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Stretching Out After Class

You’ve just completed a great ride and you are ready to dismount the bike. You wipe down the bike, but forgo stretching at the end of the class. I’ve heard many excuses for not stretching after class. The Spinning® room is too hot and/or foggy, or you want to get out fast and do a light jog or strengthening session. Maybe you just don’t see the point of the post-ride stretch. It’s a common occurrence, but stretching should not be underestimated as a necessary component of your overall fitness routine.

The benefits of stretching when the body has stopped exercising are well documented. Post-exercise stretch releases tension, encourages normal range of motion in joints where it is otherwise inhibited, and decreases the chance of injury. Shortened muscles are weak (i.e. they have a lesser ability to lengthen and generate force) and weak muscles are prone to injury.

Traditional stretching can feel-good after a Spinning class. Stretching the hamstring by placing the heel out ahead of the grounded foot and sitting back while leaning over the outstretched leg is indeed a nice stretch, and is necessary because the  hamstrings shorten not only during Spinning class, but also throughout the course of much of our ‘chair-bound’ lives. However, this is a “joint-to-joint” stretch. The muscle fascia that envelopes the belly of the muscle and attaches via the tendon is more what we’re stretching when we stretch a muscle from joint to joint.

Flexibility is a bit of a misnomer. People who push into their stretches with the goal of increasing their joint range of motion beyond what is needed are actually putting themselves at risk. The joints need integrity as much as they need flexibility. A healthy muscle should be pliable, with supple fascia encasing it. However, with age, impact and injury, the muscle fascia stiffens and becomes less flexible. This is where sports massage and the use of a foam roller for self-myofascia release come into the picture for an overall sound fitness program.

External increasing of the myofascial surface area by using a foam roller is ideal for combating muscular tightness. Typically, the general instruction for releasing tension of the muscle is to get onto the foam roller starting at the medial joint (above where you are rolling). Position the body so that you can use the full pressure of your body weight and also modify the position if this proves to be too intense, using your other limbs to offload that weight. Slowly move the body so the contact with the foam roller changes. If there is a particularly sensitive point, you should stay here for a moment to release the Golgi tendon organ (GTO), which helps prevent you from overstretching. Make sure that you do not hold your breath or clench your fists. Your focus should be to relax your body while trying to maintain good posture. (For example, you are discouraged from sinking into your shoulder if you are on your side to release the IT band.)

Your first experience with a foam roller should be done with a professional who has been trained to walk you through the exercises. It is best to do it after the body is already warmed up. Some people should not do foam rolling or self-myofascial release at all. It is not for people with elevated blood pressure, even if medicated, for pregnant women, people with glaucoma or those with varicose veins. The potential intensity invokes the Valsalva maneuver, and that holding of the breath isn’t great for some people with such conditions.

Spinning classes should be followed by some basic stretches that help reset the body after the hour. They include a quad (thigh) stretch, hip flexor stretch, hamstring stretch, calf stretch, as well as some upper body releases. A deeper release of the myofascia is even better when done correctly.

If the scheduling of your Spinning studio doesn’t allow for stretching at the end of the class, use the opportunity to get to the part of the studio where you can find yoga mats and foam rollers and spend some time giving yourself the massage you deserve, and probably need.

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