Continuing on from Part 1.
- RECOVERY options
Many cyclists finish their ride and then quickly run through a series of hip and leg stretches to relax and recover. While the lower body provides the horsepower it is important to also look after the upper body because that area can fatigue as well.
As part of the ‘quick off the bike’ recovery series you might gently arch backwards or reach overhead and stretch while you breathe out. There are many simple stretch routines, but most boils down to slowly moving in the opposite direction to your riding posture, breathing out, and then repeating the movement 5 – 6 times. The stretches don’t have to be complicated, fast, or forceful or take much time. It’s more about ‘opening up’ and ‘soothing things’ and ideally should include the entire body.
I use a PosturePole as part of my after-ride recovery; lying on the pole for ~ 10 minutes to allow gravity and a relaxation response go to work. This eases tension from the neck, shoulders and upper back, opens the chest and helps my breathing shift back down into the abdomen. Many cyclists swear by them.
- PREVENTION routines
Is for the longer-term; do these to make you a fitter, more injury free cyclist.
Why exercise off the bike? Many studies suggest that people who play a variety of sports have fewer injuries. While there is little evidence that those who ‘cross train’ can ride faster, what you do off the bike can reduce your injury risk so you can spend more time riding and less time sore and sorry.
The basic aim is to do activities that lengthen and strengthen your spine and the chest, neck and shoulder muscles. You also want to strengthen the muscles that act as stabilizers. These are often small but play an important role in keeping our joints and soft tissues in correct alignment so the bigger muscles can efficiently deliver their power.
I recommend Yoga or Pilates; they’re safe, effective and can improve both flexibility and posture. Often best to start with some basic classes that focus on what you can do at home. If you don’t like those then try swimming. Backstroke in particular can be helpful because it works your upper back and shoulders in the opposite direction to the time spent on the bike. A regular PosturePole session can also encourage a long relaxed spine and abdominal breathing.
For strength training experiment with a brief routine of free weights to tone your neck, shoulder, upper back and lower limb muscles. Short twice-weekly routines can help you become stronger without increasing muscle bulk. If you don’t like weights then try working with an exercise band. For the posture muscles the key is to work in the opposite direction to your forward curled cycling posture i.e. move against gravity. There are many helpful videos available online showing all sorts of ‘anti-gravity’ exercise routines.
If you don’t like Yoga, Pilates or the Gym than consider Rowing, it really fires up the back muscles. Or try something entirely different like Ballroom Dancing. While it may not be the first thing you think about regular dancing encourages a lengthened spine, healthy postural muscles and a good sense of balance.
The next strategy for injury prevention is to tune your Brain and Nervous System.
Why is this important? Your brain and nervous system is the autopilot controlling your postural muscles and determining how your body holds itself. If you spend your work hours slouching at a desk, and spare time curled over the handlebars, then your brain will start to think that being curled over is the new normal natural state.
You refresh your brain’s idea of good posture every time you do activities that emphasize being tall. You can also stimulate upright posture by challenging your balance. Start by balancing on one leg while brushing your teeth or walking heel-to-toes along a line. If easy challenge yourself by closing your eyes or by walking backwards. That is why activities like dancing and yoga tick a lot of boxes.
The key with any balance or posture exercise is repetition; aim to do little bits often so your ‘posture setting autopilot’ is constantly stimulated.
Surprisingly another helpful Brain – Posture Routine is learning how to Juggle.
How so? The act of Juggling encourages a lengthened spine, an open chest and turned out shoulders, which is in fact the opposite of the riding position.
Juggling also delivers a wonderful side benefit for cyclists; it exercises and improves peripheral vision. To juggle you can’t watch the individual balls; you look up and follow the movement of the balls just out of your line of sight. Improving the ability to ‘sense’ where people are around you, other riders in the group or passing cars, can make riding safer.
You can learn basic juggling with a few weeks of practice by following a number of on-line juggling videos on YouTube. Once mastered a couple of minutes of juggling each day will help tune your brain, improve your posture and possibly sharpen your awareness so you may feel a little safer on the road.