Stretches/flexibility

Discussion in 'Cycling Training' started by bartsie, Apr 12, 2012.

  1. bartsie

    bartsie New Member

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    I'd like to find out what people do for stretching (and how much of it). I'm after two things:

    (1) I have some mild discomfort around the knees after a period of (relatively) much riding
    (2) I'd like to get into the drops more

    I've been riding since last summer and I see a lot of progress speed- and distance-wise but as far flexibility is concerned nothing has changed much: the hoods were comfortable when I bought the bike and they're still fine now. It doesn't physically feel like the handlebar is too high (it is actually, the tops are at about the height of the saddle). I can spend maybe half a mile in the drops if I try.

    I've picked up some stretching exercises here and there, nothing systematic.

    Essentially this is a question for someone who has achieved some measurable progress in this area (removed a bunch of headset spacers, flipped the stem etc): how did you go about it?
     
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  2. danfoz

    danfoz Well-Known Member

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    When I got back into it a few years ago I had a tough time with the lower back. The bike I picked up to rekindle the love affair didn't have a super agresive headtube (at around 140mm) but it came chopped for only 20mm of spacers under the stem. After rides I'd be pretty stiff and after tougher rides the glutes were firing pretty hard, and in my case the logical progresion of that is a back spasm involving the lower spinal erectors. In my case the chain of events initiates in the glute area, more specifically the piriformis.

    I do not particularly care for the look of a flipped stem but more importantly getting back into racing even a little more aero helps alot. Stretching is much like training. Consistency is key. I found I didn't need too join yoga or spend hours a day strecthing but doing 4 or 5 different stretches within 30 minutes of getting off the bike helped immeasurably. My routine only takes about 10 minutes. Sometimes do it before the shower, sometimes after while on the floor infront of the TV. In one season went from a 4cm saddle/bar delta to 6cm. That's a big jump but I used to do a lot of martial arts and the muscle memory helped quite a bit.

    I typically do a standing calf stretch, then change the intention very slightly and strech out the hip flexors, followed by a standing hamstring stretch, then lower back cat stretch, and the on yer back piriformis stretch. Also sitting cross legged and just leaning forward opens up the whole area for me. The KEY is not to go to far into the stretch to soon, breathe, feel the muscle let go and then repeat. There are many stretching modalities from dynamic, static, isometric and others. It's a deep discipline, with lots of different ways to crack the egg, each with it's advantages and shortcomings.

    I also found tweaking saddle height played a role. Of course saddle height should be set relatively independant of most other factors but I found the teeny bit of leverage attained from a slightly higher saddle (we are only talking 1 or 2mm here) was negated by lower back discomfort after long hauls in the drops. Dropping the saddle just 2mm enabled me to hammer for longer. The .883 ratio that Guimard imposed on Lemond did not work at all for me. That's just my preference and it does take some time to get right - in my case it only took 25 years. Most folks reserve the drops for hammering. If looking to increase flexibility it's important to do a lot of Zone 2/3 miles in the drops. This really helps reduce the soreness after and helps the body ease into the new position. I would never drop the bars, not even a mm, if already in a building or peaking phase of my training.

    When lowering the stem, if you are close to your own limit, do not go more than 2.5mm at a pop. Increasing stem/bar distance is much like increasing volume. Consitency and moderation are the big factors in success. If you want to go lower but flipping the stem is too low, a 0 degree rise stem as opposed to the traditional +/-6 (or whatever) is an option. Thompson, Colnago, and Easton have these stems available. The Easton stems faceplate attachment mechanism is crap IMO. I currently run with a Thomson.

    Working on core strength with exercises like planks, etc helps a lot as well from a preventative standpoint.

    That's for the time in the drops. For your knees you are on your own. When I was experimenting with position a little while back I did however find that when I was a couple mm's infront of the KOP (Knee over pedal) I would get a pain in the quads just above the knee, right around the medial head. Having ridden for so long in relatively the same position I just decided it was better for me to go back to KOP, the discomfort subsided immediately.

    It takes a fair amount of time to raise FTP, it also takes a fair amount of time to get more flexible. Be patient, consistent, believe in the end result... one day it will happen.
     
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  3. bartsie

    bartsie New Member

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    Thanks so much for the detailed answer! I liked this bit especially:

    When I was test-riding my bike my hands felt uncomfortable in the regular curved drops, with the knuckles essentially turned inside out. When I mentioned it I got the same answer at two LBS: "you're right but nobody rides in the drops anyway". They did let me have an ergo bar instead, which I like, but they were right in that I don't really see people use the drops much. In fact I went to see a local crit and looking at pictures now I see they're not all in the drops.

    [​IMG]


    I think though if the drops are there I may as well use them! (Especially after seeing videos of Tom Boonen at RBX)
     
  4. swampy1970

    swampy1970 Well-Known Member

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    I find that hamstring, glute and psoas stretches keep me fairly happy flexibility wise.

    The other part of the equation is that you need to learn to relax on the bike. You can't relax if it's a stretch to reach a particular part of the handlebars and for most people that's the drops. By riding lots in the drops during the less strenuous training - like L2 and L3 - you can learn to relax more than you can when you all of a sudden feel the need to ride on the drops because you have to ride fast.

    Hinault had a great analogy regarding how to hold the bars. Rather than pull on them when pedalling hard when in the drops, relax and gently push allowing the arms to support the body in a similar manner to a vaulted roof.
     
  5. AlanG

    AlanG Member

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    I am going to just give you a general answer because I think it will be up to you to find some images of actual stretching exercises. But I will give you a bit of a story about stretching... many years ago when I was 19, I started classes in karate. Now a big part of that sport is serious stretching exercises that eventually get you limber enough to actually be able to kick high, do the various rotations, etc. It took me about a year of 3 day a week classes with very tough stretching in those classes and most other days of the week. Some stretching exercises were excruciating and almost abusive but eventually got the job done and I was very limber. (E.g. I'd put my calf on my class partner's shoulder and he'd stand up until I was nearly in a full split. I could bend over forwards and put my head between my legs past my knees.)

    Then in 2001 I had neck fusion surgery for a ruptured disk. I did not ride a road bike for several years after this because my neck was stiff and it was too painful to tilt my head up even while my hands were just on the hoods. (And the bar was about saddle high.) I'd get numbness down my arms too. But in physical therapy they actually stretched my neck despite the pain and I realized that I was doing the wrong thing by babying it. So I started riding a road bike again and by forcing myself steadily lower, I pretty much have regained all motion in my neck, eliminated almost all pain and have no arm numbness.

    So now the top of my bars are about 2 inches below my saddle and I try to ride in the drops as much as I can to stretch my back and force my head a bit higher. I still have a bit of a way to go because wearing glasses or contacts with sunglasses, I get the top of the frame in my line of sight when in the drops.

    In thinking about how limber I used to be, my goal is to start doing serious stretching again for my entire body. I think this combined with the aerobic bike work will be ideal for me and probably is good for anyone else too.

    So what I am getting at is you need to do the stretching, but don't expect to become limber for a while as you can only stretch so much at a time and it took me a year when I was 19-20 and already in good shape.
     
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