Please welcome one of our Corporate Sponsors, Keith Geissler of Personalized PT, with a guest post about the importance of stretching and how to do it right!
Regular stretching, especially before you ride, is important for preventing injury and enhancing your cycling performance. There are five main muscle groups that need attention when cycling. They include the Iliotibial Band, Quads, Hamstrings, Calves and the Upper Trapezius muscles. Perhaps the most prevalent and nagging injury is irritation to the Iliotibial Band or ITB syndrome. Here is a brief description on how to minimize irritation to each of these areas. As always, if you have questions about your own medical condition, consult with a qualified medical professional before proceeding.
The ITB is a thick, fibrous tendon that runs along the outside of the thigh from above the hip down to the outside of the knee. It is often a problematic area for cyclists because the muscle at the front of the hip (Tensor Facia Latae or TFL) gets tight secondary to prolonged flexion while seated on the bike. Excessive tightness of the ITB creates irritation on the outside of the knee and can develop into a painful tendonitis. To decrease irritation to the Iliotibial Band, one must be able to properly stretch the TFL muscle. To stretch the right TFL, kneel on your right knee with your left foot out in front of you in a forward lunge position. The key to being successful in this stretch is to perform a posterior pelvic tilt (lower abdominal contraction causing the hips to rotate backward). This sets the foundation for a much better stretch to the TFL. While maintaining the pelvic tilt, slide your right knee and hips forward out from under your shoulders. Simultaneously, slide your right hip in a 2 o’clock position (if straight ahead is 12 o’clock position). Hold a comfortable stretch for 30-90 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side, remembering to slide your hips diagonally to 10 o’clock when kneeling on the left knee to stretch the left TFL. If you feel a nice stretch in the front/lateral portion of your hip, then congratulations on completing one of the more difficult areas to stretch.
- Assume position shown, with right knee on chair
- Bend the opposite knee, so that you feel a stretch
- Do not allow your low back to arch, maintain the pelvic tilt
- Hold for 30-90 seconds.
Tightness in the front of the thigh, specially the Rectus Femoris (which is one of the four Quad muscles), is very common in cyclists. To properly stretch this area it is important to remember to engage the pelvic tilt. I prefer to put my foot up on an object (top tube or top of mountain bike tire) rather than grabbing the ankle as shown in order to get a better stretch. Hold 30-90 seconds while maintaining an upright posture. Imagine a straight line through shoulders, hips and knees.
- Stand grasping right ankle as shown
- Bend knee further by pulling ankle toward buttocks
- Do not lean forward or allows the back to arch, maintain pelvic tilt
- Hold for 30-90 seconds
These muscles are also heavily involved in cycling as they generate power on the up stroke while clipped in. To properly stretch them, place your foot on a chair height object (back tire also works if in a pinch), keep your leg straight and lean forward by pivoting at the hip. Remember to also keep your back straight and head up. Reaching for your toes is not necessary and actually facilitates poor technique in most castes. Hold for 30-90 seconds.
Calves (Gastrocnemius muscle)
I believe the best way to stretch this area is to stretch one side at a time by leaning up against a wall, tree or your bike. This technique offers a much deeper stretch than the technique of stretching on the edge of a stair while dropping your heel below the level of the step. The latter technique does not afford as good of a stretch because your muscle can not adequately relax as you use them to remain upright. The gastrocs are also heavily used during cycling and deserve our attention on a regular basis.
- Position your body against the wall as shown with left foot behind
- Point toes directly toward wall and hold heel down
- Lean into wall as shown so that you feel a stretch
- Hold for 30-90 seconds
This muscle originates from the prominence on the back of your shoulder blade (scapulae) and runs all the way up to the base of your skull. During prolonged cycling when the head is maintained forward of the shoulders and the eyes are held on the horizon, this area can get significantly overloaded. Proper stretching to this area is easy and should keep these muscles from getting into tight spasms.
- Sit or stand with right arm behind back as shown
- Keeping face forward, use otehr hand to bend neck the opposite direction
Remember, slow static stretching without bounding will get you the results you want. Once a day is needed, more often will not hurt you but once per day will do the trick. If you ever have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Keith Geissler, MPT