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Old 02-13-11, 12:42 PM   #1
Yen
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On stretching before exercise...

Some debate the benefits of stretching, and whether to stretch before or after (or both) an activity. Here's my recent experience on the subject:

I'm still restricted from riding (due to shoulder) and also from gardening, but to save my sanity I decided to do some much-needed gardening in the warm sun yesterday. After my morning cereal and coffee, I went straight out and started cutting.

Within a few minutes, I felt that old familiar sharp pain in my lower back, just below my waist. "Oh NO..." I thought.... "...I'm just getting started!".

So, I went inside and did less than 10 minutes total of the following:

-- rolling side to side on a styrofoam roll, about 2 minutes

-- The Bridge (3 reps)

-- Cobra Pose (6 reps, held for 6 secs each)

Then, I returned to the garden and did 6 more hours of work without a single twinge in my back. Oh sure, I was stiff and tired when I finished, but the back pain was gone when I finished the exercises, and never returned.

Now, to really appreciate this you have to know that for years I've suffered back spasms after hours of bending in the garden, crafting, whatever. So, to be able work hours in the garden without nary a twinge --- after just a few minutes of stretching --- is monumental.

This is only the second time I have tried this "experiment"-- stretching before gardening -- and I have to say it works like a miracle both times.

BTW, my shoulder (upper arm) was sore last night, but is just fine this morning. Still no improvement in ROM or the pain when I lift and use it, but it's not any worse today. Mentally, I feel terrific after a day in the sun in the garden.
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Old 02-13-11, 12:59 PM   #2
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Mentally, I feel terrific after a day in the sun in the garden.
A day of gardening in the sun would certainly make me feel terrific

I don't usually stretch before riding but I always take it slow the first few miles. I have found I feel much better if I do some easy stretching before lifting weights or running on the treadmill.
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Old 02-13-11, 01:15 PM   #3
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It does depend on the exercise. But I have found that some gentle exercise before Gardening does save a few pains later on.
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Old 02-13-11, 02:03 PM   #4
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I'm reading a book "Core Performance Endurance" that talks a lot about obtaining balance, posture, and a strong core. It provides some specific short warm-up exercises, as opposed to stretching. Every study I've read on stretching comes to the conclusion that it does not help prevent injury. Nor does it aid cycling performance. Post-wokout stretching definitely aids recovery from the workout and general muscle health.

But what you are talking about isn't stretching to prevent injury, it's trying to prevent discomfort during the exercise. I would interpret your experience thusly: The gardening doen't allow for a warmup. You did some stretching exercises that warmed up and loosened your muscles, preventing the discomfort.

Fortunately cycling is a sport where it is easy to include a good warmup; just spin quick and easy for 10-20 minutes and your muscles are ready for more intense exercise.
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Old 02-13-11, 02:43 PM   #5
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I'm reading a book "Core Performance Endurance" that talks a lot about obtaining balance, posture, and a strong core. It provides some specific short warm-up exercises, as opposed to stretching. Every study I've read on stretching comes to the conclusion that it does not help prevent injury. Nor does it aid cycling performance. Post-wokout stretching definitely aids recovery from the workout and general muscle health.

But what you are talking about isn't stretching to prevent injury, it's trying to prevent discomfort during the exercise. I would interpret your experience thusly: The gardening doen't allow for a warmup. You did some stretching exercises that warmed up and loosened your muscles, preventing the discomfort.

Fortunately cycling is a sport where it is easy to include a good warmup; just spin quick and easy for 10-20 minutes and your muscles are ready for more intense exercise.
My legs seem to do best after 30 minutes; before that, they feel like leaded weights. On drive-and ride type rides where we drive to the starting point, if the group starts riding like they're shot out of a cannon and my legs don't get a proper warm-up, I either fall behind quickly or tire early. Either the other riders don't need to warm up (???) or their legs are much stronger and able to compensate.
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Old 02-13-11, 02:58 PM   #6
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I hear you, Yen. The more intense the workout will be, the longer the warmup needs to be. I just started doing 15 minute criterium races, and I'm warming up for 30 minutes, with some 1 minute intervals at race-pace. Then a 30 minute warm down afterwards. 60 minutes of warmup and warmdown for 15 minutes of racing!

