Stretching has become very controversial over the years. Some coaches believe in it some don’t; some think it should be at the beginning, some at the end of a workout. Some believe in static stretching other think it is worthless and could cause injury. My philosophy is simple and scientifically based. It consists of 3 phases; foam rolling, static stretching (yes, static stretching) then dynamic movement. Each phase will be listed below with explanations.
First, what is a foam roller? A foam roller is just what it sounds like; a roll made up of high-density foam. The sizes and densities range depending on what you are looking for. It is also a “poor man’s massage therapist.” It allows the masses to get the benefit of muscle soreness or soft tissue work for a fraction of the cost that you would pay for a massage therapist.
Now that you have a better understanding of what it is now how do you use it? In the stretching process a foam roller comes first (although, you can use it throughout the workout and at the end but it is best in the beginning). It comes first because it helps to elevate trigger points by creating a myofacial release or a muscle release of your soft tissue and helps to create some positive blood flow and oxygen to the body. For example, if you were to take a rubber band and tie a knot in it, which would represent the trigger point, and then tried to pull the band to stretch it, it could only go so far because of the knot. Once the knot is released it is much easier to stretch the band to its maximum length. The same applies to a muscle since our muscles are elastic. In addition, because of the rolling process and motion, it creates blood flow to the areas in which it is rolling. Blood flow brings with it needed oxygen for the muscles to function.
In this phase of stretching, you will experience some bittersweet moments. You will find and hit muscles that are extremely sore and tender or painful. As a result of rolling you will also experience semi or complete relief of the discomfort you once had. The foam roller is meant to prepare you and your muscles for static stretching.
Controversy, controversy, controversy! Static stretching has been a subject of debate for quite some time. Some are in favor of it some are not. Some debate whether to do it in the beginning or at the end of a workout. As debates surface I have my own philosophy of it. It comes second in the stretching process because after the foam roller has decreased the density of the muscle, a static hold it used to help elongate the muscle. It has been said that stretching a warm muscle will only lead to the return of length of that muscle, but if stretched when cold it has the ability to elongate to a new length. A couple rules to remember:
Positioning is everything. Mike Boyle likes to say that people like to look they are stretching rather than really stretching. A little discomfort is a sign of the right position. Pain is not. Pain is never a good sign.
Stretch all areas. Don’t just focus on the ones that you like the most or are the best at. In fact, spend more time on the areas that are weaker or more difficult. Hit major areas like glutes, adductors, and hip flexors.
Use different techniques. We move and are required to move in all directions and planes of motion. Why not stretch the same way? For example, stand upright and put one foot out in front of you with your toe pointing toward the ceiling. Staying “tall” lean forward from your hips moving back and forth in a controlled motion. Then, staying “tall” shift your weight from side to side. Picture your head going from 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock, with your hips following. Lastly, rotate around the down foot with your HIPS. You will be tempted to use your upper body to think you are rotating but your really not. By performing all three motions you are stretching your hamstring in all planes of motion.
The bottom line is stretching is undervalued and underused. If added to the program it will help to give longevity and health to your body and functionality. After you static stretch you need to finalize the process with a dynamic warm up.
Similar to how you practice going into buildings to fight fires or take down a suspect, you need to practice how you will move before you actually move. Dynamic movement is used a precursor to your intense movements. By performing dynamic movements you allow your body to get ready for the days workout with specific movements that target the day’s major movers. So if you are doing squats, then your dynamic movement would focus on the hip flexors and quads with some minor focus on your glutes. In addition, dynamic movement increases your heart rate, blood flow and oxygen intake. Therefore when you start to perform more intense movements you will take your body from 0-60mph in a split second. You have now prepared your body to get to 60mph with out difficulty. As a result of that, muscles pulls, strains or injury is greatly reduced due to your preparation. I started to call it movement preparation because of Mark Verstegen. Mark has an incredible way of stating the obvious and sounding smart at the same time, which he is!
The process is the same everyday! Foam roll, static stretch and movement preparation. If followed, you will not only reduce injuries but you will move and feel better.
A video will follow shortly.