Warm up and Cool down for Cyclists
With any form of exercise a good warm up and cool down is required to loosen out muscles, make joints flexible and reduce risk of injury. However the act of warming up and cooling down tends to be towards the bottom of the list when it comes to amateur cycling.
Warming up allows your body to perform at its best during your session and cooling down will aid recovery, ultimately helping your to achieve your goals.
Muscle stiffness is thought to be directly related to muscle injury and therefore the warm should be aimed at reducing this muscle stiffness
A proper warm up offers many benefits including
- Increased muscle temperature- both contraction and relaxation is enhanced in a warmed up muscle, which means you can experience a boost in speed and power
- Increased core temperature- raising the core temperature increases the speed of nerve impulses, which improved your reaction time
- Capillary dilation- when starting exercise your body releases adrenaline, which increases heart rate and causes dilation of the capillaries. This increases elasticity in the muscles and reduces the risk of injury
- Prepare yourself mentally-a warm up gives you time to prepare yourself for the training session ahead
The consensus is that static stretching before exercise does not prevent injury or enhance performance. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that static stretching may be detrimental to the rider. A warm-up should prepare the body for the range and type of movement that the activity demands. A rugby player may use bounding and dynamic twists but, for a cyclist, the most appropriate type of warm-up is on the bike.
A typical warm up should include the first 10-15 min of your ride gradually working through the gears and increasing your cadence. Increase the heart rate gradually to the stated zones. If the main content of the session requires time in Z3 or 4 then add a couple of 6 second hard efforts to your warm up.
There are a number of reasons to cooling down after a high intensity session. It prevents blood from pooling in the extremities, which can lead to dizziness and fainting, reduces heart rate and aids recovery. It should be viewed as the first step to preparing your body for your next training session, race or event.
You may find that your body has become stiff after being in a fixed position on the bike for hours and stretching may help your body return to a normal range of movement. The ideal time to spend 5-10 minutes stretching is as soon as you get off the bike, as your muscle temperature will still be elevated and they will be ‘more open’ to stretching as a result.
However the last thing you’ll want to do after a cold and wet ride is to roll around stretching and you’re unlikely to do a good job. Have your recovery drink, a bath or shower to warm up, put on some warm clothes and then stretch.
Static stretches are more appropriate to the cool down as they help muscles to relax, realign muscle fibres and re- establish their normal range of motion. These stretches should be held for approximately 30-40 seconds and repeated x 2/3.
4 common areas to stretch are outlined below
You probably spend a vast proportion of your time sat at a desk or driving your car, this is then compounded by the hours you spend on your bike. All this time spent in a leant forward seated position, leads to tight hip flexors which can be responsible for discomfort both on and off the bike. This dynamic squat is an excellent way to counter tight hip flexors.
– Elevate your rear foot on a bed or bench.
– Squeeze your glutes and you might find this is enough to begin to initiate a stretch.
– Keeping your glutes tight, bend the front knee until you feel a deep stretch through your hip flexors.
– Hold for 30-40 seconds three times on each side.
Indian Knot/ Pretzel
The opposite muscle group to the hip flexors, your glute muscles also suffer from too much time spent seated. Maintaining their flexibility is important if they’re to function properly. This exercise is ideal for targeting the glutes and will also work on a smaller muscle known as the piriformis that can be responsible for referred pain in the back and legs.
– Sit on the floor with one leg bent in front so the heel rests near the opposite buttock.
– Cross the other leg over, maintain a strong upright posture and elongate through your spine.
– You should aim to distribute your weight evenly through both buttocks although don’t be surprised if one side is elevated. As you ease into the position it will even out.
– Hold for 30-40 seconds three times on each side.
|Modified Hurdler Stretch
Hamstring tightness or inflexibility limits many riders’ ability to adopt a lower and more aerodynamic position on the bike. Whilst not a muscle group that we have to stretch due to time spent on the bike, they represent a major limiting factor for being able to ride fast for extended periods.
– Using a low step or a bench, elevate one foot. Keep that leg straight with your toes up. Your supporting leg should be slightly bent
– Keep your head up, pelvis rotated back, back hollow and then slowly lean forward from your hips to develop a stretch in your hamstrings.
– Hold for 30-40 seconds three times on each side
ITB Foam Roller
The illiotibial band is a thick strap of soft tissue that extends down the outside of your leg. It’s notoriously hard to work on using traditional stretching movements but, if allowed to become overly tight, can be at the root of a number of common and painful knee problem.
The best method for keeping your ITB functioning optimally is to use a foam roller. If you’re finding that your ITB gets tight constantly it may be due to a problem with your bike setup such as a too high seat or poor cleat alignment. With any recurring problem always try to seek professional advice and find the underlying cause.
– Lie on the foam roller with your full body weight on it and feet stacked on top of each other.
– Roll up and down the length of the outside of your thigh taking care not to go onto the bones.
– Work for 10 strokes up and down each side. With a slow three count on the upstrokes and downstrokes.
– Do not be surprised if this is initially very painful and even causes bruising. This is particularly common with female cyclists. It will become easier with regular rolling