You may think you don’t have time to stretch, but do you have time to be injured? MAXIM fitness guru ALEXA TOWERSEY gives you the lowdown on mobility and flexibility…
Many lifters, especially the bullet-proof 20-somethings, associate any sort of stretching with skinny-fat cardio junkies or the patchouli-scented yoga scene, limiting them to the occasional biceps stretch in front of the mirror after a gruelling set of cable curls. Fortunately, momentum has started to swing back towards a more well-rounded approach, as more trainees realise that regular stretching can lead to bigger gains – heavier benches and stronger squats.
Chances are you will have heard of mobility AND flexibility, both buzzwords that are thrown around the fitness world. However, many people mistakenly use these terms interchangeably and although flexibility is a component of mobility, mobility and flexibility are different. Very simply, flexibility is the ability of a muscle(s) to passively lengthen while mobility is the ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion. Here’s why…
1. Improve Imbalances Between Sides: Just as we should be working to achieve a balance in strength from side-to-side, we should also be focusing to achieve balance in flexibility/mobility as well. Focus on the tight side on a 2:1 ratio.
2. Reduce Risk of Injury: If your right side is tighter than the left, then your body is going to compensate wherever it can. In a squat or a deadlift, this can mean shifting weight and overloading the lower back or hips on one side. Over time, this is a recipe for disaster.
3. Improved Firing of Muscles: A shortened muscle is going to cause poor posture, and the opposing muscle group is going to suffer from poor motor recruitment. If the hips are too tight, the glutes will struggle to turn on.
4. Improved Quality of Movement: Quite often you’ll hear people refer to the ability of various forms of stretching to increase the range of movement (ROM). The less energy you have to expend trying to fight your way through a movement pattern, the more effortless it will appear to be regardless of load.
Here are the three main ways you can start incorporating some lengthening alongside your strengthening. Choose one or all, depending on how much time you’re willing to invest.
Choose dynamic forms of stretching before a workout as static variations have been shown to “sedate” muscles, which is the last thing that you want. Make these efficient by performing movements that engage the most amount of musculature possible, and only hold each position for 3-5 seconds.
There is, in fact, something called “The World’s Greatest Stretch”. Take a big step forward with your right leg and drop down into a low lunge position, right elbow towards the ground. From there, take your right arm and reach forwards and then circle it up towards the ceiling (bicep by ear) while twisting towards the right leg. Repeat on the other side. Complete 3-5 reps on each leg.
THE WORKOUT: MOBILITY AND FLEXBILITY
Weight training can improve both mobility and flexibility if you balance agonists and antagonists, and train in full ROM. Think of it as loaded stretching. You only have to take a look at strength or power athletes in the bottom of their squat (i.e. throwers, weight lifters, gymnasts and wrestlers) to refute the concept of muscle-bound. Specific exercise selection can improve strength/length relationships. Flyes can open up the chest, Pullovers can lengthen and strengthen the lats, Bulgarian Split Squats can lengthen the hip flexors while strengthening the glutes, and Romanian Deadlifts can eccentrically lengthen the hamstrings.
Couple stretching of tight muscles with training of favorite or strong body parts. For instance, if your chest is strong and your calves are tight (a common scenario), stretch your calves between sets of bench presses.
At the end of a workout, both your core body temperature and your overall blood flow are at elevated levels. This is the perfect time to take advantage of this internal environment to increase your flexibility as muscles, tendons, and ligaments respond better at elevated temperatures. Hold static stretches from 30-90 seconds while maintaining optimal body alignment.
Flexibility peaks in the late afternoon or early evening. Research has shown that the best time to stretch is between 2:30-4:00 PM.
Breathe MOFO, breathe. Relax and experience a parasympathetic response by exhaling longer than inhaling. Keep in mind that the opposite, hyperventilation, will excite the system! Something to consider if you’re ever falling asleep behind the wheel!
FLEXIBLE BODY, FLEXIBLE MIND
When your body is so tight that you can barely move, your mind can start to take on those same patterns. A flexible body leads to improved blood flow, less injuries and increased range of motion. You have more freedom of movement. A flexible mind leads to less restrictive thinking, an enhanced ability to problem solve and adapt to any given situation and more freedom of choice. What can seem like an insurmountable problem for someone with a rigid mind, can look like an opportunity to someone more flexible. Why not start with your body, and your mind might just follow suit.