The following responses are from the USA Cycling Coaches google group regrading a topic on stretching. Personally, I've always been one to believe that you should condition all of your muscles because this will usually increase the range of motion, lesson the chance of injury and ensure that you counteract the muscles that are over-developed by your sport. Lots of varying opinions on whether to stretch or not and when to do it if you do. Here are a couple of responses:
Okay folks, I don't usually pipe in, but on this one I must.
I read the research and I stay current on the science, however let me tell you my personal story, because I believe
it will save some of us and many others lots of misery!
I have been racing bikes since 1981 and I basically don't/didn't stretch. I might do an occasional stretch here and there, but
for the most part, nil. Obviously, I have been successful in spite of this, however I am now paying for my lack of maintaining
my flexibility through regular stretching...
Cyclists are known for chronic hamstring tightness, especially when compared to runners. I have found and continue to
discover that my hamstring tightness and the pain in my lower back are closely connected. (My massage therapist proved this
to me by working my hamstrings thereby alleviating my low back pain). As many of you know, cyclists suffer from lots of low
back pain, especially L4-L5 and I know several cyclists who have had back surgery to correct this. Could proper stretching
have mitigated some of these back issues? Are you showing your athletes how to keep their hamstring limber?
Another area for cyclists is the neck and upper back. I am now suffering from cervicular radiculitis, which is basically a
pinched nerve in my neck C5-C7. I have been seeing chiropractors, acupuncturists, herbalogists, nutritionists, massage
therapists and ralfers to alleviate the issues. What's the message that keeps coming back to me? By not stretching my
scalenes, SCM, levator scapular and trapezius, these tight muscles have pulled my vertebra into closer contact over time which causes
compression of the nerves in my neck. My doctor recommended surgery! I am not gonna go there. How many cyclists do you know
who suffer from a pain in the neck? The positioning of our neck while riding, plus the tension generated while racing puts
a tremendous strain on the neck and upper back muscles. I am finding that regular stretching is necessary to have a functional neck.
Once again cyclists especially have a limited range sport so stretching is not as "necessary" to be able to ride effectively, however as I
have tried other sports (running and speedskating) I am discovering how limited my range of motion is for other sports
and my current medical bills far outstrip the low cost of routine stretching.
Of course I am over 55, which I am sure contributes to the problem, however I bought a copy of Bob Anderson's book, "Stretching" and
I do many of the stretches he recommends. I now make sure ALL my athletes learn some of the basic cycling stretches and
general flexibility exercises. While the greater range of motion "may"not contribute significantly to the sport of cycling, they
certainly contribute to a greater quality of life over the longer term.
So regardless what all the "scientific" research says, stretching leads to a greater overall quality of life and certainly will save lots of
back and neck pain and expensive medical bills.
Glen Winkel, Ph.D.
and another response......
While research is going to flip-flop all the time (mid foot strike
running, or ball of the foot running is a great example), here is the
most compelling things out there, and my position and findings from
working in the Strength & Conditioning Field, and coaching athletes
over the years, with the athletes ranging in age from Elementary
through Collegiate (Division 1), to late 60's. I've had the fortune to
be able to see and work with people from all across the lifeline motor-
development stages, and this is my experience, and some of my
-STATIC stretching PRIOR to exercise, will not only reduce the
contractility (strength) of a muscle by roughly 12-18%, but it CAN
increase risk of injury. (makes sense, your telling the muscle's
governing bodies -the Golgi tendon organs- to relax before they are to
perform.--new research suggests that the GTO is not the limiting
factor/ determinant in the stretch-reflex cycle, though they say this
still hold true --the decrease strength following static stretching,
-STATIC stretching as part of a cool down is (In my opinion and
experiences) absolutely an integral PART of maintaining joint
musculature balance, a key factor in injury prevention (proper
strengthening of the lengthened muscles is the other)
-STATIC stretching, for muscles working a shortened position, as well
as used primarily in sport, can be used along with a strength routine
to help increase the range of motion about a joint, as well as to help
work the muscles at that joint return to their natural resting length
-Dynamic stretching as part of a good warm-up routine has been shown
to INCREASE contractility of the muscle, and the excitement of the
-Dynamic Stretching needs to be done systematically to be most
effective, not Haphazardly thrown together
The fact is that Cycling shortens the muscles of the hip joint, and
the chest. These two joints are the only two ball and socket joints in
the body. These are at the highest risk for injury due to the vast
range of motion they are built to have (but usually most people don't
get 70% of their full ROM due to tightness/weakness of the muscles at
and around these joints).