My club ride takes off slow, and doesn't pick up the pace for 20-30 minutes, which also happens to be when we hit the more open roads.
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Old 02-13-11, 04:35 PM   #7
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A day of gardening in the sun would certainly make me feel terrific

I don't usually stretch before riding but I always take it slow the first few miles. I have found I feel much better if I do some easy stretching before lifting weights or running on the treadmill.
I like to start slow on a ride because it feels better and I read that the load-bearing cartilage surfaces prepare themselves for motion by way of this warm-up. I also feel better if I stretch, more limber and better able to reach out to the bars. But for my knees, I like to do both.
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Old 02-13-11, 07:06 PM   #8
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Early morning rides on a cold day. On those days I experimented with walking a quarter mile first. Perhaps its not much for the muscles but it did get some circulation going. I guess its like the difference between starting early and starting at 10 am.
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Old 02-13-11, 07:27 PM   #9
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It is a conundrum to me, because I have read that stretching cold muscles before is not beneficial, but stretching warm muscles afterwards is. Yet, at the same time, during my recovery from back surgery, I was given stretches to do by the phys therapist. Does one do warm-up stretches to then do stretches?

To me, whatever works . . . .
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Old 02-13-11, 09:21 PM   #10
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It is a conundrum to me, because I have read that stretching cold muscles before is not beneficial, but stretching warm muscles afterwards is. Yet, at the same time, during my recovery from back surgery, I was given stretches to do by the phys therapist. Does one do warm-up stretches to then do stretches?

To me, whatever works . . . .
I think someone touched on this in one of my 'rotator cuff' threads, or I read it somewhere else in all my research ---- something about the first stretch being a warm-up for the ones that follow, and so it should be done slowly and carefully.
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Old 02-14-11, 12:21 AM   #11
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When i started back on the bike in 09 i started with 1 mile walk before and after. After surgery and recovery tried to stretch and warm up before going for a ride but saw little benefit. Once i started increasing my distance and pace learned to easy spin for 1 to 2 miles at the end of my rides which actually is the start of preparation for my next ride. Increased my sleep to 7 hours(used to sleep only 5 for most of my life) which is really helping. I don't warm up or stretch, even if i am going 70 miles, i just spin at about 16 mph first mile, 20 mph second mile, 18 third mile and go from there to see how i feel. Seems to work for me, if i am really sapped at the end of a ride i will easy spin for 5 to 6 miles if needed. I am mindful of how i feel for each ride.
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Old 02-14-11, 05:11 AM   #12
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I don't usually stretch before riding but I always take it slow the first few miles. I have found I feel much better if I do some easy stretching before lifting weights or running on the treadmill.
not an expert, but i read that stretching is actually what it sounds like--stretching. the benefits of stretching being to elongate particular muscle groups, which adds flexibility. this is something like exercise, it takes time to create flexibilty. i read flexibility can increase muscle power in sports in which a greater range of motion delivers more power. not sure that applies in cycling, since you are limited to a specific range of motion. but i'm waiting for replies of those disagreeing, i like learning.

warming up is also very specific, you are increasing blood flow to the muscle groups (including heart) that you will be using more intensely during the ride (or whatever activity you are doing.) i just start out more easily on my ride.
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Old 02-14-11, 06:35 AM   #13
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I have been doing yoga for the last 3 years and we start off just by raising our hands above our heads. It seems that the goal is to warm up as gently as possible before doing any power moves. Yoga seems to concentrate on ROM which requires that the muscles and tendons to be elongated. Touching your toes or a forward fold is done with bent knees and then just relaxing and hanging in place for a minute or so. Then the knees are straightened slowly paying attention to how your body feels. Slow and controlled moves will warm up the muscles and joints. Muscles have to be relaxed to stretch.

My thinking is that if you don't want to use 20 minutes to warm up and stretch then just get on the bike and ride slowly and spin for the first 20 to 30 minutes. Trying to stretch to full ROM without warming up will probably cause more problems than it is worth.
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Old 02-14-11, 06:48 AM   #14
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Back in the 70's a football coach came up with a trick he called Small Moves.

For example... if my shoulder is sore in the morning, I'll get in a hot shower.
Then I take the basic moves and do this.

You start with your hands at the start of the move. So let's say I put them in front of my chest.
I will then make tiny circles with them, first one, then the other.

You then slowly increase the size of the circle, but not past the halfway point.

So you don't go higher than your ears, for example.

The extend to the midway point and start over with tiny circles.

Then fully extend and do it again.

Then increase the range of the motion and slowly add in torso movement.

So my hands will be over my head, and my shoulders will get into it, the back with straighten up.

You don't do full range of motion, in fact, when you arms are overhead, the idea is to get everything
moving and that works better with half or less of the range of movement.

With legs, I start with gently swinging them back and forth, then circular motion.

