How to use your HEAD while riding…

1 Apr

In the final MotoGP test of the 2013 pre-season, Dani Pedrosa chose to sit out. Granted the weather wasn’t great, but there was something else that was bothering him. And it’s something that effects many track day riders as well.

Every good rider knows that when you’re on the bike, you go where you look. This is one reason why many riders drift outside of their lane when riding canyon our mountain roads. It’s also a key part to going faster on the track.

Now most of us like to think that we have pretty good neck mobility. Sitting in a chair, we can turn our head left and turn our head right. But push your head forward and look up at the ceiling like your hunkered down over the fuel tank on the bike and THEN try to look left and right. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to put a helmet on with a more narrow eye port. A little more tightness in the neck, eh?

Feel that tightness in the front of your neck and the shoulders? That’s going to be a problem. And if you don’t think it’s THAT big of a problem, it’s what kept Pedrosa out of the final test of the season. Granted it wasn’t a race, but it was enough discomfort to keep him – a guy gets paid a truck load of money to ride a motorcycle – from riding at the last test before the season starts. It should be become more apparent how a tight neck can severely restrict your overall riding.

So although neck tightness might not seem like that big of an issue, it’s a part of the sum. When you’re neck is tight, your knees ache and your back is ready to cry mercy, it is more difficult to remain focused on the complicated task at hand. And contrary to what most people think, you need your entire body working well if you’re going to ride safe and fast.

How can you keep your neck flexible? Obviously stretching is going to be a big part. The first stretch is for a muscle called the levator scapulae (LS).

The LS sits under the trap and gets VERY tight in riders.

The LS sits under the trap and gets VERY tight in riders.

It sits under the trapezius and isn’t stretched with the usual stretches that you stretch the traps with. To get the LS, first bring your arm up and put your hand behind your neck, trying to reach between your shoulder blades.

The key part here is that the elbow needs to be up as high as you can get it. With your left hand behind your neck, keep looking

straight forward and then tip your head to the right. You should feel a stretch in the left side of the back of your neck. To add to the stretch, with your head tipped to the right, turn your chin toward your right shoulder. This should add to the stretch. Don’t forget to keep that elbow high!

The SCM is a major player in the neck being able to move. When it's tight, it's tough to see where you're going.

The SCM is a major player in the neck being able to move. When it’s tight, it’s tough to see where you’re going.

 

The second muscle group that gets tight in riders is the sternocleidomastoid (SCM)/scalene group. The SCM is a triple headed muscle that connects to your sternum, your clavicle and the mastoid process under the ear. The scalenes sit under the SCM and pull the head forward and down.

Now obviously these muscles are necessary for the stability of the neck (they stabilize your neck when it’s buffeted around by the wind). But at the same time, if they are tight, they can severely limit the ability of a rider to look up and look left or right. Again, this is a problem when that adds to the distraction and fatigue of riding.

How do you stretch these muscles? Reach your arm down and back at a 45-degree angle. Then look up in the opposite direction at a 45-degree angle. Now here’s the last part, and the most important to feeling a good stretch here: using the muscles of your middle back, pull the right shoulder blade down.

These two stretches serve as a very important part of the stabilizers of the neck. But too much stability is also called tightness. Tightness causes fatigue and fatigue leads to poor concentration. Use these two stretches prior to your next ride and feel how much easier it is to look through the corners and see where you’re going. Your head will only go where your neck lets it. So start using your head.

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