As cyclists, we love to ride. Some of us want to ride faster, some ride longer. Most of us would like to ride more often. It is very easy to focus on the riding part of cycling and ignore some other important pieces of overall fitness, flexibility and core strengthening. They do however have a direct correlation to your riding, in terms of speed, endurance and comfort. This short blog will focus on flexibility.
Cycling is a sport that inherently leads to tighter muscles, especially the hamstrings and hip flexors. Each pedal stroke the hamstrings are shortened and never fully extended. Similarly, the hip flexors go through the same process with each rotation. This is why those first strides of the triathlete are so awkward when they transition from the bikeIt. The hamstrings and hip flexors are tight after 100 miles of riding and suddenly the demands on those muscles is totally different. Running requires those muscles to fully extend with each stride.
But tight hamstrings and hip flexors effect a rider too. If your hamstrings are tight you will have more trouble maintaining a compact position down on the handlebars. Tight hamstrings also resist the extension of the leg by the quadriceps and thus decrease your power on the down stroke. Similarly tight hip flexors resist the power generated by your butt muscles.
It is easy to stretch these muscles and it only takes a few minutes after your ride.
You can look up stretching routines for these muscles on the internet or just about any training book. (Here is one I found: http://www.active.com/cycling/Articles/Seven_simple_stretches_for_cyclists.htm)
Most trainers recommend holding the stretch for 10-15 seconds. You should not bounce in your stretches or push so hard it hurts because that might injure the muscle you are trying to stretch. Done properly, the stretches should not hurt, but you should be able to feel a definite tension in the muscle you are working. Hip flexors (these get stretched with most quad stretches), hamstrings and for good measure throw in a back stretch and the calves. It will take less than 5 minutes.
Here is a link to some words about stretching by Andy Pruitt.