Honestly? There isn't anything different in stretching for martial arts, or dance, or knife fighting. It's still a human body. Before anybody keyboard-warriors me to death. :-)
Conclusion of the shortest foreword in the world.
Happy Friday everybody. We're well and truly off the back of 'The Beast from the East 2.0' and storming ahead towards Easter. Summer bodies are dancing around the periphery of our minds, accompanied by the desire to achieve the ever revered status of being attractively callipygous.
What's that you say?
Adj. 1. callipygous - pertaining to or having finely developed buttocks; "the quest for the callipygian ideal" callipygian.
What a time to be alive.
To that end, I'd like to peel back the onion on stretching today.
Usually, I tend to ramble on with respect to the over prescription of stretching when one is faced with a given issue. It seems to be the 'Go-to' remedy for everything problematic.
"My hips are tight."
"Yeah, you need stretch them out."
"My back is always aching"
"Here, do these stretches."
"My ankle hurts"
"Do some stretches"
"A Sasquatch broke into my house and stole my bread maker"
As far as misunderstanding physiology goes, it borders on egregious.
For example, in the case of having chronically tight hip flexors, stretching them actually feeds the problem. Usually, it is a core dysfunction issue. Because the core musculature isn't adequately supporting the lumbar spine. The hip flexors - Which attach to L1-L5 - Will kick up a notch and hold tight. So as to offer subsidiary support.
Stretch as you might. You'll feed the problem, that is until you re-train your core to do it's job. Then those hip flexors will let go quite happily. Cool right?
That's some wizardry hocus pocus type stuff right there. Except, it isn't really, once you understand it.
Today however, I want to take the assumption that there is not an issue. I want to talk about the when/how of the different mobility/stretching modalities. As is most often found with people, you don't need the most fancy up-to-date stuff.
You just need to understand and master the basics :-)
I recently spoke to Physiotherapist Dan Buchanan of Go Perform - An awesome sports performance and rehab facility - On the matter. When I made a case for static stretching as part of a warm up being not only dated, by physiologically illogical.
Dan echoed my sentiments.
"I’d agree with your point on static stretching before Performance. I love the acronym RAMP : Release/Activate/Move/Peform"
I'm going to avoid getting too technical, I just want to deliver the real world/relatable implications of static stretching as part of a warm up. We should first understand what happens at a fundamental level when performing static stretches.
NB: I would like to ensure that the Release part of the equation isn't interpreted as stretching. Rather, some gentle mobility and foam rolling. That in itself should not be a ticket to spend nearly 30 minutes rolling around looking like a boy scout trying to start a fire.
It's a 5-10 minute, highly specific mobility/release drill which is tailored for you. Of which there is a distinct difference between mobility and flexibility work. Some of you need more of it, some of you actually need less.
Ultimately, the physiological adaptation we are seeking is to feel 'looser' ahead of a work out. And why not? That's why we do it. The physiological adaptation that actually happens is incongruent with the idea behind a warm up.
We want our warm ups to stimulate our muscles to perform optimally. We want neural drive happening, and we want to be strong. We want to pull off some blindfolded double back flips, and be ready to single handedly take on the Spartan warriors from 300.
You never know when they might show up...
You see. Static stretching effectively down regulates neural drive. In other words, desensitises the ability for the nerves to extract the maximum contraction potential of said muscles.
"Why do we wanna do that?"
It also subtly increases your risk of injury in high performance scenarios. Changing direction rapidly in a squash court? Well we sure as shit want our leg musculature firing properly so as to keep the hip, knee and ankle stable.
However, if you've gone balls out on external hip rotator stretches, then that doesn't bode well.
Moreover, if you have taken yourself through a full warm up, you've got a sweat on and the heart rate is up. Then you dive into 5-15 minutes of stretching? What happens? You cool back down.
All of which, is the best case assuming that the individual has stretched correctly. By that I mean they're not stretching to the point of excess tension, causing micro-tears and avulsions.
A sure fire way to cause the nervous system to restrict motion in response to micro-trauma. Excuse me while I go toss my face into a wall.
Which muscles need more attention for activation?
Well, as always within the scope of health and fitness. It depends. But that doesn't mean I can't provide a general overview of 'stuff to watch out for'
Let's first consider the norm. What do most people do all day? Sit down? Yuhuh. What do most people do in order to get to a training venue? Drive? Sit down? Yup.
Anybody drive standing up? A resounding no. I'm gonna reel off a list of musculature which is most likely shut down.
- Hip flexors (Sat in a short position)
- Glutes (Effectively massaged on the chair)
- External Hip rotators (Same as above)
- Lower Trapezius & Rhomboids (Scapular/Back muscles)
Generally speaking. These are the muscles we need to be concentrating on for activation. Don't get me wrong, you need to active everything. Though these deserve a little more hugs & kisses.
These bad boys being switched off, oftentimes will feed into limiting your hamstring range of motion. Check this out for the activation drill to utilise, plus a demonstration of improved ROM without stretching. So if you're looking to get your hamstrings to 'loosen off' Then this is your ticket.
Glutes/External Hip Rotators
To keep it simple, use this bad boy to get the glutes fired up properly. Frog Pumps by Bret Contreras AKA The Glute Guy.
Ever find that you constantly get little twangs and niggles around your shoulder blades, especially in punching sports? It could be a sign that these muscles are just a little weak and aren't pulling their weight.
Here's a two simple drills to get everything fired up here. Kettlebell Bottoms up and banded wall walks.
Kettlebell Bottoms Up - Eric Cressey
The relative instability of the KB, is what makes the shoulder musculature really fire up. Not just some of it as with a dumbbell, but all of it.
Banded Wall Walks - Tony Gentilcore
These also serve up as great exercises for promoting joint centration. Keeping the shoulder joint in the optimal spot, in other words.
If the surrounding muscles fire, and this happens to be imbalanced. Pulling the ball of the shoulder into slightly awkward positions. (usually forward, the pecs overpowering the back) That is what can make a shoulder dislocation seem so... unexpected given the relatively low force applied.
If the joint is centrated, however. It can tolerate much higher loads without injury or hinderance. Good that.
Finishing it off.
I think the overarching point of todays diatribe is this. Save the static stretches for the end of a training session.
If ultimately you're looking to increase your resting range of motion over time, then it should be just that. The long game. As opposed to trying to wrestle an extra 5% out of your body right now.
We should be focusing on perhaps the shorter muscles in the bank. (Usually hamstrings, chest, quads) That leaves you with a warm up which is not only more effective, but safer and smarter.
Yours in health and fitness