I came up wit a stretch where I put my foot on the kitchen counter and do an easy version
of a runners stretch, moving my back foot further back each time I do it. Let the torso drop down a bit
to stretch the hips.

I never stretch before, but I do a easy warmup, as long as it takes to get things
lubed.
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Old 02-14-11, 07:07 AM   #15
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The hot shower or "heat before stretching" as always worked for me. That is, stretching is much easier, effective and doable once the muscle groups to be stretched are warm. This can occur in many ways including exercise, 15 minutes in a hot tub, heat lamps, massage, etc. As mentioned above stretching is designed to elongate muscle fibers.

Warm-up before activity typically should have a different goal. It should be aimed at preparing the muscles for use in specific activities. If one "stretches" as a warm up it will provide a very inefficient way of warming up. Even ballistic stretching (this is the old bouncing kind of stretch my gym teachers in high school made the entire class endure) is not all that effective, and one runs of risk of injury from tearing muscle fibers in non-productive ways. Static stretching (holding stretches instead of bouncing) is even a less effective way to warm up.
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Old 02-14-11, 09:28 AM   #16
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I think warming up and stretching are separate activities with different goals. I stretch throughout the day, beginning first thing in the morning with the goal of maintaining range of motion. I've found this is increasingly important for me as I get older. Warming up muscles also increases range of motion but in a different way. It's more like an engine coming up to operating temperature. On the bike I spin slowly and easily, increasing cadence and effort in whatever way feels right for that day for 10 minutes or so.
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Old 02-14-11, 11:18 AM   #17
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I never stretch before any physical activity: cycling, skiing, hiking, and so on. I begin each activity slowly and work my way up to my normal operating speed as my muscles warm up. So I don't jump on my bike and head out at top speed. the first few miles are just casual pedaling. When i ski (mainly telemark) I start off on easy slopes until I'm in the groove before tackling any steep stuff. there's a lot of so-called science in the proper way to exercise, but a lot of it is just hype and an excuse for research, the writing of articles and books, and the selling of lots of unnecessary equipment. That said, if something feels good, do it. If stretching before cycling feels good, no harm in doing it.
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Old 02-14-11, 11:30 AM   #18
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not an expert, but i read that stretching is actually what it sounds like--stretching. the benefits of stretching being to elongate particular muscle groups, which adds flexibility. this is something like exercise, it takes time to create flexibilty. i read flexibility can increase muscle power in sports in which a greater range of motion delivers more power. not sure that applies in cycling, since you are limited to a specific range of motion. but i'm waiting for replies of those disagreeing, i like learning.
My reading on this says that elongating the muscles by stretching is counterproductive for cycling. We want the muscles compact, because we aren't using the full range of motion. The book I mentioned also recommends keeping the feet flexed, rather than pointed, for similar reasons.
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Old 02-14-11, 02:16 PM   #19
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While there is no medical proof that stretching works, it is generally recommended that you stretch the muscles and tendons prior to and after activity. Basically, if it works for you, then it works. As for me, if I don't stretch then I will get an injury more often than not, so I highly recommend stretching before and after, and sometimes during, any physical activity.

If you receive an injury to a muscle (strain) then the muscle will tighten up to protect itself from being further injured (this is called muscle guarding and is basically what a cramp is). Problem with this is that it also reduces the circulation of blood to the injured tissues (kind of like stepping on a garden hose) and this causes more damage to the tissues (this is known as the pain-spasm-pain cycle), so in these circumstances light pain-free stretching has been shown to be of benefit. Icing also causes the muscle to relax and help stop the pain-spasm-pain cycle (when Icing, do 20 minutes on and at least 40 minutes off).

For stretching to help with an injured muscle you will get muscle re-education after 1 minute of stretching. Basically, you over stretched the muscle, which caused the injury (strain), so when you stretch it the muscle wants to tighten up to protect itself because the activity that originally hurt it (stretching) is occurring again, so you need to do a light stretch to "Teach" the muscle that the stretching is OK. I recommend stretching for 30 seconds, relax, then stretch for 45 seconds, relax, then stretch for a minute. This teaches the muscle that the stretch is OK and will not injure it more, so it will relax and help increase circulation. I would do this at the end of your activity, then ice it for 20 minutes. That should help the muscle get back to normal.

