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 focused on running, and I believe that there aren't exactly the same muscles involved.
Five Fantastic Stretching Exercises (pdf).

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 exercises should I do, and when? How should the cool down be done?


4 Answers 4


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.

  • This is correct. Recent studies indicate static stretching (the type of stretching many of us did in school) tend to show a reduction in muscle output. Most coaches have since updated their warm-ups to include dynamic movements instead of static stretches.
    – Alistair H
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 16:21
  • This isn't to say static stretching doesn't have a place in your weekly routine. Flexibility is good. However, it probably isn't needed (and might not be beneficial at all) immediately prior to exercise. FWIW, my typical race-day warm-up is usually 15-20 minutes on the stationary trainer, followed by several short, hard efforts, and then some dynamic movements off the bike to loosen up my hips and shoulders. For workouts, I just do 15-20 minutes steady pace before jumping into hard efforts. And for commuting or social rides, I don't bother with anything specific.
    – Alistair H
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 16:25

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.

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.


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.

  • The key point is stop doing what you did at school, not only does the evidence say it does nothing for injury prevention and soreness, but it harms performance.
    – user20209
    Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 1:32

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