One of the greatest debates in athletic history has to be the whether or not stretching is beneficial. I remember when I was in school the latestand greatest technique was bouncing into the stretch, it was part of – not before the warm up and feeling the burn was a good thing. The more the better.
So what are the leaders in the field now saying about stretching? Let’s take a deeper look into it and find out 5 essential things you should know about stretching and mobility.
Stretching, or more accurately, static stretching, is aimed to increase the length of muscle/s in the area or joint that you provide force into. The understanding was that if you stretched before and after workouts you would prevent and even eliminate injuries, muscle soreness and improve performance.
Research in these areas has been conflicted in its findings, and after decades of people stretching and injuries still being a common occurrence, the question was asked if there was a better way.
Enter ‘mobility’ which is proving to be the answer to preventing injuries and unlocking the potential of human movement and performance. So tip number 1 – stop stretching and switch your thinking to mobility.
Mobility in this context refers to how well the body performs to its functional capacity. Bad mobility and you will be underperforming and prone to injuries. On the flip side having good mobility will mean smooth efficient movement and lower risks of injury.
So how do we achieve good mobility? If the intention is to prepare the body for movement and increase the functional capacity of a certain area of the body, then mobility applies in two main areas. The i) warm up and ii) maintenance, out-of-workout sessions to help achieve the bodies full performance capacity.
Kelly Starrett, a former elite-level athlete, hybrid coach, physical therapist, author and CrossFit instructor, believes that opting for mobility prep over stretching is the key to hacking the body’s mechanics. Therefore, instead of static stretching, Starrett favors a “movement-based integrated full-body approach, which addresses all the elements that limit movement and performance.”
The mobility warm up concept focuses on dynamic activities that are similar to the movements that you will be performing in the upcoming session. If you are about to perform an Olympic lifting session, go running or surfing. Bodyweight exercises that mimic these movements will get your heart rate, muscles and joints ready for the activity.
Additional to this, Mobility maintenance work focuses on increasing the functional capacity of a joint for the desired movement pattern. For example, if your ankles are stiff and do not function well then squatting with correct technique will be all but impossible. Mobility maintenance work will improve this and accordingly your athletic performance. Some dedicated time and energy needs to be invested usually outside of workouts, but even 5 min a day will get you some results. A variety of tools and aids can be used to help with mobility work, we will discuss these below.
3. Get the Gear
Going through a range of dynamic and functional movements as a warm up protocol can be performed with body weight only; and let’s not forget making them fun. You don’t need a gym or any fancy equipment so get creative and come up with a mix that will suit your needs.
Increasing the mobility of muscles and joints on the other hand can be more effective when using a couple of different tools a mobility maintenance techniques.
Kelly Starrett, arguably the guru on mobility suggests two lacrosse (or hard tennis balls) taped together, a thick resistance band and foam roller or 10cm diameter PVC pipe is all you need to get started. Using these tools you can roll out, massage and use traction to start to free up sore, tight and knotted up muscles.
When muscles are not in their optimal condition they work against the others around them which provide unnecessary friction and resistance to efficient and effective movement. The product of the mobility maintenance sessions are muscles that function unimpeded and to their true capacity.
4. Make it activity specific
Living busy lives means that many of us are time poor and why it is really important to be time and activity focused in your mobility development. With unlimited time we could focus on every joint of the body and become the ultimate mobility guru. But there has to be a cost benefit approach to your time you put into the areas that will provide the greatest return.
Now being generally strong and mobile in all areas of the body is a good thing. For example runners still need to make sure that their core and upper body don’t crumble when the pressure is on. So a holistic approach needs to factor into your mobility program however, in the runner example a focus on the mid and lower areas of the body would be recommended.
So take a look at what are the primary movement patterns in your chosen sport or activity, do some research into what mobility exercises are going to improve your performance.
5. Assess and Incorporate into your Daily routine
The beauty of this type of mobility work is that results are immediate. Lets take an example of the squat movement in the gym. Test your range of motion prior to doing any mobility maintenance work, then highlight an area you feel might be limiting you – calves, quads or glutes for example. Using some of the tools mentioned above roll, traction or work these areas. Re-test the squat and you will find yourself in a much better position and performing the movement better that before. Great!
Mobility should be regularly performed as part your overall health and fitness regime. Maintenance is as important if not more important than the session you are about to do. Essentially looking after the goose to ensure you continue to produce golden eggs. Through continued practice you will learn a huge amount about your body and how to tune it to perform at its full capacity.
Just 10 minutes a day of mobility maintenance work and switching out your stretching for dynamic, functional warm up routines will see you performing at your best and injury free. Enjoy!
Michael Perry is a passionate endurance athlete and a pursuer of optimal nutrition.He has completed 5 ironman triathlons with a best of 10:07, many half ironman and short course triathlons. His vision is to share and inspire health through high quality nutrition and has created Tao Nutrition a natural protein superfood to help athletes and health conscious achieve this. Tao Nutrition is packed full of high quality ingredients to accelerate recovery and superfoods like maca, acai berry, kale, beetroot, chia and cacao to provide all of your antioxidant and micronutrient needs. You can find out more about Michael and Tao Nutrition click here.