Like it or not, if you’re mountain biking on a regular basis, stretching is something that should be a vital part of your training routine. It doesn’t matter what level you bike at, or the reasons why you participate in mountain biking, it’s really important to stretch. I once knew a physio who told me it’s sensible to stretch even after a gentle walk!
Building a stretching routine isn’t as hard as one might think. It’s never too late to start and, once you do, the benefits will most definitely encourage you to make it a daily task.
Not only is stretching important for flexibility and strengthening, it helps to condition and relax the muscles after a hard work-out like mountain biking. Once you’ve been stretching for a while you’ll start to notice the mental benefits. You could find yourself much more focused, with greater endurance during your rides. Not only that, but the breathing used to deepen stretches can also help to control nerves and emotions – which is a great bonus if you get a bit jittery before a big event!
Start with a Class
Finding a good yoga class is a brilliant place to start. It’s great to have a teacher who can help adjust stretches to prevent further injury to a weak spot or a little niggle you may be nursing. A good teacher will also be able to make sure you are correctly holding the posture. Quite often this is where people fail at stretching. Doing a stretch wrongly over a long period of time could potentially do more harm than good.
These days there are lots of yoga classes designed specifically for athletes, and lots of the postures have been adapted to allow athletes to achieve maximum results. Classes are also very mixed, but if you prefer a gender-specific class, there are plenty of those around too. Long gone are the days of crossed-legged skinny ladies chanting in their tie-dyed leotards.
Going to a class once a week is a great start – but it’s the daily maintenance that really reaps the results and improves performance. As a yoga teacher who loves to mountain bike, I can fully back-up the importance of including a set of stretches daily.
Stretches to Start With
Here’s a few I’ve selected with the help of my own yoga teacher, Morgan Windram-Geddes. Morgan is a long-distance athlete and teaches a range of classes that she’s designed for athletes – especially runners and bikers. Morgan is Dundee based and her classes are well worth a visit if you are in the area and keen to sample some yoga for mountain bikers. She also offers one-to-one sessions for athletes.
1. Seated Spinal Twist
Sit in a comfortable crossed legged position, back straight with chin neatly tucked, place left hand on the floor just behind, or as close as possible to, the left buttock. Place right hand on left knee, look over left shoulder. Hold for a couple of deep breaths (increasing to five), repeat on other side. This twist is great for releasing pressure right up the length of the spine and neck, releasing tension in the shoulder and begins to open up the hips.
A tricky one to get into for most bikers initially, but a great posture for measuring progress. Daily perseverance with this posture will pay off and increases in flexibility will be visible over time.
Sit comfortably on the floor with legs outstretched in front, open legs to form a comfortable V shape – at this point be very careful not to place too much strain on the inner thighs. Begin to move your body forward, keeping back straight – the aim is to get the forehead on the floor, but this will take time.
Once you have reached your limit, carefully edge the arms under the thighs, the aim is to interlace the hands at the lower back, again, this will take time to achieve – some people may never reach this point, and that is perfectly fine as long as the stretch is performed to the full potential, without straining. If it is too difficult to put the arms under the thighs, stretch them out in front. A great posture for hip opening, and for stretching the arms, legs and spine.
3. Seated Shoelace with Archer Arms
Begin on all-fours, then push into a plank, carefully bring the right knee forward and place the knee and shin on the floor. Bring the left knee forward and place just behind the right knee – you will now be in a sort of crossed-legged posture with arms still stretched out in front. Use arms to carefully lower yourself back onto the heels. You will now be in a seated shoelace.
If this feels too intense, and it may do for a while, release the right leg slightly, by moving the right foot forward until it feels more comfortable. Once the legs are comfortable, sit tall with a straight back. Lift the left arm up straight and bend at the elbow to reach for the middle of the back, bring the right arm round to try to meet the left arm, with the aim of interlacing the fingers. This may take some time to achieve the full posture.
This is perfect for stretching the IT band, which can cause sore knees and ankles if not regularly stretched. It’s also great for opening the shoulders, back and chest, which should ease sore backs and necks common to bikers.
Begin by kneeling on the ground and lean forward to place elbows, forearms and palms on the floor, let head and neck hang loose to release tension in this area. Ensure shoulders are not dropping into the neck and ears – keep them strong and open. When this feels comfortable, begin to straighten legs – don’t force this one, increase the intensity gradually always ensuring to keep the shoulders strong and open. Once the straight legs have been perfected, you may start gently walking the feet inwards towards the arms – always keeping shoulders strong. This is great for building strength, as well as lengthening and stretching the hamstrings.
5. Half Moon
Stand tall and roll the shoulders back, begin to fold forward to place the left hand on the floor – use a block, or pile of books until you can yet reach the floor. Once stable here, lift the right leg as high as possible – if you are wobbling uncontrollably, feel free to use a wall for support. Once secure here, raise the right hand up to reach for the sky – try to open out the chest and hips as much as possible, so they are facing forward and away from the wall. Great for increasing balance and building up the core muscles.
Have a Go Today
None of these postures are the easiest for those new to yoga, however, they are perfect for bikers and allow for a great starting point to demonstrate how flexibility and performance can be increased through daily practice. Half an hour is all it takes, but the benefits are massive!
Try to hold all the postures for a few deep breaths, increasing to five or more if it feels comfortable. Ensure to repeat all the postures on both sides where necessary. Once the routine is completed, it’s quite nice to just lie on your back on the floor and let your body relax and adjust itself. No need for any deep meditation or anything like that! Just a few minutes to make the most out of the stretches.
Good luck and happy stretching!