Flexibility is the range of mobility around a joint and the muscle that surrounds it. Flexibility training should reduce the risk of injury, create a good range of movement, improve the movement around the joint, reduce muscular ache, increase co-ordination and increase blood flow circulation.
A strength and conditioning expert or physiotherapist will be able to test all your muscles for flexibility, but here are three basic tests to get started.
Test 1: Chest and shoulders
Place your hands on your hips and get a partner to pull your elbows together behind you. Your elbows should be able to point back behind you, creating a 90-degree angle with your body. Any less than this and the muscles at the front of your shoulders and chest are too tight, causing bad posture on the bike and tension in the neck.
Test 2: Hip flexors
Lie on your front and pull one leg up behind you to get your heel to touch your buttocks. Once in this position, try to pull the knee of the leg you are stretching off the floor. If you can’t get your heel to your buttock then you need to increase flexibility in your quadriceps.
If you can get your heel to your buttocks but can’t get your knee off the floor, you need to spend time stretching your hip flexors. Tight hip flexors will make your pelvis tilt forwards, causing your lower back to arch and leading to back pain and overuse of the lower back muscles.
Test 3: Hamstrings
Lie on your back with both legs straight out in front of you. Keeping both legs straight, slowly pull one leg up towards you, holding it just behind the knee. You should be able to get your leg up to at least 90 degrees without feeling too much of a stretch on your hamstrings to have adequate hamstring flexibility for pedal efficiency.
The following stretching exercises will help increase your flexibility. You should aim to do 20 minutes of stretching three times a week.
1. Shoulder/chest stretch
Place your hands on either side of a door frame, then lean forwards through the frame until you feel the stretch in the front of your shoulders and chest.
Hold the stretch for 20 seconds before repeating three times.
2. Kneeling hip flexor stretch
Kneeling on one knee, keep your bodyweight central and pull your pelvis forwards and upwards until you feel the stretch at the front of the hip of the kneeling leg. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds before repeating three times.
3. Towel hamstring stretch
Lie on your back and loop a towel around one foot. Raise that leg up keeping the other leg flat until you feel the stretch in your hamstrings. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds then repeat three times.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.