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Stretching, When and How to Implement It

I don’t know if you noticed, but on the Facebook page where I post links to articles I like, there were four posts all about flexibility, mobility and the value of stretching.

This wasn’t on purpose, maybe my own tightness’ were annoying me so I was attuned to articles popping up about stretching. I know I’ve had a few of my guys in the gym that I’ve been giving specific stretching advice to over the last week. Especially when it comes to internal rotation at the hip and thoracic extension in the spine. But that’s for another day.

Today then I want to offer some of my own thinking on some of the points raised in these articles. In doing so I hope to answer a few questions that have been thrown at me in response to the articles.

Now, I’m not saying I’m smarter than the authors, I just have my own opinions. Much of my opinions on the topic are based on me growing up immersed in the martial arts. Even now a huge proportion of my clientèle are involved in some form of martial art. So as much as I always disliked stretching, it is embroiled in me, it is part of my culture.

So what are these articles?

First of all, check the list of names contributing to this discussion, that’s a proper who’s who. It is Alwyn Cosgrove though that is closest to my own viewpoint, but he’s also a martial arts black belt, so that probably explains that. Jason Ferruggia also talks along similar lines to my own thinking. But reading other opinions, sometimes opposing opinions is extremely valuable.

Truth be told, upon rereading this it doesn’t tell me much new, it certainly doesn’t “dispel” any myths. What it does do is go some way to explain the science behind stretching, more in this in a while….

Now, I’m definitely not as smart as Grey Cook. I’m currently working through his “Movement” book and it’s seriously opening my mind.

No 4: This is 60 year old BJJ Black Belt and former world champion turned strength coach, Steve Maxwell. It’s not really an article, but it’s a video that asks a few questions of the viewer…

Now, there’s a stack of info there.

So what’s it all about? Are the scientists right? What about the anecdotal evidence? And did you see how strong, fluid and mobile Mr Maxwell is, even though he’s old enough to be your Dad? Can you move as freely as that?

Stretching works.

A lot of research carried out recently says it doesn’t (check Pubmed), but a few thousand generations of Yogi’s and Martial Artists say it does.

The truth is, it’s a tool, like everything else. Yes, you need to develop strength, yes you need speed and power. And yes you need mobility and flexibility. Steve Cotter talks about Strength and Flexibility as two sides of the same coin. In his mind they are complementary and should be trained in tandem. I think he’s onto something.

To start your workout, or even your day, you need mobility work. Call it Dynamic Range of Motion (DROM) or Joint Mobility or whatever, just systematically move through each joint in the body. Make sure to take in some basic movement patterns, such as the hip hinge and squat as well as the movements you’ll be using in your workout/sport.

Here’s an example:

or maybe a more flowing yoga based set:

Stretching is to be held for later in the day. I liked Jason Ferruggia’s take on this, stretching is best used several hours after training, but do take some time to stretch directly after training. Straight after a workout, I like my guys to get on the foam roller, usually we roll the areas just trained. Straight after rolling we stretch. Stretches are held for a minimum of 60 seconds. We may use contract-relax or PNF methods, but always hold statically for a period before releasing the stretch.

In the evenings, get on the floor in front of the TV and go through any problem areas. Hold stretches for longer, up to 5 mins per stretch. No, that’s not a typo, it actually reads five minutes, but two minutes and up is cool, as long as you register change. These stretches must be uncomfortable but never painful. Only go deeper when they become comfortable.

Regardless of what the scientists will tell you, this works. The static work I advocate was taught to me by Anne Dempsey, a very smart lady who teaches Yoga, Somatics and Pilates. Anne told me about Yin Yoga, a style fo yoga where poses are held between 2 to 5 minutes at a time. It;s very gentle and forgiving, yet incredibly effective at opening the body up.

So lets put this into a brief timeline:

AM and/or pre workout – Mobility

Post Workout – PNF / Contrast-Relax / Dynamic or Ballistic type stretching

Evening – Yin style static stretching

What stretches should you do? Stretch where ever you need it most, for most people I come across, thats the Quads, Hip Flexors, Piriformis and Pecs. I doubt your much different. I’m not!



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