A regular stretching routine is essential to keeping your body healthy and injury free (click to enlarge).
When you see an athlete who is obviously fit, strong and at the height of their abilities, what do you imagine are the major differences between their daily routines and yours? I bet most of them revolve around taking care of their body: eating healthy, training in a focused manner to improve their skills, recovering from the exercises they do, and maintaining their body through rehab of injuries, massage and stretching. That last one is easy to do regardless of ability or schedule, and can help make a serious difference in muscle use and injury prevention.
A regular stretching routine is essential to keeping your body healthy and injury free. Your muscular strength is important, but flexibility and fluidity also play important roles. If your muscles are tight or have accumulated fatigue, any simple motion will hurt more then it should, and you will have a hard time producing power whether on a mountain or road bike. In addition to this, the act of exercising involves an inherent breakdown of muscle tissues and if you do not recover from this process properly you're more prone to injury, tightness and limited range of motion.
Here is my stretching routine, which I do before and after rides. I hold each stretch for 10-20 seconds, and I am never straining or going deep into the range of motion of a muscle group. You are looking for the natural tension that the muscle has. Go to that point and then just a hair more. Don't force anything, and keep an even steady pressure throughout the stretch. If you are especially sore or have a muscle that is tighter then usual, try breathing slowly and add pressure slightly as you exhale until 20 seconds or you reach a "normal" tension.
I start at the bottom of the leg, with a calf stretch. Do this one first with a straight knee and then again with a bent knee.
Next I stretch my hamstrings, usually sitting on the floor as opposed to bending over, as you can overdo the stretch with gravity. You are looking for rotation at the hips as opposed to arching the back. Do one leg at a time.
Continue to page 2 for more stretching tips from Ben Jacques-Maynes »
From this position you can also get your hip's adductor muscles, which are important for stabilizing the knee. Stand up, and do your typical quad stretch. Keep your back still and neutral. This is a good example where overdoing the stretch only twists up your hips and lower back.
Now open up those hip flexors. These are easy to ignore but if you ever get lower back pain from hard climbing efforts it's these muscles pulling on your spine that are typically the culprit.
Back on the floor. Stretch the gluteus max, med, and TFL. These are really powerful muscles that also stabilize your knee through your IT (iliotibial) band.
Now is a good time to do a few bridges to engage your lower back.
Flip over, and do some planks, then cat bends, chest raises to first activate your core and then stretch it out a little.
Finally, stand up and get your lats, traps, neck, chest and triceps moving. Now
you are ready to ride!
There are many people for whom stretching isn't enough, as they're already flexible or have tight spots that won't resolve through stretching alone. For them there are a range of balls, rollers, sticks and other medieval torture devices that can bring the management of muscles to another level. These are good for muscular adhesions or problems with fascia (your typical IT band syndrome), flushing out sore muscles or getting into deep spots in your hips.
You can buy foam rollers and massage sticks just about anywhere (bike shops, PT clinics, Target), but ask your PT, chiropractor or massage therapist about some specific moves that can help you personally before you start.