Basically, if it keeps hurting after you've done all this, then you need to give the muscle and tendon a break, so kick back and relax and try again the next day.
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Old 02-14-11, 02:33 PM   #20
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My reading on this says that elongating the muscles by stretching is counterproductive for cycling. We want the muscles compact, because we aren't using the full range of motion. The book I mentioned also recommends keeping the feet flexed, rather than pointed, for similar reasons.
There is no problem with stretching the muscles, in fact it's the short muscle that will be strained when something happens that stretches it beyond it's normal point. They say a lot of body builders are musclebound and this is usually because they don't work their muscles in the full range of motion, so the muscle shortens. When it gets to a stretched extreme, then the muscle isn't used to being in that stretched position and that is where you get the strain. An example is what your book said about flexing your feet instead of pointing them. In this position, you are stretching the back of your lower leg, so when you get into a sprint the muscles are used to going from pointing to flexing.

For cycling, you are using your hip flexors and hams as well as your quads, so an all around program of strengthening and stretching is very good. Most folks have tight and weak hams, so it's good to work on them too. All exercise should work the muscles you use and the ones you don't. An example would be a basketball player. They spend a lot of time pushing the ball forward, so their pecs become strong and tight. Because of this, their upper back becomes stretched and weak, so they end up having chest and back problems because they are unbalanced. They need strong pec's to do their job, but it's really important to stretch the chest muscles so they are not tight and less likely to strain, and to tighten up the upper back so they don't have a weakness.

In any activity you want to make sure you do a well rounded exercise program. Like for cycling, it's recommended to have strong core muscles, so stomach, low back, sides. Nothing too weak and nothing too tight. That is what helps you to be your best and hopefully avoid injuries.
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Old 02-14-11, 03:12 PM   #21
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I am like jackb in that I do not stretch before a ride

I have always felt that the best exercise for exercise- -Is exercise. Doing a long ride- then I take it steady at first and ease myself into the ride. If on the ride my back aches- then I stretch it while still riding- Calf muscles get tight then out of the saddle and on the low pedal- put my weight on that foot and lower the heel- So many exercises that I can do while riding to ease a problem.

The only exception is if Power is required very early in the ride. I do one offroad ride that within 100 yards there is a stiff climb in which my HR will max out- and it cannot be taken slowly unless you walk it. I just go for a couple of miles to get the HR up before I attempt that hill. I do not like pushing a heavy bike up a steep hill.


But after a ride- I will find the muscles that are causing a problem. That is where I will do exercises to get mobility back into the body before I collapse into a heap- not to get up for a long while.
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Old 02-14-11, 03:17 PM   #22
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I'll dig up a quote from what that particular book says about stretching. The book was recommended by our area's best fitter, who has a well regarded understanding of bio-mechanics as they relate to cycling. He also gave me some specific hip and core exercises to correct some of my weak areas: some of those muscles that aren't engaged as much while cycling.
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Old 02-14-11, 04:38 PM   #23
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There is no problem with stretching the muscles, in fact it's the short muscle that will be strained when something happens that stretches it beyond it's normal point. They say a lot of body builders are musclebound and this is usually because they don't work their muscles in the full range of motion, so the muscle shortens. When it gets to a stretched extreme, then the muscle isn't used to being in that stretched position and that is where you get the strain. An example is what your book said about flexing your feet instead of pointing them. In this position, you are stretching the back of your lower leg, so when you get into a sprint the muscles are used to going from pointing to flexing.

For cycling, you are using your hip flexors and hams as well as your quads, so an all around program of strengthening and stretching is very good. Most folks have tight and weak hams, so it's good to work on them too. All exercise should work the muscles you use and the ones you don't. An example would be a basketball player. They spend a lot of time pushing the ball forward, so their pecs become strong and tight. Because of this, their upper back becomes stretched and weak, so they end up having chest and back problems because they are unbalanced. They need strong pec's to do their job, but it's really important to stretch the chest muscles so they are not tight and less likely to strain, and to tighten up the upper back so they don't have a weakness.

In any activity you want to make sure you do a well rounded exercise program. Like for cycling, it's recommended to have strong core muscles, so stomach, low back, sides. Nothing too weak and nothing too tight. That is what helps you to be your best and hopefully avoid injuries.
This is consistent with what I've been told by the trainers (all cyclists as well) at my gym. The hip flexor stretching, as well as stretching calves, ham strings and obliques makes me more flexible and acts as an on-going strain preventative. The core exercises and stretches help my balance and endurance. I haven't ever thought about any of this as a warm-up. It is a way to make my body move without excessive strain as needed.

Like many of you, I need 20-30 minutes of warm-up before I'm at my best whether on the bike or in spin class. In the case of the latter, I go in 15 minutes early to warm-up so I can get the full measure of the class time climbing and sprinting.
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