set before and after working out on the days you will be spending a lot of time in the aero position.
1. Cat stretch
Kneeling on your knees with your arms stretched out ahead of you and your legs bent under you, let your lower back sink toward the floor, creating a concave arch in the lower back. Next, reverse the curve in your back (think angry cat) while in the same kneeling position.
Also, in order to stretch each side of your lower back, reach forward with one arm and grab the end of the mat and pull back with your arm straight while pressing down slightly with your hand. Do likewise with the other arm. Hold stretch for 20 seconds. Stretch each side. Don't strain. You should feel the stretch in your shoulders, arms, sides, upper back, or even in your lower back.
2. Standing back extension
Standing with knees slightly bent, place your palms against your lower back just above the hips, fingers pointing downward. Gently push your palms forward to create an extension in the lower back. Hold comfortable pressure for 10 to 12 seconds. Repeat twice. Use this stretch after sitting for an extended period of time.
3. Double "Reach for the Sky" stretch
In a standing or sitting position, interlace your fingers above your head. Now, with your palms facing upward, push your arms slightly back and up. Feel the stretch in arms, shoulders and upper back. Hold stretch for 15 seconds. Do not hold your breath. This stretch is good to do anywhere, anytime. Excellent for slumping shoulders.
4. Upper-body stretch
A stretch for the arms, shoulders, and back. Place your arms against a wall, shoulder-width apart, directly in front of you. Slowly begin to move your chest downward while keeping your feet remaining directly under your hips and your knees slightly bent. Hold this stretch 30 seconds. This is a good stretch to do anywhere, at anytime. Remember to always keep your knees bent when coming out of this stretch.
5. Sitting hamstring stretch
Sit on the floor and straighten your right leg. The sole of your left foot will be resting next to the inside of your straightened leg. Lean slightly forward from the hips and stretch the hamstrings of your right leg.
If you can't touch your toes comfortably, use a towel to help you stretch. Hold for 50 seconds. Do not lock your knee. Your right quadriceps should be soft and relaxed during the stretch. Keep your right foot upright with the ankle and toes relaxed. Repeat for the left leg.