If there’s a common missing link in the majority of training programmes I see in the gym on a day to day basis- it’s lack of attention paid to stretching and mobility.
Mostly because outside of Yoga circles, stretching doesn’t get a lot of love-at least not compared to the airtime training and nutrition takes up in internet space.
Because stretching and mobility doesn’t quite have the same appeal in an Instagram post as a sweaty mess on the floor does after countless burpees, or the perfectly crafted Keto-Sunday Roast.
But just because it isn’t ‘sexy’ or ‘exciting’, doesn’t mean that regular stretching shouldn’t be part of our everyday routine.
Keep reading, and I’ll explain exactly how intelligent stretching protocols can make all the difference in your training.
1- Improved flexibility
It’s probably best we tick off the most obvious benefit first; the one you were all expecting to see; well planned stretching can improve your flexibility and mobility.
But what do we mean by this?
I’m sure most of you are thinking it just means you can touch your toes, or envisioning some crazy yoga moves, with your feet behind your head.
And yes, elements of flexibility are needed to achieve those crazy yoga moves. However…
Flexibility refers to the range of movement a muscle group/joint has the ability to go through – that is how lengthened it can become before your body shuts it off for fear of injury.
There are two large components you need to consider when improving this facet of fitness…
You need to increase the range, and you need to build strength within that range.
Well planned mobility work and stretching can do both, and offers the following benefits…
2- Decreased risk of injury
The larger range of movement you have control over, the lower your potential risk of injury is.
Think of anytime you, or someone you know, has pulled a muscle or strained themselves playing sport.
Chances are it wasn’t when they were in a secure position, one they had complete control over.
Injuries happen when we lunge for a ball, pushing our muscles to a range that we can reach, but can’t control.
Because of this it’s very important that as we improve our flexibility, we also work to strengthen ourselves within that range; which is exactly why a good mobility programme should also be paired with an effective resistance training schedule.
3- Increased Training Effectiveness
As we just touched upon, a greater range of movement is an unlocked component of a well-planned mobility and stretching routine.
One of the key factors of an effective exercise, is how many muscle fibres fire whilst we’re completing it.
The more muscle fibres fire, the greater the results from the movement (assuming they’re the correct muscle groups- we mean greater hamstring recruitment in a squat, not more lower back use in a bicep curl!).
By increasing our range of movement via stretching and mobility, we can effectively increase the amount of muscle we utilise for select exercises.
For example, working on our hip and hamstring flexibility might give us an extra 3 inches of depth in the back squat- which could be exactly what we need to better recruit the glutes and build an enviable backside!
4- Improved posture
As we’ve covered in a recent blog about posture, it makes big difference to your health and wellbeing (and helps avoid you groaning like a 90-year-old when you stand up from a comfy sofa).
Whilst intelligent resistance training plays a large role in developing a functional and aesthetically pleasing posture, mobility and stretching can play a large part too.
The majority of people living a western lifestyle have chronically tight shoulders and chests, due to slouching in front of a computer or wheel of a car for the majority of their day.
To offset this, chest and shoulder stretching throughout the day can be a great option to open up the tight areas (alongside upper back exercises in the gym).
The other most common posture issue seen in working environments is overly tight hip flexors- the muscles running down the front of your hips responsible for bringing your knee towards your chest (the tightness is caused by long periods of sitting).
A simple Hip Flexor or Couch Stretch held a couple of time a day can be highly effective at helping offset this imbalance (and will oftentimes help mitigate back pain).
5- Improved recovery
Stretching a muscle has been proven to briefly restrict blood flow- which when relieved causes a greater volume of blood being delivered to the targeted area, which is suggested to aid recovery from a hard training session.
On top off the blood-flow benefit post-training, stretching and mobilising a muscle outside of training session (for example during commercial breaks) provides a similar benefit, and can cause an increased volume of nutrients to the affected area.
And anecdotally speaking, have you ever had a heavy leg session and then neglected to stretch afterwards?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve only made that mistake a couple of times, as it made the task of climbing the stairs at work a struggle, making me feel like I was climbing Mount Everest.
The problem with stretching
An analysis from both personal experience, client experience, and looking through studies on the matter leads me to make the following assessments of stretching and mobility practice.
If you want to perform an exercise with maximal strength, you should not passively stretch before the movement.
This has been proven to decrease potential power output, therefore limited the effectiveness of the exercise.
However, if you have extremely tight hip flexors, and you’re expecting to squat? Warming up, doing 3 sets of 30 second Couch Stretches and then doing your warm up sets can be beneficial for allowing you to keep an upright posture and performing the exercise with minimal risk of injury.
Going directly from the stretch to the heavy set of the exercise however, is a bad idea.
So what then, should you do before you train?
Dynamic stretches and mobility/activation drills.
Exercises that mobilise the joint, warm it up, and activate the appropriate muscle groups.
Deadlifting for example?
A routine might consist of:
-Fire hydrants for 10 reps per leg
-A 30 second Couch Stretch on each leg
-A dynamic hamstring leg swing
-10 glute bridges
Rest and repeat for 2-3 sets.
And post training?
That’s when you’ll go for your 30-60 second stretches held statically, in this instance you might go for a:
-Lying towel hamstring stretch
-Pigeon (glute) stretch
-Standing quad stretch
Each held for 30-60 seconds and completed for 1-2 sets.
If you were at home and wanted to further improve recovery and increase your range of movement for when you are training?
Doing the mobility and activation drill above for 2-3 sets, followed by the static stretches for 2-3 sets would be ideal.
People often fall into one of two categories in regard to stretching and mobility.
They will neglect it completely, or spend far too long focused on it.
Allow yourself to fall into the middle.
- 5-10 minutes pre-training of mobility and stretching,
- 5-10 minutes of post-training static stretches,
- 10-15 minutes of both on rest days,
- 1-2 minutes of static stretching trouble areas throughout your day.
If you’d like a more personalised look at the ideal stretches for you, get in contact today http://figr8fitness.com/contact/