Do athletes really need to stretch?
The debate seems inconclusive, although there is evidence that stretching before exercise may temporarily weaken muscles.1 However, stretching after exercise is where you may experience benefits. It can reduce muscle soreness,2 and it can help maintain the normal range of motion in joints.3
However, for many of us, stretching just feels good, and biking presents its own particular circumstances. When you think about it, humans didn't evolve to ride bikes, as we did for running and walking. So, since biking is not a “natural” movement, it's possible for bikers to experience muscular imbalances and posture problems.4
Hip flexors are especially prone to shortening. So, stretching after strenuous workouts may be advisable, especially for bikers. It can restore flexibility after spending lots of time in the same position. Think about it: When you're crouched over, pedaling for hours, the muscles in the legs are probably going to get shorter; stretching may help return them to their normal state. Stretching could also improve your mobility when you're not on your bike, improve your posture, and reduce dysfunction in other parts of the body.
There are a few guidelines for stretching everyone should follow to get the most out of it and avoid injury:
- Only stretch when you're warm. That is, after you've warmed up with exercise for at least 10 minutes, or directly after a workout.
- Stretch slowly and without bouncing.
- Hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds.
- Avoid over-stretching, especially if you're already pretty flexible. This will reduce the likelihood of making your joints go beyond their range of motion. Remember: you're stretching your muscles, not your joints. Never try to make your joints move in a direction they're not supposed to.
Here are some of the most recommended post-workout stretches for bikers:
Runner's Lunge – While standing, take a big step forward with your right leg so that your front knee is bent at a 90-degree angle. Make sure your knee is stacked directly on top of your ankle, not ahead of it. Now straighten your back leg. You should be in a lunging position similar to a sprinter getting ready to start a race. Sink deeper into the lunge, hold, and then repeat for the other leg. This will deeply stretch your quads, hip flexors, and hamstrings.
Quad Stretch – Use your left hand to stretch your right foot, and vice versa. While standing, bend your right leg so your foot kicks your butt, and grab your right foot with your left hand. Squeeze and hold the stretch when you feel it in your quads and knees. Release, and repeat for the other leg.
Calf Stretch – The yoga pose known as downward-facing dog is helpful here. Starting on your hands and knees, lift your butt up and back till your arms and legs are straight, or nearly straight, and your body forms an upside-down V. You'll feel this stretch in your hamstrings; get an even deeper stretch by pedaling your feet, trying to get each heel to touch the ground.
As important as stretching is, you need the proper nutrition to refuel your body after a strenuous workout in order to get the most out of it and rebuild your muscles. Make sure you keep a stash of energy bars or high protein bars in your workout bag. View our selection of workout bars here, along with more training tips for cyclists and all other athletes.