How to Stretch and When
Most platforms that are designed to improve your mobility encourage static flexibility. Other programs encourage what I call, ‘sexy mobility.’ This name is derived from the 50 Shades of Grey like usage of resistance bands, barbells, couches, and more. Movement with stretching, or dynamic flexibility, can be very effective and is often underutilized. I've found you can really improve capsular stiffness in a joint with a little rhythmic rotation added in. And simple efforts can often yield more specific results as opposed to the 15 min assembly and application of a more sexy one. sexy, Today, we’ll discuss static and dynamic stretching. We will wrap this entry up with a little discussion on timing that might strike a nerve with some purists.
Static stretching is simple. All you do is lengthen a muscle as much as you can, and hold it in place for a period of time. Most research supports holding a static stretch for 30 seconds to 60 seconds before throwing in the towel. Since we previously established a test and retest policy in a previous blog post, I support holding for this amount of time and continuing to repeat the process until you no longer see a benefit. Some words of caution, you should be able to breath through a stretch, and you shouldn't have a pain face. If you are struggling, you aren't stretching. Also, holding for 4+ minutes won’t result in a better outcome. Instead, I suggest that you hold for 30-60 seconds; if you retest and it is better, continue. This time when you go into the stretch, you may find that you can go further, further than a 4 minute hold would allow.
An important point to consider: you don’t need to need to know exactly what is the source of the issue as long as your retest yields positive results after performing a specific stretching. Sometimes you can't actively raise your leg well because your hamstring is tight. Sometimes the opposite leg’s hip flexor is tight. And sometimes your core is just weak. Stop assuming you have tight achilles tendons. Maybe they are tight because your hips are weak, and they are stressing out your ankles. You don't have to know why that makes sense. It's beyond the scope of this entry. As long as you test and retest, you will know if you should keep stretching or if you should try the next idea.
Dynamic stretching isn’t difficult. It's extremely common in organized sports. East Stroudsburg University’s Track and Field team does a great job of static and dynamic stretching before competing. I spent a good bit of time watching the sprinters warm up before their meets. Leg kicks, fire hydrants, and stringing the two together make for great hip flexibility work. I love looking at right shoulder rotation vs left shoulder rotation, right hip rotation vs let hip rotation, and right thoracic rotation vs left thoracic rotation, and then finding dynamic stretches that improve the movements that were limited. The list of dynamic stretches is endless. Again, if you test, and retest, you can't wrong. Knowing that dynamic stretches exist is half of the battle.
One of the most common questions we receive is whether or not you should stretch before or after working out. As McKenna would say, “It depends.” And that's the truth. It's also true that long static stretches will weaken you for very short periods of time. For that reason I like the idea of restoring your normal range of motion before lifting and trying to find new ranges of motion after. You also have to keep in mind that as you add new flexibility to your body, your body will have to figure out what to do with it. You will have to convince your body that the range of motion is good. It'll have to learn how to use it. Or it will just stiffen and reject the change in flexibility. That's why I don't encourage aggressive stretching before skill movements. That being said, if you are so uncommonly inflexible that you won't be able to lift if you don't aggressively stretch before you being, then by all means stretch away. Stretch between lifts, if it helps. Like I said: it really does all depend. This will take some experimentation. Just remember to test and retest.
Next week we will dive into activation techniques for inhibited muscles. You've rolled out those “knots,” and you've stretched out hypertonic muscles with static and dynamic flexibility exercises. Now it's time to wake back up those muscles that couldn't do their jobs. I suppose I will have to talk more about that weak core making your hamstrings look tight concept. OK. Next week.
Post from the Mobility Doc!
John Giacalone holds his doctorate in chiropractic. He is certified as a level 2 USAW coach and has competed as a weightlifter. John has competed at 85kg, and more recently 77kg, where he qualified for the American Open in 2015. John's best snatch is currently 121kg, and clean and jerk at 1451g. John's additional certifications include CSCS, USATF1, FMS, SFMA, CFL1, CF Mobility, CF Weightlifting, and NASM CES.