In short order, I had received a couple of emails from RBR readers who also had read the article on Dr. Mirkin’s site, noting that it seemed to fly in the face of advice that numerous RBR authors and contributors had offered about stretching over the years.
Reader Trenton Pitts wrote: There seems to be just as much negative as positive commentary on stretching. I am at a loss to understand when and if I should be stretching. The most positive commentary seems to be about PNF, but when it should be done in a day’s exercise program is not addressed. I am confused.
And reader Neil Taylor wrote: I would like to open a discussion about stretching. Recently I purchased John Hughes’ eArticle “Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Fit For Life.” On page 29, under the heading of flexibility, he discusses stretching: “As people age, muscles often become tighter and shorter for a very simple reason: they aren’t used as much and aren’t extended to the full range of motion. Stretching will improve range of motion, reduce muscular stiffness and make it easier to do activities of daily living. The ACSM recommends stretching at least twice a week.”
Then recently Dr. Mirkin wrote this in his newsletter: “Whenever I see someone stretching before cycling, I worry that the person doesn’t know much about training. You shouldn’t stretch before a competition because stretching weakens muscles. You shouldn’t stretch after hard exercise because stretching muscles that are already damaged by intense exercise delays recovery and increases risk for injury. You waste your time stretching because you cannot lengthen muscles or tendons by stretching anyway.”
Dr. Mirkin provides excellent biological-mechanical reasons as to why stretching will not work.
But I am wondering if, when dealing with the human body, medicine may neglect the psychological component. In Dr. Mirkin’s newsletter, stretching deals with the body as a machine, which can be measured, but the psychological and power of the mind is not discussed in terms of its influence over the body.
Can the power of the mind influence a person’s well-being and so gain a healthful benefit from stretching. For example, after a ride the rider consciously says I am going to enjoy a stretch, and so the rider goes through the motions of stretching, and mental satisfaction is gained. Dr. Mirkin points out that the muscle will contract to its former state, but the satisfaction may be a mental reward. Or is the body a machine? Can a person actually benefit from stretching?
While I greatly respect Dr. Mirkin, I feel that a human is not a machine and the spiritual and psychological dimensions are missing, and there must be some allowance made for these systems. That’s often a shortfall with the medical model. Thanks, Neil
I had some questions of my own for Dr. Mirkin and asked him to clarify some of the information that what most confusing to me in the article. He was happy to do so.
I then asked Coach John Hughes to provide a counterpoint to Dr. Mirkin’s article. He, too, was happy to do so, as both a long-time proponent of stretching’s value for himself, personally, and for his clients over the years.
What follows, then, in today’s News & Reviews section, is a point-counterpoint debate on the merits of stretching. First, Dr. Mirkin’s article, followed by Coach Hughes’. Because of their length, we’re devoting the entire section to these pieces.
I think you’ll find both quite interesting. I urge you to read them carefully.
Before you read them, though, let me give you a quick rundown of your own votes on stretching in a reader poll from a couple of weeks ago. We asked how often you stretch, and you replied:
4-5 days a week. 12%
2-4 days a week. 21%
So, fully 50% of you stretch at least 2-4 days a week. And only 14% never stretch. Read on.
— John Marsh
John Marsh is the former editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of "less than podium" talent, he brought our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That's what we're all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John's full bio.