I am not qualified for the latter and want to avoid the former. The information here is what I have learned from Grant McKechnie, the owner and primary physiologist of Ballarat Sports and Exercise Rehabilitation Centre. He has helped me with a lot of niggling issues and is more than qualified to provide accurate and safe advice on body movement. This article is not designed to replace his expertise but to give a good indication on what is required.
To give a bit more background on Grant he is a former rower, currently rehabs people not only in a large variety of sports but also aged people and accident victims to allow them to move again. He has prevented surgeries with detailed rehab plans and is the strength and conditioning consultant for the professional fight team at Infinite Mixed Martial Arts. In short, he knows his stuff.
Grant could fill volumes with his knowledge in this area, and he may do so eventually. What I want to stress is that the below information is my interpretation of that expert knowledge. So with that disclaimer out of the way, lets get to the content.
Stretching has a multitude of benefits but the greatest in my mind is injury prevention. If your body can naturally bend at odd angles and certain extremes you are less likely to pull a muscle or over extend in a painful manner. All sports have key movements to excel and they differ wildly but share the same basic principles.
- There are two basic types of stretch: static and dynamic. Static stretches are where you increase your stretch maximum, are usually taken to your current extreme range and held for a period of time. Dynamic stretches are made in motion and should be part of a warm up to get the blood flowing and get you ready to train.
- You need to be completely warm before you start static stretching, dynamic stretches are usually done cold. Generally you should be sweating profusely to static stretch. Cold muscles can snap and tear when sent to their extreme range. Hot muscles are malleable and can easily take the stress.
- Just like a hard training session a stretch should be built up in phases. Going straight for your maximum range isn't a good idea. This is especially important as you get older. Start with a comfortable position at the point the stretch starts to pull. Hold for around 10 to 20 seconds and push it out to half way between your max stretch and previous position. Hold for a further 10 to 20 seconds before going to maximum. Ease back a little if the pain gets too high. You may need 10 phases before reaching your current full stretch, or you may only need 1. Your body is unique in its history and requirements so listen to it and adjust accordingly.
- To make gains a static stretch should be held for long periods but if just starting out you need to build it up over months. If you currently have poor flexibility a 5 second static stretch might be enough. At the other extreme you might need a 90 second hold to get any benefit. As your stretch improves increase the time you hold it by a few seconds.
- You should also work down in phases. After holding the maximum stretch ease off in intervals so the muscle doesn't go from maximum to minimum in a second.
- If you feel you are cooling down too much warm back up with 20 quick star jumps or a handful of burpees in between stretches. Complete the current one first, warm back up if necessary and move onto the next.
- Ensure you stretch at multiple angles. Just stretching your hamstring with a straight leg directly in front won't suffice. You also need to roll the knee to the outside and inside and perform the same stretch at the different angle. This will give a better range of motion and ensure your body can absorb the stress at all possible positions.
|Dynamic stretch to warm up|
- your neck side to side, up and down and in circles
- shoulders side to side and forward to back
- chest ie pecs forward shoulders back
- elbow and wrist rotations
- limber up fingers
- waist rotations ie torso twist
- hip rotations
- knee rotations and bends
- ankle rotations
- your back forward and back
|Remember to breathe|
If you can't arrive early due to work or other commitments then fit in a basic pre-warm up while you are changing into your gym clothes. It's better than nothing.
Let me know in the comments about any strategies or techniques you use for your own warm up and cool downs.