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Flexibility issues

bluebug322012-05-22 11:21:17 +0000 #1
I've been a devout stretcher and practiced yoga for years, but I still don't have much flexibility in my legs (particularly the calves/hamstrings/glutes) and the left leg is much tighter than the right. When I do a challenging ride, I'll develop tightness and dull pain (almost like the pain caused by overstretching) in my left calf and hamstring. Though the right leg will feel tight and fatigued, the left leg is always significantly worse.

I'll take any suggestions at this point! Yes, I've had a bike fit. I stretch right after rides and stretch my hamstrings and calves on days when I don't ride and I use a foam roller nearly every day.
Muirenn2012-05-22 11:26:33 +0000 #2
I've found some yoga classes to be a little off for stretching. Like doing hip openers at the end because it's supposed to be harder, but with no progressive hip opening exercises before that point. I find stretching them from the beginning, and gradually increasing, is essential.

Stretching: Extend through your spine and limbs (so good posture and alignment), and stretch about half as far as you feel comfortable going. Very important to increase flexibility, avoid injury, and allow the body to work in correct alignment. Stretching as far as you can tends to make many people work incorrectly. Working incorrectly causes injury, and doesn't allow proper warm-up.

I had to set the timer of these photos to take them. (Hop up, set, rush and get into pose in less than 10 seconds). So my positions aren't quite what I'd like, but enough to get the idea, I hope.

First photo. Sit in 'cobbler' but much less open than usual. Press open with legs against the arms, while trying to prevent the legs from opening with the arms. Warms up the hips without overextending.

Second photo. One leg is folded over the top of the other. Notice my top leg tends to rotate to 90 degrees. Not necessary, just works for me. The point is that this is a modification of the stretch that follows in 3 and 4. So do in less open position.

Third photo (and fourth). This is the one I always to first. But I have a lot of natural hip rotation. Plus, I've done it for years. (Although I haven't stretched in, uh, a few weeks? Getting lazy in my old age

Not sure of the exact yoga equivalent, but if you sit similar to cross-legged position, but with one leg on top, and one beneath, and lift through your spine through the top of your head while keeping both sitbones planted, you will stretch the glutes on the side of the leg that is on top. So, lift up and slowly forward, keeping the core activated, rest your arms on the floor in front. Or crossed over the head, etc. Drop the head forward. (Not pictured). Then do the other side. Lift up to sitting on each side, shoulders open,...

This stretch warms up the glutes, which makes it easier to open the hips, quads, and hamstrings. The next exercises I do are similar, but opening and extending. Way too much explanation for that, and too much at once.

Oh, I know I didn't mention the calves, etc. But it's important to stretch those I mentioned first and extend through the rest of the leg. Focusing extensively on one problem area can just aggravate the area, and cause more tearing of muscle tissue. (The mini-tears that happen while stretching).

Edit: pain in your left. Is one leg shorter? I have to use spacers and shims with my cleats, or my legs feel uneven after cycling too.
bluebug322012-05-22 11:54:26 +0000 #3
Thanks so much for all the info. you provided! I'll give this stretch a try before lightly stretching the rest of my legs.

Any thoughts on if I should lightly stretch or do some yoga after a ride when the muscles are hurting?
indysteel2012-05-22 12:06:07 +0000 #4
In treating me for a hamstring injury late last year, my sports med doc emphasized that I needed to hold my hamstring stretches for a least a minute. As he explained, when you first start the stretch, your brain will first attempt to contract the muscle to protect it. For that reason, he said you needed to prolong the stretch to basically work past your brain's initial reaction.

My favorite hamstring stretch uses a yoga strap (or anything else that you can wrap around your foot. Lay flat on your back, lift one leg above your head and place the strap around your foot. Keep your back and head on the floor, along with the other hip (don't let it ride up). Hold the strap close to your foot on both ends and gentle pull your toes toward your head so that the stretch extends to the calf. Hold for at least a minute before switching legs.
Muirenn2012-05-22 12:32:55 +0000 #5
# 1 on holding the stretch. But think of relaxing into it while maintaining good posture, rather than trying to increase flexibility. And not so much the problem is exacerbated.


Originally Posted by bluebug32

Thanks so much for all the info. you provided! I'll give this stretch a try before lightly stretching the rest of my legs.

Any thoughts on if I should lightly stretch or do some yoga after a ride when the muscles are hurting?

Well, yes, but think of it as actively easing the muscles.

A difference between the type of stretching I do and yoga is that I don't allow the body to support my torso while stretching, I simply stretch in a less extended position. Recovery shouldn't require the use of hands or other support to return to the original position. Make sense? (Hard to articulate).

I have noticed, that after yoga classes, the area of my ankles around the Achilles tendons and knees feels like they have been stretched too much in proportion for the amount of work, and other areas perhaps not enough. Probably mostly due to downward facing dog.

On my own, in DFD I bend my elbows and knees, and use my core to hold the position, and avoid stretching the limbs until later in the session. Then I do a lot of bending and straightening of the elbows and knees. Carefully. Active rather than passive stretching. Not too many 'bends' though. Remember that these are joints, hence a vulnerable area.

Oh, relax the tendons and muscles at the front of the ankles to reduce pressure. Allow the floor to do the work for you, and use the hamstrings to actually bend the leg. (So, relax in the bend at the ankle, through the legs). Good on the bike too, come to think of it.
Muirenn2012-05-22 12:28:11 +0000 #6
Going to be TMI. The following is something for on the bike that I posted a long time ago. But it works for both on and off:

Try relaxing your ankles, especially across the fronts, and engaging your lower abdominals at the same time so that you feel a 'lift' through the pelvis without actually removing your weight from the saddle.

I'm thinking mainly of the Superior and Inferior Extensor Retinaculum when I say front-of-the-ankle. Of course, relaxing includes the tendons and muscles beneath the retinaculii, and by extension the Achilles tendon in the 'back' of the ankle will relax once the ones in the 'front' are not stressed.

Here's a picture:

Lifting through the pelvis means the lower back should straighten and lift too. To counter the lift, press the sit-bones into the saddle. So it is a pushing and pulling motion at the same time throughout the body, yet everything stays relaxed.

That action requires thought and reduces stress on the legs and body. It's straight from my ballet background, but I've heard things mentioned by people on this forum that seemed to achieve the same thing. Thinking intently about posture helps me ride better, reduces pain, and gives my mind something to occupy itself in a productive way. I'm always so busy thinking about form, (or 'placement' in ballet) that I've never got to the point where I had to talk myself into continuing. I'm too busy to do it

Gets complicated, I know. But I guess a good mantra could be: relax ankles; engage abs; relax ankles; engage abs...lift back; press saddle

Relaxing the front of the ankle allows the skeletel structure of the femur, tibia, fibula, and various ankle and foot bones to do the work without stress to the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the foot and ankle.

Relaxing the front automatically relaxes the back of the ankle (Achilles).

It helps the knees to stay relaxed also.


Hope that is of some use to you. A lot, I know, but I figure with your yoga background it should be okay?



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