Being on the bike for hours on end, in a position where the hamstrings
are being lengthened, the quads, hip flexors (Ilio-psoas), and
pectorals (chest) muscles are all being shortened, leads to great
changes in resting length over a period of time (take a look at the
leader of your local Masters 45+ team, and tell me how their posture
looks... most have a kyphotic curvature of their back, and their hips
have a slight to significant anterior tilt, and chances are that the
adams apple on their neck are protruding due to tight extensors of the
The chronic shortening and strengthening of theses muscles in that
position lead to significant musculo-skeletal changes (posture,
skeletal alignment), which can not only increase risk for injury, but
also for herniated discs, lumbar and cervical stenosis, as well as low
back issues/pain, just to name a few.
Stretching IS and SHOULD BE an integral part of ones routine,
targeting a dynamic warm-up that not only hits the muscles to be used
within the sport, but also the muscles that WONT be used, or are
stabilizers for the prime-movers. This will allow the athlete to have
a higher likelihood to decrease their risk of injury, perform better,
and ride for a longer period of their lifespan...not to mention enjoy
their life outside of riding!
The Cool down should include Static stretching of the Calfs, Quads,
hip flexors, and Pectoralis musculature, as well as ACTIVATION
exercises for the hamstrings, gluteus, and rotator cuff musculature
Stretching is just half the battle! YOU HAVE TO STRENGTHEN THE
OPPOSING MUSCLES!!! joint balance is KEY, and this has been found time
and again...for example, the strength of the hamstrings has been found
to be best (least risk for injury, highest level of performance) when
the hamstrings have 61% of the strength of the Quads. **muscle tears
don't happen because of weak muscles, they happen because of highly
imbalance joint/opposing muscles, and because the stretch-shorten
cycle is thrown so out of whack****
most cyclists get off the bike and stretch the hamstrings and gluteus
because they are tight... they're tight because they are much weaker
than they need to be!! stretch your Quads not your hamstrings!!! and
strengthen the hip extensors (hamstrings, gluteus)!!!
The key is finding the right stretch in-strengthening balance. (by the
way, did you know as little as a 6-8% difference in leg strength (left
vs right) significantly increases your risk for injury?)
to find the imbalances, one needs a postural assessment, and an in-
sport and out of sport MOVEMENT analysis, not strength assessment.
Strength is important, trust me, I know, BUT it matters WHAT is
strong, through what range, as well as how does it sit in accordance
with the natural balance of the joint (i.e. for the shoulder, the
strength ratio should be 3:2, External rotators: internal
rotators....most individuals sit closer to 3:1...NON cyclists)
The bottom line?
Stretching, when done properly:
-At the right time (dynamic Vs Static)
-in the right order
-with a proper movement and strength analysis
-with an individual-appropriate strength training regimen
-with attention paid to stabilizing musculature
-with appropriate core strength (NOT crunches and sit-ups!!!)---google
McGill Crunches, and McGill Side Planks
-taking into account movement in sport
Can not only have an incredibly beneficial effect on one's in-sport
abilities, but also on ones lifestyle/ life outside of sport, Not to
mention decrease the risk of injury (overuse or otherwise).
Oh, and by the way, American College of Sports Medicines Technical
definition of AGING?
"Loss of range of motion about a joint. "
If you want to stay young, technically one needs to stretch,
strengthen ALL the muscles about each joint to maintain joint
stability, and range of motion.
Stretching and strengthening together has not only helped each and
every athlete I work with come back from the injuries they suffered
prior to working with me, but it has helped them achieve heights /
performances they never thought they could achieve.
But I'm still learning, and it's just my opinion. I just hope it can
help you out too.