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Note: If you've had any recent surgery, muscle or joint problems, please consult your personal health-care professional before starting a stretching or exercise program.
How to stretch: Do a light warm-up of walking or jogging for several minutes prior to stretching. Stretch slowly without bouncing. Stretch to where you feel a slight, easy stretch. Hold this feeling for 5 to 30 seconds. As you hold this stretch, the feeling of tension should diminish. If it doesn't, just ease off slightly into a more comfortable stretch. The easy stretch reduces tension and readies the tissues for the developmental stretch.
After holding the easy stretch move a fraction of an inch farther into the stretch until you feel mild tension again. This is the developmental stretch, which should be held for 5 to 30 seconds. This feeling of stretch tension should also slightly diminish or stay the same. If the tension increases or becomes painful, you are overstretching. Ease off a bit to a comfortable stretch. The developmental stretch reduces tension and will safely increase flexibility.
Hold only stretch tensions that feel good to you. The key to stretching is to be relaxed while you concentrate on the area being stretched. Your breathing should be slow, deep and rhythmical. Don't worry about how far you can stretch. Stretch relaxed and limberness will come as one of the many by-products of regular stretching.
In the illustrations with each stretch, the dotted areas are those body areas where you will most likely feel the stretches.
1. To stretch your calf, stand a little ways from a solid support and lean on it with your forearms, your head resting on your hands. Bend one leg and place your foot on the ground in front of you leaving the other leg straight, behind you. Slowly move your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the calf of your straight leg. Be sure to keep the heel of the foot on the straight leg on the ground and your toes pointed straight ahead. Hold an easy stretch for 20 seconds. Do not bounce. Stretch both legs.
2. To stretch the soleus and Achilles tendon areas, slightly bend the back knee, keeping the foot flat. This gives you a much lower stretch, which is also good for maintaining or regaining ankle flexibility. Stretch for 10 seconds on each leg. This area needs only a slight feeling of stretch.
3.Tostretch the upper hamstrings and hip, hold onto the outside of your ankle with one hand, with your other hand and forearm around your bent knee. Gently pull the leg as one unit toward your chest until you feel an easy stretch in the back of the upper leg. You may want to do this stretch while you rest your back against something for support. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Make sure the leg is pulled as one unit so that stress is not felt in the knee.
4. Sit with your right leg bent, with your right heel just to the outside of your right hip. The left leg is bent and the sole of your left foot is next to the inside of your upper right leg. (Try not to let your right foot flare out to the side in this position.) Now slowly lean straight back until you feel an easy stretch in your right quadriceps. Use your hands for balance and support. Hold an easy stretch for 30 seconds. Do not hold any stretches that are painful.
5. After stretching your quads, sit with your right leg bent, right heel just to the outside of your right hip. Practice tightening the buttocks on the side of the bent (right) leg as you turn the hip over. This will help stretch the front of your hip and give a better overall stretch to the upper thigh area. After contracting the butt muscles for 5 to 8 seconds, let them relax. Then continue to stretch quads by slowly leaning back (stretch #4) for another 15 seconds.
6. Next, straighten your right leg. The sole of your left foot will be resting next to the inside of your straightened leg. Lean slightly forward from the hips and stretch the hamstring of your right leg. Find an easy stretch and relax. If you can't touch your toes comfortably use a towel around the bottom of your foot to help you stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Do not lock your knee. Your right quadriceps should be soft and relaxed during the stretch. Keep your right foot upright with the ankle and toes relaxed.
8. Put the soles of your feet together with your heels a comfortable distance from your groin. With your hands around your feet slowly contract your abdominals to assist you in flexing forward until you feel an easy stretch in the groin. Make your movement forward by bending from the hips and not from the shoulders. If possible, keep your elbows on the outside of your lower legs for greater stability during the stretch. Hold a comfortable stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
9. Sit with your right leg straight. Bend your left leg, cross your left foot over and rest it to the outside of your right knee. Then bend your right elbow and rest it on the outside of your upper left thigh, just above the knee. During the stretch use the elbow to keep this leg stationary with controlled pressure to the inside. Now, with your left hand resting behind you, slowly turn your head to look over your left shoulder, and at the same time rotate your upper body toward your left hand and arm. As you turn your upper body, think of turning your hips in the same direction (though your hips won't move because your right elbow is keeping the left leg stationary). This should give you a stretch in your lower back and side of your hip. Hold for 15 seconds. Do both sides. Don't hold your breath; breathe easily.
10. Stretch diagonally. Point the toes of your left foot as you extend your right arm. Stretch as far as is comfortable. Hold 5 seconds, then relax. Stretch the right leg and left arm the same way.
11. Interlace your fingers behind your head and rest your arms on the floor. Using the power of your arms, slowlybring your head, neck, and shoulders forward until you feel a slight stretch. Hold an easy stretch for 5 seconds. Repeat three times. Do not overstretch.
12. Next, straighten both legs and relax. Then pull your left leg toward your chest. For this stretch keep the back of your head on the floor, if possible, but don't strain. Hold an easy stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat, pulling your right leg toward your chest.
13. Bend your leg and, with your opposite hand, pull that bent leg up and over your other leg as shown. Turn your head to look toward the hand of the arm that is straight (head should be resting on the floor). Make sure the back of your shoulders are kept flat on the floor. Now, using your hand on your thigh (resting just above the knee), pull your bent leg down toward the floor until you get the right stretch feeling in your lower back and side of the hip. Keep your feet and ankles relaxed. Hold a comfortable stretch for 30 seconds, each side.
15. In a standing or sitting position, interlace your fingers above your head. Now, with your palms facing upward, push your arms slightly back and up. Feel the stretch in your arms, shoulders, and upper back. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds. Do not hold your breath. This stretch is good to do anywhere, anytime. It's excellent for slumping shoulders.
16. A stretch for the arms, shoulders and back. Hold onto your bike as shown (or something in front of you). With your hands shoulder-width apart on this support, relax, keeping your arms straight and your chest moving downward and your feet remaining directly under your hips. Keep your knees slightly bent (one inch). Hold this stretch for 30 seconds. This is a good stretch to do anywhere, at anytime. (Remember to always bend your knees when coming out of this stretch.)
CYCLING STRETCHES c1999 by Bob Anderson, illustrated by Jean Anderson, Stretching, Inc., has been reprinted by permission. For a free catalog of Stretching Inc. publications/products, visit www.stretching.com or call 800.333.1307, Box 767, Palmer Lake, CO 80133. CYCLING STRETCHES is available as a laminated 8 1/2- x 11-inch sheet, 22 1/2- x 34-inch poster, laminated, paper, or paper/folded, a 4- x 4 1/2-inch booklet and as a routine included in their book, STRETCHING.