Archive for the ‘Flexibility’ Category

Allow me a moment to describe the training session you’re being instructed to partake in at your local gym…

1. Warm-up (skipping, jogging, sprinting for about 3 seconds, sit-ups, press-ups, swinging your arms in circles, rotating your neck and circling your hips – also the mating dance of middle-aged women, Tony Little and Richard Simmons)
2. Exercise (Zumba, step, uncertified kettlebell instruction, spin or something with “TM” after the name)
3. Warm down (walk around, swing your arms in circles, rotate your neck, circle your hips…)
4. Warm down stretching (reaching for your toes with your back horribly curved, lying on your side and pulling your heel to your ass, spreading your legs wide and flopping from side to side, reaching high and more toe touching)

I won’t harrass about Zumba, step or spin – exercise is exercise and I’m a fan of anything that gets people out of the house and moving around. Fads are fads, but the majority of exercise fads (as long as they’re not dietary) tend to do some good. People feel better, people look better and people ARE better. My issue with this is the long-time standard for stretching/flexibility/warming up and down: dynamic pre-exercise, static post-exercise…

I don’t disagree with dynamic warm-ups. Static stretching (holding stretched positions) warm-ups can cause injuries and they don’t prepare you for the active task that is exercise – dynamic (moving, by the way) stretches do.

Static stretching post-exercise has been trademark for a long time now – it promotes muscle relaxation and is recommended so that you don’t tighten up after the session. However, I’ve found over the years, and I rarely find disagreement, that people who stretch statically after exercise get more muscle pain the day after exercise than not stretching off at all. It’s thought that it’s because you’re stretching micro-tears in your muscle that are formed during strenuous exercise – which are a good thing, do not panic.

So what can you do? Static stretching will hurt you the next day done post-exercise, it isn’t safe pre-exercise, but you want to work on your flexibility and avoid becoming a tin-man. The answer is PNF stretching.

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PNF Stretching

PNF stretching (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) is a highly effective way of gaing flexibility quickly and improving your strength in the muscularly stretched phase of movement (the very beginning of your concentric, muscle shortening, movement) where people are at their weakest. PNF stretching has also been found to reduce pain the following day.

Quick note: The pain I’m discussing is often called DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. You’ve all had it, I promise.

PNF stretching is done by stretching statically, as deep as you can go, until your muscle relaxes. You then tense the muscle you’re trying to stretch for a period of 5-15 seconds. When you relax, you’ll amaze yourself. That limit you’ve never passed before, you’ll instantly best…be it an inch or a centimetre, you’ll go deeper into the stretch. Ensure that after you release the tension, you don’t stop stretching – you gently stretch the target muscle (as far as it can comfortably go) and wait for that stretching feeling to lift before tensing again.You do this repeatedly until you stop gaining depth at which point you hold the stretch, statically, for 40-60s.

Don’t believe me? Try it!

There are numerous different approaches – using a partner, using a wall, tensing for longer/shorter – but what is certain is that there are flexibility AND strength gains from this method of stretching. The following video is an instructional on a method of hamstring/groin PNF stretcing.

You’ll also find that gaining flexibility in a PNF fashion will result in more permanent gains – it improves your flexibility 24 hours a day, not just after a warm-up.

When should you use PNF stretching? POST-WORKOUT. PNF stretching pre-workout isn’t recommended for injury purposes.

What I’m getting at here is pretty simple – ditch your static stretching post workout and get PNF’ing. You’ll see benefits far beyond that which you could currently achieve on a static programme.

For anyone confused about Isometric/PNF stretching, PNF is just isometric stretching with a static stretch phase.

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If you’re extremely inflexible or just want to improve upon the flexibility you do have, do this and feel the benefits:

WAKE – Dynamic stretching

EVENING – Dynamic stretching

POST-WORKOUT – PNF stretching

(Morning stretching is the most important – it removes adhesions in your body’s connective tissue that build up over time, the real reason old people are immobile)

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Myofascial Release

Only a short note on this at the moment, but it is entirely relevant in flexibility. If you have DOMS, take hard things (tennis balls, foam roller, pipes) and roll them over your sore bits. It’s agony, but will get you back training quicker and allow for better flexibility gains. You’re essentially rubbing out what you called “knots” as a kid.

Imagine your muscle is a rope and in the centre there is a knot – the hard bits you feel in your legs in the days following training – “DOMS”. If you pull the rope (stretch it) you just make the knot tighter. Untie the knot (roll hard things over it) and THEN pull the rope (stretch) and you’ll lengthen out the rope (get the full, safe, benefit of your flexibility routine).

Below is a video on the matter – volume down though, that vacuum is a killer.


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Summary points –

– Dynamic stretching BEFORE exercise
– PNF stretching AFTER exercise
– Stretch dynamically as often as you can
– If it’s taxing movement, I’m a fan!

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