6.17.2008,8:39 PM
Stretches on the road
My good friends Bill and Graeme are on the count-down for their trip to Alaska. Along with two other riders, Moose and Brian, they depart Texas this coming Friday. Bill is plagued by a similar problem that I have: a loose pelvis. The ilium and sacrum, which are what comprise the pelvis, tend to pop or slide out of place and sometimes lock up. This is more than just uncomfortable; it can be downright painful.

Without delving into a full anatomical lesson and description of the cascade of events that precludes and follows disarrangement of the pelvis, I will post a few helpful stretches that reduce tightness in muscles and connective tissue that typically plague bike riders. Tight hamstrings, hip flexors, and low back, coupled with poor abdominal strength can pull the iliac crests out of the joint at the junction of the sacrum. Thus, stretches can be helpful and do not require a lot of time and space.

I recruited Spiderman, affectionately known as Spideyman, to help me demonstrate some of these stretches.

Hamstring and calf: Standing close to the side of the bike, prop one leg up, your calf supported by the seat. Keep a slight bend in your knee. Facing the side of the bike, lean forward into the stretch, hold for 20-30 seconds*, slacken the leg and repeat the stretch for another 30-second hold. You will feel this in both hamstring and slightly in the calf, moreso the former.

You can also stretch your adductors (inside the thigh) by turning your body 90 degrees from the side of the bike (face the rear of the bike) and with your leg still propped up on the seat. Easy on this one.

Away from the bike, you can prop your heel up on your panniers (or rock, or another rider's head, or…..) and do the same as Spideyman demonstrates on the left. This one really targets the upper head of the hamstings (where it ties into the glutes, aka butt).

Calves and hip flexors: To stretch calves and hip flexors (those tight little stringy muscles in the front of the hips) all in one place, find a tree or wall and assume Spidey's position to the right below. With knee bent (below on the left), the stretch targets the soleus (small muscle in the calf), with knee straight the stretch targets the gastrocs (those big muscles in the calf). If you lean your torso forward towards the wall or tree and curl your head up and chest forward, you’ll feel a pull in the front of your hip where the top of your leg joins the pelvis. Hold these stretches for 20-30 seconds. Less than that is ineffective; trust me and ask me to explain another time.

Tight hamstrings and hip flexors are notorious for pulling the pelvis out of place and are usually tight on people that sit and ride a lot. On the left, Spideyman demonstrates another, more effective hip flexor stretch, pushing the hips forward while the back leg stays put. I do a version of this on the bike with my leg still up on the seat by scooting my other foot and leg on the ground back, then sink my hip forwards and down toward the bike. Very effective.

Back: To stretch your low back, assume the cat position depicted to the right: drop your pelvis and low back down towards the ground and then up, rounding your back up and shoulders down. See Spidey doing the cat stretch.

Then, assume what’s called the ‘cobra’ position by scooting your hands forward with forearms and elbows on the ground supporting the weight of your upper body. Then curl your upper back and shoulders up, and head back while your pelvis lays on the ground. I also do a version of this when sitting on the bike, hands on the handlebars, leaning forward with chest and curling my back with head up and back. Think of a seated swan dive. It also helps relieve tension in the neck, traps and lats in the upper back. I do this frequently at long red lights.

I hope these work for you.

Hmmm…… I have a few action figures at home. All I need is a miniature bike.

* Holding the stretch for 20-30 seconds: The golgi tendon organs in the muscle tissue overrides signals from the spine that are telling the muscle to contract and resist the stretch. This enables the muscle to finally relax into the stretch.


posted by Macrobe
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