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Stretching for Hip Health

No one would deny that the Spinning® program requires a high level of cardiovascular fitness, strength and stamina. To maintain this level of intensity over a period of time requires a diligent stretching practice. Without proper care for our joints, wear and tear will rapidly increase as we get older. This concept must be incorporated into our classes to ensure enjoyable, active lifestyles.

All of us must be consistent with our post-ride stretch routine. Being strong and energetic is important, but being disciplined with our healthy recovery is necessary, too.

Many Spinning enthusiasts try to squeeze every last minute out of their ride and then run to the showers. They skip the stretching because they’ll be “late for work.”  But jumping off the bike without stretching afterwards sets them up for a series of injuries down the road. Understanding anatomy and the reasons why we should stretch gives us all a more compelling reason to stay for the entire cool down.

Here are some anatomical facts: The psoas major is our primary hip flexor. With every step you take and every stroke you pedal, you use that muscle. It contracts constantly for the entire ride. When a muscle is constantly contracted, it can shorten or become tight over time. Imagine a pair of pants squished into a ball and tossed in the closet. Then during spring cleaning, you find the pants in the back of the closet and shake them out. However, the wrinkles are deep and will require ironing out. That’s what can happen to our muscles if we keep them bunched up all the time. Though with muscle tissue, there is no iron to help us lengthen out again!

The psoas creates hip flexion when it contracts or shortens because it attaches to vertebrae T12 through L5, crosses the hip and attaches to the femur.  Essentially, your hip flexors are attached to your lower back almost all the way up to your heart rate monitor strap. If the psoas is chronically contracting (i.e. tight and never fully able to elongate), this can cause the vertebra to be pulled out of alignment, possibly creating various nerve issues—sciatica being the most well known.

Nobody wants that kind of pain. Period. 

The repetitive nature of cycling or Spinning classes can possibly create injuries if the hip muscles are not stretched consistently. Overuse injuries, such as those resulting from wear on the hip joint, are the most common causes of long-term, irreversible problems. Joint wear can be caused by muscular imbalances (i.e., an overly tight psoas) and a resulting joint misalignment. Eventually, surgery may become the only option to end the pain. Yes, hip replacement has come a long way, but we still want to avoid it if we can. 

There is also an important psychological reason to stretch this area consistently. The psoas has an integral connection to our nervous system. Our psoas is the first responder when our “fight or flight” mechanism is fired. Think about it. If someone attacks you, you either pull into a ball and contract your hip flexor or run, which requires you to flex your hip with each stride. Having chronically tight hips can affect your emotional state as well. The nervous system can never fully relax if the psoas is overly tight. We’ve known for years that the mind and body are connected. This is just one more example of how the health of your body can affect your mind. 

Spinning.com lists some great training tips and shows you the correct way to stretch important muscles. 
To properly stretch your hip flexors, assume a lunge position, placing your back knee on a towel. With your hands placed comfortably on your front thigh, make sure your front knee is directly over the foot and ankle. Hold your abdominals in and make sure your hips are tucked under—hold this stretch and breathe for 30–60 seconds, then switch sides.

The main point is, there are undeniably imperative reasons to practice hip health. If you want to keep cycling into your 60s and beyond and avoid back pain, hip replacement surgery and unnecessary anxiety—take the time to stretch your psoas every time you ride!

Learn even more about the importance of stretching at WSSC 2010. Sessions include It’s All in the Hips, Yoga for Cyclists, Stretching for Cyclists, Active Isolated Stretching, Stretching for Everybody, Power Stretching and Release-Stretch-Strengthen.

Brigitta Dau
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