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Stretching for cycling
Dear VeloNews Training Center,
I’ve been told by a few different doctors and other medical professionals different things about stretching before I ride. Can you provide any definitive insight on this issue? Should I stretch before? After? What’s best and why?
— via email
Stretching has been a point of conversation among sports medicine professionals for some time. The U.S. military academies have done the best research in this area. They have divided the classes into stretch and no-stretch before and after training. They monitored injury rates and injury types as well as certain performance indicators. Their findings were that there is no connection between stretching and injury occurrence. They have also found that stretching before training or competition can be detrimental to performance. There seems to be no correlation between stretching and recovery or delayed muscle soreness.
Having said that, however, what role can stretching play in sports? After periods of low or non-activity such as traveling, a bout of general stretching can be quite useful. Following injury where range of motion is lost as part of the healing process, stretching is critical to regain lost range of motion of an injured muscle or joint. This is best prescribed by a medical professional such as a physical therapist, athletic trainer or a chiropractor.
In cycling, the best use of stretching is to achieve a position that might otherwise be uncomfortable or unobtainable. The best example is the aero position for time trial and triathlon bikes. This position requires hamstring length and low-back flexibility outside the normal bike position. A progressive stretching program over six weeks can achieve significant changes in flexibility. Here is the catch, however: the gains from a stretching program are temporary, and therefore the program must be kept up for the new-found flexibility to be maintained.
The best stretching program is one that has purpose and is specific to you as an individual. Good money spent would be to visit a physical therapist or athletic trainer who understands cycling and your goals to design YOUR stretching program.
— Andrew Pruitt, EdD
Founder, Boulder Center for Sports Medicine