Do you stretch enough? Do you foam roll and use self-myofacial release techniques? Do you feel that you have optimal range of movement or pain free movement?
The answer that I find to all of these questions, from our students, my past clients, and at times myself is NO…
This is where a lot of individuals fall short of achieving their goals, or being able to live an active lifestyle without being limited in their capability, or even being able to perform simple every day tasks such as putting your socks on in the morning!
Why do we need to stretch?
Most of the individuals that I have come across that do not apply enough flexibility and ROM (Range of Movement) work are those that are already active and are already performing cardiovascular and resistance training. For these individuals it is so important that they prioritise time in their week around the higher intense training to work on the lengthening of muscles. High intensity work will actually create tightness in the muscles, shortness in muscle length, and stress to the CNS (Central Nervous System). This must be balanced out by lengthening the muscles, adding mobility to the joints, and in the process having a para-sympathetic calming effect on the CNS. You see it is all about the Yin and Yang. If we are going to dedicate time to muscle growth, overloading the cardiovascular system, and to become stronger, then we must compliment that by making time to aid our progress with stretching, mobility, and massage.
By giving your muscles the ability to use their full range of movement you will not only be creating a muscular-skeletal system with less pain, less tension, and ultimately less stress, but you will also be working towards your overall goal.
If your goal is to promote muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth, ‘toning!!’), by having a better range of movement in the target muscles you will be able to create better overload as more muscle fibres and synergistic muscles will be contracting. You will be able to bring the dumbbells parallel to the pectorals in a DB Press, you will be able to squat lower giving more activation to the glutes and placing less unnecessary stress on the lower back, you will also have better muscle firing patterns which will allow the body to perform more functional and technically demanding lifts such as cleans and overhead squats. By having a better ROM and joint mobility, you will see a great deal of improvement in muscle strength, intra-muscular co-ordination, and therefore you will promote better growth (growth includes the phrase muscle ‘toning!’).
If your goal is to lose weight, the same applies. By having the ability to perform a greater range of movement, i.e. squatting lower, a greater use of functional lifts, you will be able to burn off more calories within the session, you will be able to add more overload, and therefore you will promote a greater metabolic effect, i.e. you will burn more energy at rest during recovery. In addition to this, simply dedicating extra time each week to stretch, foam roll and mobilise will stimulate the body to burn more energy as you will be more active.
If your goal is endurance based, for example running a marathon – performing mile upon mile, every other day, a few days each week, and yet you are never programming time to stretch and mobilise then you are creating a very high chance of injury – short term, and also long term.
Trying to get an individual who is already set in a weekly routine of training to start adding in mobility, flexibility and massage is not always that easy. We are all creatures of habit, and sometimes developing new ones isn’t something that individuals will be open to doing. It is actually easier with individuals who are new to exercise to promote a good amount of flexibility work, as they are open on being educated from the very beginning of what they should be doing. So if you are a Fitness Professional, it is important that you educate your client from the very beginning, do not just focus on squatting, burpees, and internal training with a new client, educate them on the importance of stretching, foam rolling and mobility. Create the habit at the beginning and it will be so much easier for them to adhere to.
When should we stretch, foam roll and mobilise?
At the start of workout? Definitely mobility and the occasional foam roll. At the end of a workout? Yes we all should, promotes the para-sympathetic nervous system to start calming the body and forces waste products from worked muscles. But… we should all really be programming into our weekly training regime extra sessions dedicated to stretching, foam rolling, and mobility.
For example, if you are dedicating time to workout in a gym on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, why note spend 30 minutes or so on a Tuesday or Thursday or both, performing developmental stretching, mobility exercises and having a foam roll. It doesn’t need to be done in a gym, do it in the garden on a nice evening, a quiet place in the house after you get in from work, or even the front room whilst watching TV. Just dedicate some time each week to stretch, perform mobility exercises, and foam roll. Better yet, because a lot of us work a lot better with a bit of guidance and tuition, start performing Pilates or even Yoga. These disciplines are very popular and I am sure there is a class near you, or simply find a good online course that you can follow at home.
Start moving more, free up the tightness, reduce the stress on the body, and reduce pain. Unfortunately for most individuals their lifestyle or work can promote pain in the lower back caused by sedentary and incorrect posture. By programming these flexibility sessions into your weekly routine you will only be promoting better posture, and a reduced amount of pain. In severe cases, consult a well qualified physiotherapist and target it even further.
Benefits of Stretching
- Increases range of movement
- Improves posture
- Reduces risk of injury
- Increases muscle stamina
- Stress relief
- Promotes blood circulation
- Aids recovery
- Improves energy levels
- Reduces lower back pain
- Promotes pain free movement
Stretch, foam roll and be more active daily is the ideal scenario. Programme more mobility work into your weekly training regime, start a course in Pilates or Yoga. If this isn’t already habit for you, then create the habit, do it this week. Like everything it easy to want to do this but you never implement it (myself included at times).
It is better to bend than break!