For me stretching goes further than just focusing on the certain muscle groups around the body that I want to keep supple and ready for the next ride. It’s very much a calming routine that also allows my mind to gently relax and unwind from the day, so it’s for this reason I normally stretch in the evenings which always puts me in a good place, finishing the day in the right way and ready for the next. I first started this routine around 15 years ago whilst I was living in Europe. Sometimes it’d take upwards of an hour as I’d hold each stretch for minutes as opposed to seconds it was so soothing. In reality 15 minutes or so will see you cover all the main moves. I’ll be honest, there was no real science behind it, I built it up based on feel adding and tweaking some stretches along the way but always doing it in the same order. OCD? That’s me! Hey, I’m a creature of habit, nothing wrong with that is there? Right then, here we go…..
I always start with the hamstrings. Firstly relax and remember to breathe. Gently ease yourself into position until you feel the stretch and then hold for 20 seconds. If you suffer with lower back pain then this can be an especially good stretch for relieving pressure in this area. As an addition to the basics I use my hand to slowly pull my foot towards my body to get a deeper stretch. I then gently twist my foot outwards towards the floor for a few seconds to really feel it behind the knee. As with all of these stretches repeat on both sides where relevant.
Keeping your back straight, put your feet together and slowly pull them towards your body until you feel comfortable. Using your elbows gently push down on your inner thighs to make the stretch and hold for 20 seconds. Now use your legs to push against your elbows. Do this for 10 seconds and relax, you’ll notice that your legs will drop lower and you’ll be able to do a deeper stretch.
I love this stretch, not only does it really get deep into your glutes but when you rotate your lumbar you can also feel your lower back opening up. Don’t get carried away with the twisting though, start slowly and gently. Sitting upright with your legs outstretched lean back and support yourself with your right arm. Bring your right knee up and cross it over your left leg so that your foot is pointing forward on the outside of your left knee. Using your left elbow gently apply pressure to your knee and hold. Rotate your lumbar further for a deeper stretch and repeat on the other side.
Crouch down and balance with your feet pointing outwards. Move your weight forward until you can feel the stretch in your Achilles and hold in this position. I then slowly move my weight to the left and right to feel the stretch more in my calves. Keeping your back straight, lean your chest forward towards the ground and you should also feel a nice stretch in your inner thigh. This is one of those moves I’ve just developed over time, slowly shifting my weight whilst in position to emphasis the stretch in different areas. It’s not an official term but I refer to it as “the frog” (no guesses why).....more on that later.
Sitting on the bike for hours can mean that you’re putting your back in a position that it wasn’t strictly designed to be in. Poor posture from being in the car or in front of a computer (like I am) for extended periods of time can cause your thoracic spine to stiffen leading to sore shoulders, neck, extra pressure on your lumbar spine and a whole host of referred pain like headaches. I see my cats doing this all the time and whilst I’ve never caught them on a bike (yet) I figured it was a good one to adopt into my routine since I know they are a lot smarter than I am.
Reach forward with your arms and push your chest towards the floor arching your back downwards (keeping your backside behind your knees). I hold this for around 30 seconds gently exhaling as I do. I then take a deep breath and slowly stretch my right arm just a few inches further to feel the stretch in my right torso, hold for 10 seconds and then repeat on the left. I do this maybe 3 or 4 times on each side depending on how I’m feeling.
Crouch as if you’re adopting the brace position, rest your hands on the back of your head and bring your chin down towards your chest. Don’t force your head down with your hands, let it flow until you feel the stretch across your back. I don’t know why but this always reminded me of a hedgehog curling up so that’s what I nicknamed it.
Without a shadow of a doubt this is the most important stretch I have ever found. All this talk of hamsters, frogs and hedgehogs may give the impression that it’s fun, fun, fun, in the Cotty household (which it is for the most part unless I have a pain in my body then I’m not so chirpy to be around). I suffered for over a decade with serious muscle spasms in my glutes, hamstrings, adductors and even calves, so bad that sometimes the muscles would contract to the point that I couldn’t get my leg to do a full rotation when on the bike. It felt like something was going to explode inside and was excruciating. I lived with it for a long time but could never pinpoint why it was happening. I could be completely recovered, well fed and hydrated and less that 5 minutes into a ride BOOM, lights out. I’d seen a bunch of different specialists and not really got anywhere so just put up with it. In 2012 I had the worst experience, the whole of my lower body going into spasm less than 10 minutes into a national mountain bike race. Trying to make it back to the pits was agony, I was hyperventilating through the pain. I had a pretty good idea then that I would absolutely need to get this fixed or stop riding, which to be honest wasn’t an option. A chance meeting with a friend of mine suggested Piriformis Syndrome. I’d never even heard of it but through research the symptoms certainly sounded like it could be what I had. It’s a neuromuscular disorder that happens when the sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated by the piriformis muscle causing numbness, tingling or worse along the path of the sciatic nerve. In a small percentage of the population the sciatic nerve actually runs through the piriformis muscle instead of around it which means if it is tight you’ll start to get the symptoms or if it’s really tight it basically strangles the sciatic nerve. That’s not so good for your bike riding performance I can tell you!
Facing towards the floor, start by crossing your left leg under your body. Now lean forwards with your right leg outstretched and hands together to make the stretch. You should feel a nice stretch in the outside/top of your buttock. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. I then lean my weight slightly left to feel the stretch more. Before finishing place your palms face down and use your arms to slowly raise your shoulders whilst concentrating on pushing the right side of your hip towards the floor (my hip normally touches the back of my heel) to gently stretch your right hip flexor. Deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. And peace.
Churchill knew more than a trick or two especially when it came to saving energy, you’ve probably heard his saying “never stand when you can sit and never sit when you can lie” so it’s for that reason I do my quad stretches flat on my back. I’ve also found that I can control it better since balance doesn’t come into the equation which means I can get a deeper stretch this way. Don’t worry if you can’t lie flat on the floor, if you’re more upright and can feel the stretch then it’ll be doing its job and over time with a regular routine you’ll see big progress in your flexibility. Take long slow deep breaths to really relax your whole body and mind. I repeat this on both sides finishing each one off by stretching my arms above my head for a full torso and quad stretch.
It’s not easy to remember a routine but since I’m the master at mind trickery to get myself to remember things here’s a little sentence that may help you get on the right track. Hamsters, butterflies and frogs all do the twist until they see the cat curl up like a hedgehog and pray before it’s time finally time to sleep.
This forms the basics of my stretching routine, of course there is no reason why you should limit it to these main eight stretches. The overall goal is to find something that’s convenient and fits your lifestyle. If you need to pay particular attention to an area of your body then tailor it to spend more time on this. I’ve found that consistency is the key to avoiding injury, keeping your joints mobile and muscles supple. Just a few minutes a day to relax your body and mind, now that’s not much to ask of yourself is it?
I hope you find this useful. It’d be great to hear what your own favourite stretches are, just leave a comment below, or why not share it with your (soon to be flexible) friends.
Until the next time.
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