Gettin’ Loose

Jake Articles

We work our bodies hard. We lift heavy, run fast, and do a little bit of everything in between – some of us 5-6 days a week. Progress is being made, times are dropping, weights are going up. So what’s the issue? The issues is that if you’ve been training with us for awhile, you likely aren’t satisfied with “just” completing the workout on the board that day. You’re looking to improve your performance even more; to move more efficiently, recover more readily, and avoid the injuries that haunt the overworked and underprepared. To readily and efficiently perform the movements that we do on a frequent basis, you must able to actively attain certain positions that the movements we do require.

If every time you get down into a deadlift position, you’re unable to maintain a lumbar arch, you’ll wind up with at the very least an overworked back, if not one day an injured one. If you can barely extend your arms overhead, how to you plan on locking out your bodyweight or more? And, if you can barely get your elbows in front of the bar when doing clean, you’ll wind up with sore, if not injured wrists.

We do all we can to work around ROM (range of motion) issues while you’re training with us, but just like nutrition, a large part of the battle must be completed under your own willpower. That’s why we need to understand flexibility, mobility, and how to increase them, and how they apply to your workouts.

What is Flexibility and Mobility?

Passive-static flexibility, is the maximum ROM that can be produced by external force acting on the joint, without injury. On the other hand, Dynamic Flexibility, sometimes called mobility, is the ROM during active movements, and requires active muscle action. For us, our active flexibility and mobility is much more important, because we’re concerned with range of motion in the movements we perform every day. But, passive flexibility provides us a safety cushion if we are ever stretched past the normal positions of a movement, and both have a place in our training.

How do you increase ROM?

The primary ways we increase ROM is through either structural changes to the muscle, or changing the neuromuscular processes that control muscular tension and length. Both methods have a place in your training, but at different times and for different reasons.

Static Stretching

Most of us are accustomed with static stretching, which primarily influences our static-passive flexibility through structural changes to the muscle and connective tissue. This is your typical gym fare of maintaining certain positions for 15 to 30 seconds at a time which pushes slightly past our comfortable ROM. However, static stretching has some serious drawbacks when performed before training. Static stretching has the potential to decrease force production (http://www.nsca-lift.org/HotTopic/download/Stretching%20Force%20Production.pdf), and has not been shown to actually decrease the risk of injury (http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Abstract/2000/02000/A_randomized_trial_of_preexercise_stretching_for.4.aspx).

PNF Stretching

Another option to improve static flexibility is PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) stretching, which effects how your nervous system controls muscle length and tension. PNF stretching is performed by alternating active muscle contraction against an external force and relaxing the muscle for a static stretch. However, passive flexibility alone is not adequate in ensuring that you have the ability to perform the movements we use on a regular basis. For that, we need to look at methods for developing dynamic flexibility.

Dyanamic Stretching

Since dynamic flexibility is essentially performing movements through the full range of motion, we’ll need to develop it to really help improve our training performance. We can improve dynamic flexibility through dynamic stretching and a diligent effort to increase ROM while performing movements in your workouts. Dynamic stretching mimics movement patterns and ROM used during sport-specific movements. Think arm/leg swings, lunges, high knees, and similar movements. Dynamic stretching raises core temperature, increases muscle length, and prepares the nervous system for more vigorous activity. Better yet, while static stretching decreases power output, dynamic stretching has been shown to increase it (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18076260). Sound like we’ve got a winner for a warm-up stretching activity!

Lastly, your flexibility can and will improve by simply paying attention to your movements, and working hard to actively attain the fullest ROM possible while training. Quite often, we break out the PVC and someone with a bodyweight-plus press cracks a joke about doing presses with a PVC. As we start doing reps during instruction, I try to get you guys pushing past your comfortable ROM – getting your abs tight instead of hyperextending your lumbar spine, bring the bar a little closer to true overhead, and getting your shoulders in a more active position. In a sense, we’re performing dynamic and active-static stretches. If you consistently put in the same effort, you will improve the flexibility needed to help your workouts. Arch your back on deadlifts, drop deep on squats, and fight for a good overhead position.

Summary

Do dynamic stretching before your workouts, static stretching afterward or as a different session, and don’t be lazy about full ROM in your workouts. You’ll be a better athlete for it.