Stretching, that one part of every training programme that you’ll avoid. The classic excuse of I’ll do it at home in front of the t.v. Let's be honest here, you're not doing it at home, it’s boring and tedious but very much necessary for becoming the best you can be. Becoming mobile can be complex there are lots of muscles affecting the major joints, so I'm going to take you step by step from the ankles all the way to the neck. I will cover everything nothing will be left unturned from tools that you can use to aid you, types of stretching, different methods of mobilising. There is more to flexibility and mobility than just stretching. Nothing will be missed, so now you won't have an excuse like I don’t know how to do this or why I need to do this.
Firstly what is flexibility?
Flexibility is the range of motion in a joint or group of joints or the ability to move joints effectively through a complete range of motion. If you have tight muscles or stiff joints, you will not be able to do so. So if you want to leave the quarter squat gang behind and join us on the dark side of deep squatting or perhaps you just want to relieve those daily aches and pains that short, tense muscles cause then buckle up.
So how do you go about stretching and mobilising stiff and restricted joints/muscles?
Firstly, stretching is being capable of lengthening a muscle without it tearing or rupturing, it requires movement of a body part to the point of resistance in the range of motion. There are different ways of stretching joints and muscles such as static stretching which is slow and controlled with the end position held for 30 seconds, this is a low risk of injury stretch. Dynamic stretching which functional stretching that will use sports specific movements to prepare you for exercise. E.g. Empty bar OH squats before starting your snatches. Ballistic stretching which utilises a bouncing motion at which the end position is not held and requires you to use your muscles actively. This can be a high risk of injury if not done correctly or safely. Lastly, Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching, this was utilised for relaxing muscles with increased activity and aids in flexibility development. This form of stretching is worked best with a partner as it involves both passive and active movements. Isometric and concentric muscle actions are used before a passive stretch to achieve autogenic inhibition. We do all these stretches for our own rehab, prehab and recovery, it helps relieve over-worked and tight muscles, reduces muscle imbalances, improves posture, allows you to move more optimally, improved blood circulation, the list goes on.
You’ve also got aids to help mobilise joints and muscles, such as Self Myofascial Release (SMF) which treats restricted muscle and muscle immobility and pain by relaxing tense muscles, improving blood and lymphatic circulation. Tools you could use for SMF are triggers balls, foam rollers, a pain pill or your own hands. We will go through each one of these stretches and aids in more details and compare them to one another to see what works best for what but that is a brief overview of the type of stretching and some of the kinds of aids we can do/use.
I want you to test and retest everything, it's crucial. This is purely for the fact that you can log and see in your own eyes the progress you are making. You may want to write it down or take pictures and videos and compare them but by having something to compare your old progress to your new development and seeing the changes your body makes will only make you feel great and more motivated! An easy example would be having your ankles affect a deep squat position, keeping your shins vertical and not allowing your knees to track past your toes, meaning you tuck the lumbar to reach depth, compromising a neutral spine (butt wink) or be part of the quarter squat gang to name a couple of problems. By stretching the soleus and gastrocnemius and mobilising the ankle joint will allow you to hit an ass to grass squat more comfortably, which in the long run means more gains, and less likelihood of injury or muscle imbalance. By testing you’ll be able to find what works best for you, what stretches seem to work the most effectively, what doesn’t work as well.
Why do we get tightness?
We get tightness due to our muscle fascia being inactive which causes it to seize up and stiffen up over time, which makes it feel like our muscles are stiff, tight and achy. This is because muscle fascia provides a lubricated surface so the muscles can move smoothly against each other, it separates the muscles so they can work independently and also holds it in the correct place. So when we get tight, it’s because we need to move around and keep our muscles and joints nicely lubricated.
Fundamental principles I go by when I stretch is:
1) Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds or up to 60 seconds. Studies show that anything less than 15s won't make any significant difference in lengthening muscle fibres and tissue. Longer stretches will decrease stiffness and improve flexibility and but reduce strength, speed and power. (not a massive amount to worry about though)
2) Keep it specific to you, your goals, your sport, your needs. An example would be rugby players being able to get low down to make tackles, hit rucks and scrums. So stretching hips and ankles would be ideal.
3) Consistency! I try to stretch my targeted areas at least once a day in some way. Allowing time to stretch a day provides the muscles to stay flexible, mobile and robust which means we can maintain our ROM at joints. Naturally, if you are restricted, you should stretch more than once a day but spread it out over time, so you are gradually lengthening the muscles throughout the day and overtime not all in one go. I personally stretched 3x a day minimum when I hurt my back and kept moving around, I noticed changes a couple days and after a few weeks, I was back rebuilding my strength!
4) Use tools like voodoo bands, resistance bands, weights, pain pills and get creative! Resistance bands can add to the stretch further, making a deeper stretch and helping the joint move how it should. Voodoo bands are long rubber bands used for compressing muscles and joints to reduce swelling from injured tissue.
5) Focus on posture! From the side, it should be a straight line down from your ear, shoulders, hips and ankles. Having these correctly aligned will put you in the most optimal body position and help relieve you of muscle imbalances and aches and pains. Strengthen yourself in this position!
Areas of the Body we will be covering in the following volumes.
Ankles - did you know the strongest tendon in the body is the Achilles? - difficulty hitting depth in the squat your ankles could be the problem.
Knees - For the knee to work correctly, it relies on a perfect balance between hip and ankle support, so maybe your knee isn't the real issue?
Hips - There are 3 parts to your hips, the ilium, pubis and ischium. It’s not just one giant bone!
Spine - Your spinal collum includes 220 individual ligaments, and your spine is stronger than you think! It can sustain the weight and pressure of hundreds of kilos.
Shoulders - Your shoulder pain isn't a cause from benching, fix the posture, strengthen the rear delts and rhomboids stretch your chest and shoulders, and you can still carry on benching.
Elbow - Tennis elbow is one of the significant problems professionals see for this joint. Maybe you’ve got weak tendons?