Thursday, December 27, 2007

The art of muscle care

As chief soigneur of the US Postal-Berry Floor team, Freddy Viaene looks after Lance Armstrong and arguably the most powerful cycling team in the world. While talent and hard training is a big factor in USPS' successes, Freddy believes that how riders are looked after is also extremely important - and so is how you look after yourself.

US Postal-Berry Floor maintains a staff of 16 to support the nine riders during a race: directors, doctors, mechanics, chefs. I have a staff of three experienced massage therapists. Not every rider can have a support team, but there is much you can do yourself and with your team-mates.

Too often riders and teams think riding is all they have to do to keep themselves at top performance. But your training can go sour and injuries ruin your season if you don't pay attention to protecting and repairing your muscles and giving your body the proper nutrition. All the members of the US Postal-Berry Floor Team from Lance Armstrong to the newest member understand that the muscle care we give them is as important being in top form as the days they put in riding.

The key to endurance, as well as quick recovery after an event is circulation. Tight, cold muscles squeeze the vessels and slow the blood so it can't do its job of renewing and protecting. Warm and flexible muscles reduce swelling and improve circulation through the muscles bringing them the nutrition they need and taking away the toxins that build up from fatigue.

Stretching, massage and balms all contribute to increasing circulation.

When I am in my hometown of Izegem, Belgium, in the off season, I work with my hometown football and triathlon clubs. I tell them what I know from experience is true, that massage, balms and stretching are the keys to winning.

Be sure to stretch properly before training or events.

This is something we trainers preach constantly and I know how difficult it is for riders who are trying to find time to train and still meet the demands of family and work schedules. Take the time: it's worth it.

Stretching before and after a ride helps warm the muscles and speed recovery.

Stretching exercises are usually well known to the cyclist. Every member of US Postal-Berry Floor stretches for a long time before a race, particularly in the later stages. But even five minutes a day can help, especially if you combine stretching with the proper balms.

Even if you have only a short time, stretch slowly and hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Remember to breathe. And use your breathing to relax into your stretch. The object is to relax the muscles so pain is not the objective-it only tightens the muscles. So if you feel pain when stretching, you are pushing too hard.

Don't just concentrate on your legs. Your neck, shoulders, spine, lower back, groin and Achilles tendon are all vulnerable to injury and should receive attention.

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