Photo credit: Hugo Pettit
I get a lot of questions about the best stretches to do after a hard day’s riding, I think because there's so much conflicting information out there. Stretching is a contentious issue, and it has become so hard to work out what’s going to improve your performance and what might damage it, that it almost seems safer just to skip it. In my experience, doubling down on athletic recovery is crucial for three main reasons. Firstly, because in a field of roughly equal competitors, it’s the athlete nailing his or her recovery who has the edge. Secondly, to ease the inevitable aches and pains that come with your sport. And thirdly, because the better you look after your body, the longer you’re going to be able to ride your bike – hard, fast and pain-free. Why ‘cool-down’ after a ride?
Here are four reasons to pay attention to your recovery, specifically post-ride. 1. To calm the central nervous system.
When you exercise, your breathing and heart rate elevate to increase the supply of oxygenated blood and glucose to your muscles. Your body temperature rises, you start to sweat, the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol course through your veins and non-essential functions including digestion and reproduction are switched off. At the end of your session, all these physiological processes return to normal as you shift into recovery mode. The aim with the cool-down is to optimise this transition.2. To restore proper postural alignment.
As I’ve discussed before, when you ride, certain muscles have to work harder than others. The main muscles required to generate strength, speed, and power on the bike are the quads, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, calves and the muscles in your feet. The more you contract these muscles, the tighter they become. You’ll also find that the muscles in your upper back, shoulders, forearms, hands and neck tighten up from gripping onto the handlebars.
If you don’t stretch out these muscles, over time, imbalances will develop that can lead to debilitating aches and pains, especially in the lower back, neck, and shoulders.3. Restoration of muscle length.
Here is a quote from legendary Russian powerlifter, Alexander Faleev that explains the importance of stretching, specifically when it comes to building strength.
“When you lift a weight your muscles contract. And after the workout, the muscles remain contracted for some time. The following restoration of the muscles’ length is what recovery is. Until the muscle has restored its length, it has not recovered. Hence he who does not stretch his muscles slows down the recuperation process and retards his gains. If the muscle forgets how to lengthen, it will contract more poorly. And that is stagnation of strength.”
One of the main objectives in the cool-down is to stretch out tight muscles, to restore their ability to work optimally the next time you’re on the bike. 4. Bring suppleness back to the body.
Cycling, like most sports, requires limited range of motion at certain joints and muscles. This may lead to tightness, especially in the shoulders, mid-back, hips, knees and ankles. In the cool-down, you want to move your joints through full range of motion to ensure that you don’t lose that mobility.The traditional model
The typical post-workout cool-down—even for many athletes at the highest level—involves a few minutes of low-intensity exercise, followed by 5-10 minutes of basic static stretches that target the major muscle groups. This approach can be effective, but if we take all our objectives into consideration, it may not be the optimal way to go.
The trap that many people fall into is that if you race through a few stretches when you finish your ride or workout—especially if you’re not giving it your full attention—instead of releasing tension in the muscle, you’re actually more likely to increase the tightness. In the cool-down, the objective is to transition into the optimal state for repair and restoration, not to cause further stress to the body.How yoga can be a more effective approach
Here are some features of yoga that make it ideal for athletic recovery:1. Combining strength with flexibility.
In yoga, we simultaneously lengthen and strengthen muscles. This restores balance to the body rather than exacerbating existing areas of strength and weakness. 2. Alternating movement and holds.
In yoga, we combine dynamic and static stretching, to mobilise and restore suppleness to the body. 3. Complexity.
Yoga poses engage and stretch multiple groups of muscles simultaneously, instead of targeting the same few muscles over and over. 4. Focus on the breath.
Deepening the breath transitions the central nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic mode—the natural state for rest and recovery. 5. Awareness
. You can use this as an opportunity to notice areas where you feel particularly tight. This will give you clarity around how your riding is affecting your body so that you can work towards restoring balance.6. Proper alignment.
In yoga, we pay special attention to your alignment in the poses. Poor alignment can exacerbate dysfunctional postural patterns and even cause injury. Practice in front of a mirror if you can.How to get the most out of this routine
Bring your full attention to the routine. This is crucial.
Throughout the sequence, try to synchronise your breath with movement to reinforce a sense of calm.
Maintain complete control as you're moving through the poses. Be intentional with every movement.
When you come to a static stretch, relax into it. Breathe and release.
As you take your first few deep breaths—in and out through your nose, deep into your abdomen—pay attention to how this affects your physiology. Notice as your heart rate drops and your body relaxes. Flow through the poses confidently, focussing on how every part of your body feels. Keep in mind throughout the sequence, that your aim is to restore suppleness and ease of movement to your body. Be careful not to over-stretch and risk tearing a muscle. The aim is not to increase your flexibility but to skilfully ease into recovery mode—re-integrating all aspects of your body and mind.
If you have an injury, please don’t be tempted to stretch the affected area and strain damaged muscle fibres and connective tissues as they try to repair themselves. Work closely with your doctor or physical therapist to ascertain the best approach for your rehabilitation.Further tips1. Mix it up.
This is just one option for your post-workout cool-down. It’s important that you don’t repeat the same routine over and over, as you run the risk of reinforcing dysfunctional movement patterns and muscular imbalances. Here are 3 more sequences that you can cycle through:Loosen Up Tight JointsUnlock Tight HipsPost-Ride Yoga Routine2. Modifications.
If you need any help with the poses, you can ask me in the comments section or check out the Pose Library on my site for mini video tutorials: www.yoga15.com
. 3. Experiment.
You are all individuals, so once you get a little more experienced, you can start to develop your own 15-minute routines that incorporate the best poses for you. My intention is to give you the building blocks. Feel free to get in touch if you’d like help with this.4. Audio.
When you’ve been through the routine a couple of times and you feel familiar with the sequence, let me know if you want me to send you the audio to put onto your phone or mp3 player. 15-Minute Post-Ride Cool-Down
This 15-minute routine is designed to ease you into recovery mode, with the ultimate aim of optimising your performance. Resources
This video comes from the Yoga 15 Recovery
series. You can download the full series here: vimeo.com/ondemand/yogarelaxationchallenge
And go to my website to sign up to be on the MTB newsletter to receive more free articles, videos and motivation: www.yoga15.com/yoga-for-mountain-bikersPrevious Yoga with Abi
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