Q: I have been with you for a while, and my riding strength has improved tremendously. I regularly clean hills I never even thought about trying a couple of years ago.
I rode with a group of riders on Saturday. One of the women from the group noticed I was doing some warm-up stretches on the bumper of my truck before the ride. She said I had it all wrong. Static stretching is for after the ride….Dynamic stretching is before the ride. She showed me stretches that involved a lot of quick motion. She has a lot of credibility because she is a very strong rider.
Is she “right”? What are some good immediate pre and post-ride stretches and exercises? Keep up the good work.
A: Thanks so much for the feedback, I’m glad that I have been able to help you improve your riding. Having more fun is what it is all about and it sounds like I’ve been able to help you accomplish that.
As the great strength coach Ian King once said, using the words “always” and “never” shows a lack of critical thinking skills. Here is the story on the static stretching debate – yes, there were some studies that showed that immediately after static stretching strength and power levels were decreased, but what does that really tell us? It certainly isn’t that we should never do any static stretching before working out or riding.
The reason for the decreased strength and power levels was because the muscles lengthened and relaxed which may be a good thing in muscles that are short and tight. For example, for most riders the hip flexors are chronically tight and short which inhibits the glutes. This results in decreased hip power which takes away from overall pedaling power. If you do some static stretching for the hip flexors and get them to relax and lengthen you will actually increase your hip mobility and make it easier to contract your glutes, which leads to better, more efficient positions on your bike and increased pedaling power.
Another thing to keep in mind is that those studies looked at the affects immediately afterwards so we have no real idea as to what the affects were later on. To say that doing some static stretching before a ride is going to negatively affect you 30 minutes, 60 minutes or more into it is taking a wild guess at best because the truth is we don’t know.
Now, I will say that dynamic mobility has a place in a pre-ride or workout routine which is why I recommend a dynamic warm up sequence. However, I also recommend doing some static stretching, especially for the quads, hip flexors and chest as these muscles tend to be short and tight and dynamic mobility movements may not achieve the desired results as well as static stretching will.
I recommend doing a stretch for the above mentioned areas as well as some marching knee huggers, squat to stands, calf stretches and Around the Horns before a ride if you want to get the best of both worlds. You can find all of these dynamic mobility moves in the blog post I just made.
Both methods are tools in our toolbox, the real trick is knowing what each tool does and then how to best apply it. To say that you never want to do static stretching before riding is not “right”. Ask your friend how they came to that conclusion based on the actual studies and I’ll bet that they will admit that they have never actually looked at the studies and are simply parroting something they read or heard back without any question or thought as to why that was the conclusion.
I don’t mean to sound cruel but people who do that are a pet peeve of mine. I call them “arm chair strength coaches”. They have never worked with anyone besides themselves and they simply repeat popular opinion on training without any critical thought or real experience in its application. These people populate most mountain biking forums which is why I don’t waste my time posting on them, but that is getting off subject.
And you have to be careful about giving strong riders too much credibility with training advice – a lot of times super talented riders succeed despite what they do, not because of it. While discussing nutrition with a pro rider, he once told me that he won a National XC race after eating Taco Bell. I certainly don’t think that Taco Bell was the best pre-ride meal. This is one of the best riders in the world and while he has a lot of training insight I would be hesitant to blindly take everything as training advice.