Stretch …

This article does not concern itself with my impact on Lycra. The world is not yet ready for that experience, getting there though. No, today’s analysis concerns the enormous benefit the cyclist can expect from stretching.

Athletes stretch for a number of reasons principally

  • to enhance athletic performance
  • prevent injury
  • prevent muscle soreness
  • improve flexibility

Let’s deal with the last first because this is purely an opinion. If you search for bike fit on Youtube you will be able to occupy hours of your time, hear the word flexibility frequently, learn the importance of a professional bike fit and learn virtually nothing about how to do it for yourself.

How much flexibility does a cyclist need? If you can bend at the waist, stretch your arms out in front and send your feet once round the pedals you’ve got it. What’s more repeating it will not increase it. Strength and stamina will help you keep at it longer but that comes from training not stretching.

So flexibility is not high on my list of concerns but I would definitely like to perform better whilst avoiding injury and muscle soreness.

Esposito and Limonta investigated the effect of passive stretching on performance. Nine males exercised at 85% of VO2max until exhaustion with and without pre-exercise stretching. A good stretch prior to exercise decreased endurance by 26%,  increased the oxygen needed by 4% and decreased efficiency by 4%. No, I haven’t reported the results round the wrong way …

These results are suggestive of an impairment in cycling efficiency due to changes in muscle neural activation and viscoelastic characteristics induced by stretching.

It’s not an isolated finding. Here’s another Wilson et al. It also goes for sprinting but here’s some good news – dynamic stretching doesn’t hinder athletic performance as much!

It might be worth sacrificing some performance for insurance against injury. Pope et al

investigated the effect of muscle stretching during warm-up on the risk of exercise-related injury. 1538 male army recruits were randomly allocated to stretch or control groups. During the ensuing 12 wk of training, both groups performed active warm-up exercises before physical training sessions. In addition, the stretch group performed one 20-s static stretch under supervision for each of six major leg muscle groups during every warm-up. The control group did not stretch.

The protective benefit? Nil.

Muscle soreness has been investigated sufficiently often for there to be a Cochrane meta-analysis on the subject. Twelve studies including over 12,000 participants were included in the review. The conclusions …

The evidence from randomised studies suggests that muscle stretching, whether conducted before, after, or before and after exercise, does not produce clinically important reductions in delayed‐onset muscle soreness in healthy adults.

So there you have it. If you see people stretching before your next race or charity ride give them a a few words of encouragement and a big smile.

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