Unlike running, there is no general consensus on the need to do stretches before and after cycling. I avoided doing any stretches, preferring to use the first and last 10 minutes of each cycling activity to gradually ramp up and down the intensity and it worked for two years. However, I was forced to rethink this approach when I started running longer distances more frequently. I realised that my cycling activities were causing me to have the common issue of short hamstrings. This broadly refers to uneven stretches of the hamstring muscles where the upper portion is stretched much further than the lower parts. This is fine if I was only cycling but transitioning back and forth to and from running made it an issue. Cyclists do not extend their legs fully as it is important to keep a couple of degrees bent to prevent over extending the knee, but this is not true for running.
I have been firmly told by a sports therapist that building a lot of muscle mass especially in my quads and glutes without stretching would cause issues such as my ITB problem. My hamstrings have also very inflexible for a long time, I have not been able to touch my toes since young.
I made the following changes last month:
- Glutes, quad and calf stretches after every ride. A simple 5x 30s for each side. Calf stretching is important given that I do feel slight cramps in my calves after long hard rides. I currently don’t get glutes and quad cramps but there is no harm in stretching that too.
- Hamstring stretches every morning and evening. To cope with my inherent hamstring stiffness, I do “dynamic” stretches in the morning. This involves swinging each leg for 15 minutes while gradually increasing the swing distance. The last few swings should cause the hamstrings to be fully stretched. According to some studies, this helps to set the maximum stretch distance for the day. In the evening, I do “static” stretches where I do 3x 30s one leg at a time before doing 2x 30s with both legs combined.
- No pre ride stretches. I still do not think there is a need to stretch pre ride and am still slowly ramping up the intensity over the first 10 minutes as warm up.
There have been improvements in the first few weeks. I am now able to touch my toes, an achievement for someone who has never been able to do so for the past thirty years (and had a terrible time with the sit and reach portion of physical fitness tests in school). I will update on how these changes work out in a few months time. Fingers crossed!