Hamstrings tight? Lower back ache? Hip flexor tension?
Myofascial release picks up where stretching
leaves off to improve flexibility, comfort and ease.
When we feel stiff or tight in one area of our body it’s very common to focus on just stretching that particular muscle group—a sort of spot treatment approach to improving flexibility and comfort. This approach is a very ineffective way to try to create lasting change in our musculoskeletal system. You could stretch your hamstrings all day, every day, and still have back or hip pain unless you also address tightness in the adductors and hip flexors.
For example, most people can easily feel their hamstrings stretch by doing a standing forward bend, but if the hip flexors are tight it’s only a matter of time before the lower back starts aching as well. Why? Because the hip flexors attach to the lower vertebrae. Once the lower back starts complaining, people then try to stretch their lower back muscles or strengthen their core but without also releasing the hip flexors one ends up just chasing discomfort from one area of the body to another.
A similar situation exists for many cyclists whose adductors compensate for hamstring weakness or instability. Between these muscles are fascial layers which are meant to help the different muscles glide against each other. If the fascia becomes dehydrated for improper training or nutrition, the tissues get sticky and neighboring muscles begin to adhere. Once adhesions are present, the underlying muscles become less responsive to stretch and more vulnerable to micro-tearing or strain.
Stop stretching and start releasing.
In the case of fascial restriction, myofascia release is what’s needed to improve flexibility and function—not stretching. Myofascial release can be achieved through a combination of bodywork such as Rolfing, massage, foam rollers, or deep, long held passive stretches where the muscles are completely passive.
I recommend the playfully named Fruita Face Plant as a regular post-ride recovery “pose” which opens up the hips, stretches the hamstrings and adductors, and releases the hip flexors and lower back all at once. It’s a passive release, meaning there isn’t any deep stretching sensation for most people. In fact, the vast majority of people will not feel any stretch in this pose.
Myofascial release for cyclists.
You can test whether or not you need myofascial release working for you by doing a simple forward bend before and after the pose. If you are well-hydrated, have great functional anatomy and fit on your bike, and what I call “juicy” fascia, you probably won’t feel much change before and after and you can skip this pose.
If you do feel an improvement after doing this release, I recommend working this into your post-ride cool-down stretching sequence at least 3x per week.