Relax for a better ride

Cyclist in the drops going downhillA friend in her early 40s is learning to ride a long board. After the first “lesson” she complained that she felt like she’d been hit by a bus. True, she fell off a couple of times, but the real problem was that she was tense and tentative.

In order to skate without falling and without aching muscles she has to learn to relax. It’s the same on a bike.

Whether you’re racing or riding to work, performance and enjoyment depend on breathing comfortably, which means your upper body needs to be relaxed.

White knuckles on the handle bars transfer to locked elbows. That means every bump is transmitted straight up to your shoulders and neck. And all those tight muscles restrict your ability to breathe properly.

Because hands, arms and shoulders are locked up, there’s a tendency to steer where you look without you realising it’s happening. You’re also going to be pretty sore when you get off the bike.

Paradoxically, breathing is both the key to performing well and the key to relaxing. Suffering from stress or nerves? Odds on you’ll be given some breathing exercises to loosen up.

Smooth, even, deep breaths naturally relax muscles and calm you down. Relaxing opens up your lungs and lets you get air into your lungs with greater ease, which in turn keeps you nice and relaxed.

This kind of breathing needs practice if you’re naturally someone who breathes quickly and shallowly. Performance coaches recommend that you practise this sort of breathing in low stress situations so you get the hang of it before you have to apply it for real.

Try working on your breathing at home, then consciously when you’re out on the bike on an easy day.

Then, when you’re out on your bike beating into a head wind to work or riding up that hill that’s always been a challenge, you’ll be sufficiently practised in the art. Keep your mind focussed on the job at hand and you’ll be able to keep your upper body relaxed while your legs are working hard.

Step back and watch yourself when you’re riding. Are you a “white knuckle” rider? Can you loosen your grip? Building up your “core” strength will allow you to maintain your riding position when your elbows are bent.

You can work on it at the gym or with your swiss ball, but is also comes naturally as you spend more and more time on your bike.

See you on the road soon, God willing.

Photo from www.pedbikeimages.org Dan Burden

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