Cyclists need flexibility for two main reasons.
- To get into as aerodynamic a position as possible on the bike, thereby improving performance and comfort.
- To help with muscle recovery and decrease the likelihood of injury, joint strain and soreness.
Stretching after a ride is beneficial because cycling shortens your muscles. Think about it: you are pedalling constantly, with no range in that movement. The position of the rest of your body may change, but your legs are rotating in a very limited manner. This means that those muscles are incredibly strong, but also short and tight.
Many cyclists will have particular issues with shortened hamstrings, which then pull on the base of the pelvis and take the lower back into a position that is uncomfortable.
If your shortened hamstrings prevent you from putting your palms on the ground without bending your knees, then they could be effecting your performance on the bike.
Longer hamstrings will help you reach that ever-illusive ‘more aero’ position. Flexible calves may also give you a more powerful strokes.
The repetitive action of cycling also means there are many muscles and joints that are ignored during it – so if you cycle more than anything else, many of your muscles are being neglected. Stretching will prevent these unused joints from becoming weak and vulnerable to injury when you’re doing activities off the bike.
There is quite a lot of disagreement when it comes academic research about flexibility in athletes. Some believe stretching provides no performance benefits for cyclists aside from the ability to achieve a more aerodynamic position on the bike.
However, others are somewhat evangelical about stretching: they believe that general flexibility minimises the stress the body is placed under during vigorous exertion (competitive conditions, for instance), thus enabling you to ride faster, for longer.
One thing that is certain, however, is that being more flexible is beneficial to your general health (even if it may not swipe seconds off your next TT).
Just remember not to overdo it! If you’re already flexible then you may be increasing your chance of injury by pushing for further range of movement.