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I'm starting to ride again after a couple of years of not doing any sports at all. I dimly remember some stretching exercises back from school, but I don't know if I'm doing it right at all.

Instead of listing what I'm doing and asking for "correct, yes/no", I'd like to know how exactly one should prepare for a bike tour. I'm currently doing small tours (20km) to get used to it again, but plan to go bigger during summer.

Just a few minutes ago I stumbled upon the following article, explaining a few stretching exercises. Unfortunately, it's focussed on running, and I believe that there aren't exactly the same muscles involved. http://www.halhigdon.com/15Ktraining/Stretch.htm

The article also mentions a cool-down phase, which I don't remember at all from school.

So, to conclude: How should I warm up, how long, what stretching excercises should I do, and when? How should the cool down be done?

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Related: Will stretching make me slower? –  Neil Fein Mar 28 '11 at 2:14
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4 Answers

Stretching has become somewhat controversial among exercise physiologists. I listened to one such lady on NPR's Science Friday a couple of months ago, and she said that the university she worked out of had conducted a number of fairly extensive tests and surveys indicating that very little benefit accrued from this practice. Other than that it felt kind of good. Wired's Pre-Exercise Stretching Is Killing Your Workout article discusses such studies.

I've never bothered with pre-ride stretching. In fact, the standard wisdom is that one should first warm up and THEN stretch. Ride slowly, let the legs get used to spinning and the arms used to bearing a bit of weight before increasing your pace. I used to stretch post-ride; the standard quad and hamstrings stretches and also calf-muscle stretches by standing with my toes on a stair and letting body-weight stretch the calf... But I admit I hardly bother anymore.

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Amusingly I do something very close to the first result I found in google. Perhaps it's a fairly standard set?

The key one for me and other cycle tourists I've seen is the quad stretch. Cycling tends to shorten your quads which pulls your kneecaps out of position resulting in the classic knee pains. So those stretches are as important for us as for runners. So I do quad stretches at least twice a day, usually whenever I get on or off the bike, and a proper stretching session most days. I do an aikido stretch warmup (without most of the wrist/hand stretches) because that gets everything going and I'm used to it.

If you don't already have a program I suggest looking at yoga or tai chi to put some structure into your stretches. I do my aikido set because I'm used to it and it reminds me to practice akido when I'm on the road.

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I don't stretch (static stretching) prior to riding at all. For commuting, I do nothing; but for a long ride or fast fitness ride, I will do a dynamic warm-up. A good article about stretching from a while back in the New York Times.

  • Pre-ride - I do an upper body dynamic stretching/warm-up routine similar to this one. Why? Mainly to avoid neck and shoulder pain during the ride. I don't do any pre-ride exercises for the lower body.
  • Ride - I start out slow to warm up. For the first 10 - 15 minutes of the ride I ride slowly in order to get my legs and hips warmed up.
  • Post-ride - If you want to do static stretching, this is the time to do that. Mainly, because this is the time when your muscles are warm. Lower body stretches would be things like hamstring, quad, hip, and calf stretches. Upper body stretches would be shoulder, neck and back stretches. Basically, if you have tight muscles after a ride, it may very well be therapeutic to stretch those muscles.
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Other than that you used to do it at school, is there a particular reason you think you should stretch?

Like yourself, I remember a few stretching exercises from when I was at school. When I started riding my bike to work, I did what I could remember after every ride. When I joined a club and started doing longer rides (upward of 50 miles) I found it was essential for me to stretch, because if I didn't I would get painful cramp in my hamstrings sitting on the sofa later in the day. However, I recently stopped stretching and focused on keeping hydrated during and after my rides, which has had the same effect of preventing cramp.

Warm up by taking it easy at the start of the ride; spin at a high cadence in a low gear.

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