Stretching and massage for cyclists has become more highly regarded over the past few years, we reckon it’s great to add to your training! Stretching allows our muscles to become more flexible, decreases chances of injury and reduces lower back pain, which is a common problem for cyclists. In addition, becoming more flexible allows the body to assume more aerodynamic positions on the bike; this reduces power necessary to maintain the same speed. Below we look at stretching and massage for cyclists in more detail.
Tight muscles are cause by microscopic injuries to the muscle which results in swelling and pain. Mitchell (2011) discusses how stretching helps the muscle to become fully released, in doing so, during exercise the muscle will contract more forcefully (increasing potential power output) and generally perform to a higher level. One method of stretching that can be used is yoga. Schultz (2014) argues that as cyclists spend most of the time bent over handlebars they develop tight hip flexors. With the inclusion of yoga in a cyclists training, hip flexors and other areas can be targeted. Yoga positions will help strengthen areas, build endurance and will reduce the chances of injury. Yoga also has another helpful property, to develop proper breathing technique. Yoga will help to teach you how to control your breathing so it becomes more efficient, something particularly important when on the bike.
When looking at massage there are many different self-help techniques that can be used but the most effective is using a foam roller. A foam roller is a hollow, reinforced tube which can come in different sizes and different patterns on the foam. There are a number of exercises and ways to use the roller, typically you target a muscle or muscle group and slowly roll up the muscle, while concentrating for 30 seconds- 1 minutes on tight or more sensitive areas. As previously mentioned, during strenuous physical activity our muscles develop small tears however, when these don’t heal, a layer of fascia adheres together which causes pain and tightness. Fascia is simply a small layer covering everything inside of our bodies and reduces friction. A benefit outlined of foam rolling is that when putting pressure on the sensitive area it becomes released and so we can again reach our full range of movement. Furthermore, another benefit of foam rolling is that it increases blood flow to the muscles targeted, this allows these particular muscles to recover at a faster rate allowing you to train harder. Additionally, rolling the muscles means that the fascia is warmed slightly and so increases the flexibility of this area, this increase of flexibility allows to again get in a more comfortable position on the bike. Following a session with the foam roller our body becomes less stressed and so performs more efficiently , this is particularly important as if the body is de-stressed it will be able to generate more power.
In addition, Monaghan (2013) speaks of specific technique that should be used when using a foam roller. One thing suggested was to use the roller before exercise as well as after. Using before means that the muscles have increased circulation leading to the muscles receiving more oxygen and water. Monaghan also recommends making the roll slow and concentrated. When a sensitive area is hit a lot of people tend to speed up because of the pain but in actual fact you should slowly roll this area for around 30 seconds, as if you were ironing out a crease.
Stretching and massage for cyclists especially, is one of those ‘marginal gains’ in cycling and can definitely help with a number of issues you may have on the bike or recovery in general. Most would smirk at the thought of stretching or doing yoga themselves but as we can see caring for our muscles and stretching for cyclists is a sure fire way to increase flexibility and recovery while training and racing!