Stretching is an important routine for almost everyone to get into, and especially for cyclists. The repetitive motion of cycling, as well as the position on the bike, can cause something called “adaptive muscle shortening” over time. Stretching is the most effective way to combat muscle shortening and maintain a healthy range of motion. However, if you’re stretching wrong, not only are you wasting your time, but you can even cause injury. Here are some of the most common stretching mistakes most people make.
8 Common Stretching Mistakes
Too Much Too Soon
Flexibility training is much like strength training. It’s temping to go all in right from the get-go, but you’re going to want to take it slow. Pushing your muscles and joints too far will do nothing but harm. Stretching should be a relaxing practice, and you should never push your muscles to the point of pain. Pain is the body’s defence mechanism, so listen to it! You should stretch to the point of tension, but you’ll want to stop there.
Stretching an Injury
Although stretching can do wonders to both prevent and treat injury, you don’t want to directly stretch an injured muscle or joint, especially within a few days after the initial injury. Ease into gentle static stretches after resting the area for 2-3 days.
NEVER bounce while holding a stretch. This is known as ballistic stretching, and it can stretch your muscles too far and too fast resulting in a pulled muscle. Slow and steady always wins, and never stretch to the point of feeling pain.
Not Holding the Stretch Long Enough
Perhaps the most common of the stretching mistakes is not holding the stretch long enough. 15 seconds is hardly enough time for the muscle to relax, let alone begin to lengthen. For any real improvement and change in flexibility, each stretch should be held for at least 45-60 seconds.
Doing the Same Stretch Over and Over
Have you been doing the same five stretches since high school? While it’s better than nothing, doing the same limited number of stretches day after day can cause muscle imbalances. If you focus too much on one area, it will loosen and become more flexible over time, but that muscle’s “antagonist” can become shortened as the other lengthens. Practicing a large variety of stretches, and switching through different routines each day will keep you muscles balanced and strong.
Using Stretching as a Warm Up
Research has shown the stretching before exercise can actually decrease the firing power of the muscles. Although for most casual riders this doesn’t necessarily matter, you should never stretch cold muscles. Stretching cold muscles is like trying to stretch old rubber bands. Either stretch after you ride, or do a quick five minute warm up (walk around the block or do some jumping jacks) before you move into your stretching routine.
Forgetting to Breathe
Okay this sounds kind of silly, but many people unconsciously hold their breath when they’re stretching. This is one of the reasons yoga is so great, because it focuses on the breathing almost as much as the stretching. Holding your breath causes tension in the muscles, which is the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do. Taking deep, slow breaths will relax the muscles, promote blood flow, and increase oxygen flow to the muscles.
Expecting Immediate Results
We all know there is no quick way to get rich, lose weight, or become fit– and stretching is no different. If you’re looking for a quick fix with immediate results, then you will most likely stop stretching before you give your body the chance to experience any of the benefits. If you want to see improvement in your flexibility and range of motion, there are no shortcuts.
To make the most of your time stretching, check out Dynamic Cyclist‘s stretching program. Made specifically for cyclists with easy to follow video stretching sequences, you can maintain a healthy range of motion and increase flexibility, so you can feel your best both on and off the bike.