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  • Sarah Merrell

Breathe, Stretch and Focus Your Way to Better Riding



I'll admit it: I hate stretching. After a hard workout, I'm tired

and the last thing I want to do is spend 10 more minutes on stretching--I want to get out the door and eat! But once I became a motorcyclist, I quickly realized that stretching and flexibility are critical. If I don't stretch out well before or during a pit bike race or track day, my muscles let me know it. My legs and forearms will start to cramp and I'll be incredibly sore. So I started a stretching routine that's proven to not only be helpful in preventing cramps and soreness but also enables me to breathe, calm my nerves and get focused.


Just Breathe


Before a race or the start of a track day--or even before I hit the runway in a fashion show--I find a quiet, solitary place where I can breathe and do my stretching. Breathing provides your cells with oxygen so they can produce energy. If you've been to a yoga class you may have noticed it always starts with breathing. Not only does it provide energy, but it helps me relax, creates a sense of calm and enables me to dial in my focus. While I breathe I think about what we were taught at Yamaha Champions Riding School: to always have a plan before you ride whether it's the road or a race. I think about my plan, my goals and what I want to work on.


Warmup


I begin with a bit of a warmup. With my arms down at my side, I then raise them overhead in wide arcs with my palms meeting overhead (in yoga this called an upward salute). I then do a standing forward bend by and bend at the waist and fold forward so that my face is at my shins with my palms touching the floor. I repeat this while inhaling and exhaling.


Stretch It Out


Core: Like I discussed in my blog post on core exercises, the core is extremely important since it's what enables you to stabilize and balance. These are some of my favorite core stretches--click each one for instructions and pictures.

- Child's pose

- Cobra pose

- Leg cross-over stretch

- Cat pose

- Cow pose


Upper Body: I'm bad about bracing with my upper body under hard braking, so I've been working on utilizing my legs and core to take the pressure off my chest and arms. Despite that, I still find my chest and forearms become sore if I don't stretch well before and during a race or track day. These are some stretches I like:

- Overhead tricep stretch (pictured)

- Forearm flexor stretch: Straighten your elbow with palm facing up. Use the opposite hand to press down on your palm.

- Towel chest stretch: Grasp a towel with both hands behind your back and lift your arms upwards until you feel the stretch.


Lower Body: Since you're sitting on your bike, you're not using your leg muscles, right? That's what I used to think. But after a race or track day, my legs are screaming! Motorcyclists use their legs to brace under braking, to move the body from one side of the bike to the other to lean it in corners, and while cornering, that inside leg holds our weight. That lower body is working! I find that my leg muscles cramp very easily so stretching them out is a must.

- Hamstrings: Since I normally have something I can prop my foot on (like my motorcycle!), I usually prefer to stretch my hamstrings by propping my leg on the seat of my bike and bending forward at the waist. But if your motorcycle seat is to high to get your foot up, you can also lay on the ground and raise and hold one leg up in the air and pull it towards your body.

- Glutes: From a standing position, bend knees slightly. Cross right ankle over left knee. Press right ankle into left leg, and push back with left leg. Keeping a neutral spine, try to send hips back to fold upper body forward to deepen the stretch. Switch.

- Quads: My quads tend to cramp up the worst, so I have a favorite stretch that also stretches my back and core (refer to the picture below). I start with a standard quad stretch with one leg bent and holding my foot behind my back. I reach the opposite upwards. I then lift my foot upwards and toward my hand.


Yoga


I've found that when I attend yoga classes on a regular basis, I perform better in races. Practicing yoga helped me gain better balance, flexibility and even strength. It makes less likely to cramp up and it enables me to be more limber and move around on the bike with more ease. Also, my muscles don't tire as quickly. In fact, even my husband has started doing yoga since he's experienced the benefits. This weekend I'll be doing my first "hot yoga" class and will be documenting the experience on my Instagram Stories. In hot yoga, the room is set to 95 to 105 degrees (Fahrenheit). Supposedly hot yoga improves flexibility, burns more calories and cleanses impurities from the body. We shall see!



Wrapping It Up


Before I wrap up my stretching, I do one last round of big inhales and exhales and focus once more on my plan and what I want to accomplish on the bike. Keep in mind that what I've provided is MY routine. It's what I've found is most helpful in prepping both physically and mentally for my ride. However, it's important to find a routine that works for YOU. While at Champ School, my husband asked instructor Kyle Wyman, a MotoAmerica racer and winner of the Daytona 200, what he does to mentally prepare for a race. He said he likes to get quiet and calm in order to focus, whereas (from I've what I've heard from media on the starting grid), Bobby Fong likes to get pumped up and excited with loud music. If you're not sure what gets focused and in the right mindset, it's perfectly fine to experiment. I used to focus on speed and winning and tried to pump myself up, but I realized that only made me more nervous and overwhelmed--and when I'm nervous I don't perform well. Instead, I found that when I find a place of tranquility and slow my mind down and plan out what I'll specifically work on, I have a much better finish or lap time.










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