What does science really tell us about stretching for mountain biking?

Can you touch your toes?

Sometimes I get hit with the “there is not scientific evidence for that” line from someone. For example, stretching has some conflicting “scientific” conclusions. A lot of people leave it out of their program and base their conclusion to do that on the fact that science has not proven it works.

You have to be careful with the “no scientific evidence” line of thinking. Science has never discovered anything, it just tells us why things work. Strength coaches like myself who are in the trenches working with real people find out what works and dudes in lab coats come behind and study what they do to try and figure out why it works. Sports science is more like sports training history from that perspective as the people in the trenches tend to be 5 years or so ahead of the dudes in the lab coats.

Plus, if you look at any great strength coach (Mike Boyle, Gray Cook, Alwyn Cosgrove, Ian king, Charles Poliquin just to name a few) they ALL agree that stretching and mobility training are vital to long term success and injury prevention. Just because science has not come up with an adequate way to study the affects of stretching on long term development of an athlete in no way means that it does not do anything for you.

Science gives us ideas and sign posts to point us in a direction, it does not define everything about training. Stretching is important for mountain biking, or at least the few hundred riders I’ve worked with seem to think so 😉

-James Wilson-

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  1. Janet says:

    As I recall reading recently (I’m going to guess one source was from Stu McGill’s book “Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance”), the issue is less about whether or not to stretch and more about WHEN to stretch. The current research says that it’s better to stretch after the work out and use dynamic mobility and foam rolling before the work out. Old habits die hard for me especially before rock climbing; I still find myself doing forearm and shoulder stretches though I try to remember to replace it with easy bouldering and dynamically hanging on big comfy holds.

    Reply • March 30 at 7:44 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Great point. Unfortunately not everybody has your critical thinking skills and they tend to overreact to what science “tells” us. And Stuart McGill’s book is a must read for anybody who wants to know more about core strength for performance.

      James Wilson

      Reply • March 30 at 7:55 pm
  2. Eric says:

    Funny that this came up. I was just thinking about this topic.

    I’ve always had a hard time warming up for sports, not feeling like I was really in that athletic zone until I was about halfway through whatever activity I was participating in. Switching from a stretching-based warmup to a more dynamic, mobility approach has helped SO much. Stretching post-workout seems to help with overall flexibility and recovery, but it does absolutely nothing to help pre-workout. If anything I feel tighter when I have tried in the past.

    Keep up the good work.

    Reply • April 1 at 5:12 pm
  3. Rob says:

    Hey James… my non-scientific observations… since I stopped pre-ride deep stretching, ALL my “cronic” injuries, sore back, neck and legs have gone away. Instead I’m doing “tennis-style” swings and scrambles to get my muscles warmed up before a ride. I think stretching is still a good part of general conditioning, but not right before riding.

    Reply • April 2 at 1:13 pm
    • bikejames says:

      I agree totally. Some targeted pre-ride or pre-workout strething is good, like for the quads and hip flexors if they are chrinically tight, but a moe dynamic warm up is better. Post ride or workout, though, static stretching is certainly a good idea.


      Reply • April 2 at 1:42 pm
  4. Scott says:

    Thanks for this article! I would love to see a future article (or better yet, video), on some specific stretches for mountain bikers, either pre/post ride, or for general mobility improvement required for riding. Thanks!

    Reply • April 23 at 1:02 pm

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James Wilson
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James Wilson