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For most of my life, I stretched out before cycling to avoid cramps or pulling a muscle. However, I discovered last year that I could skip stretching exercises in favor of a slightly extended warm-up period, riding gently for about five minutes and avoiding any strenuous climbing.

Is stretching before non-weight bearing exercise (like cycling) detrimental to performance? Can gently stretching a cold muscle harm it? Should the intensity of your workout change when (or whether) you stretch out?

(My knowledge on this is strictly limited to trial and error with my own body and exercise routine, so it'd be helpful if answers were non-anecdotal.)

Related: Will stretching make me slower? on Bicycles.SE.

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possible duplicate of Should I stretch after exercise? –  Ivo Flipse Mar 9 '11 at 19:34
    
@Ivo This question is not about stretching afterwards. –  Matthew Read Mar 9 '11 at 20:20
    
My answer wasn't only about stretching afterwards either, because there's hardly any studies regarding the topic. @Matthew Read. –  Ivo Flipse Mar 9 '11 at 20:23
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@Ivo Your answer doesn't make this question a duplicate. You should either post your answer as an answer here (with slight modifications if necessary) or answer this with a quick summary and a link to your other answer. –  Matthew Read Mar 9 '11 at 20:29
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Status completed @Matthew Read :-) –  Ivo Flipse Mar 9 '11 at 20:46
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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

As I answered here , I personally don't recommend stretching unless the workout requires it. Witvrouw et al found that:

Recently, it has been shown that stretching is able to increase the compliance of human tendons, and as a result increase the capacity of the tendon to absorb energy. ... When the sports activity contains no, or only low SSC movements (cycling, jogging), all or most of the work is directly converted to external work. In these cases, there is no need for a compliant tendon since the amount of energy absorption remains low.

Cycling doesn't rely on stretch-shortening cycles for producing power and but rather requires a steady supply of power. Having a more compliant muscle-tendon complex would just mean your muscle has to shorten more to take up all the 'slack' in the muscle before supplying the same amount of power. In general, your body adapts itself to the workouts you do, so if you get 'short' muscles that's because you use them that way. If you want to change the length, change your bike settings instead and you'll start using them differently as well.

So your right, it's most likely better to do a good warming up than to stretch.

Reference:

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In the case where you want to stretch in order to prepare for exercise, you should do a warm up first, yes. Additionally you should avoid any static stretches in favor of dynamic ones. I think there’s quite a bit out there about this if you look up importance of warming up etc.

However, I haven’t been able to find any evidence for why stretching from cold to improve flexibility in the long term is bad. I read one book that just wrote the blanket statement “never stretch from cold” but I think that’s rubbish. Nothing I’ve read has explained why stretching from cold is damaging in of itself, and, given how it feels, it’s probably perfectly good for improving long-term flexibility. It’s just most people are asking if stretching from cold is bad in the context of whether it prepares them for exercise.

Anyway, I left this answer because I think it’s an important distinction and I don’t think we should be going around saying “stretching from cold is bad!”. It’s not. It’s just not what you want right before you exercise.

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You should always warm up before stretching anyway. So, yes, stretching "cold" muscles before anything is harmful. In relation to your question of performance, static stretching may possibly reduce chances of injury, but it also reduces your strength in that muscle for up to 60 minutes. Therefore, it is possible that stretching could make you slower.

see: http://www.muscle-health-fitness.com/stretching-before-exercise.html

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