PAIN, NO GAIN Loosing your muscles by stretching before cycling can limit stiffness.
Mammals. They’re defined as being warm blooded, furry creatures that feed their young with milk. They range in shape and size from the blue whale at 30m long to Kitti’s hognosed bat at less than an inch. Some live in the sea, some can fly, others live underground. When the first specimen of one of my favourite creatures, the duck-billed platypus, was sent from Australia to England in the late eighteenth century, scientists thought it was a hoax. What sort of animal has webbed feet, fur, a beak and lays eggs? But, much as I love Sir David Attenborough, it’s a different type of creature we’ll be discussing this week.
Typically still furry and warm blooded, and definitely coming in a range of shapes and sizes are a sub-group of mammals known colloquially as MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Lycra). If you’ve never heard the term, you’ve at least seen them, often in herds. I refer of course to the proliferation of cyclists on the road and in gym spinning classes who are often men (but also women) of a certain age. I had a request recently from one such gentleman: “What can I do so that I can actually move when I get off the bike?”
Before I offer suggestions as to exercises, it’s worth looking at why cyclists often get stiff. Essentially it comes from repetition of movement and how long is spent in pretty much the same position. When riding a road bike, you are bent down over the bars, but yes it’s possible to change from the drops to sitting a bit more upright, or even go lower if using tri-bars. These are only slight variations on the same thing. Likewise, the pedal stroke is pretty much the same regardless of the effort level, whereas in running based sports as the effort increases the range of movement has to increase with it. Much like sitting at a desk, it’s important to vary the movement or position to reduce the associated stiffness.
What, then, should our cyclist friend do to keep himself moving? There are the usual suspects of quadriceps, hamstrings, calf and lower back stretches. To stretch your quads, grab onto your foot and pull it up towards your backside to feel a stretch in the front of the thigh. For the hamstrings, put the right foot on a bench, keeping that knee slightly bent, and push your backside back to feel a stretch in the back of the right thigh. The calf muscles can be stretched in numerous ways; the easiest being to stand with your hands against a wall for balance and put one foot back, keeping the toes pointing straight ahead and heel on the ground. If you keep the back knee straight and shift your hips forward you will feel a stretch in the upper calf near the back of your knee. If you let the back knee bend, pushing it towards the wall, you will feel the stretch lower down towards the Achilles tendon. Stretching the lower back can be as simple as lying on your back and pulling one knee towards your chest. Holding each of these for 30 seconds and repeating a few times on each side is a good start. The following is a favourite exercise of mine for people who spend long periods bent forward, whether that be in the car, at a desk or on a bike. It can be quite uncomfortable to begin with, so take time to build up. Kneel down on a mat, keeping your ankles at 90 degrees, so that the ends of your toes are on the ground rather than being pointed out behind you. Reach your hands down onto your heels and, with your weight resting on your hands, try to drive your hips forward and up so that you extend your hips and trunk together. Depending on where you are stiffest, you could feel resistance in your knees, thighs, at the front of your hips, shoulders or chest. Doing ten repetitions a couple of times a day will make a big difference.
With any of these exercises, some discomfort is reasonably normal, but if there is genuine pain, you should contact your chartered physiotherapist for advice before continuing. And remember my golden rule for cycling: if there’s no coffee and cake, there’s no point going.
> Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.