Take your stretches before exercise to the next level.
Static stretching is the type of stretching I have done for years, before and after every workout, and maybe you have as well. It consists of holding a single position for some length of time, usually a maximum of 30-45 seconds, without moving. While every fitness expert agrees that muscles should be warmed up before exercise, static stretching alone is not the way to do it. Research is showing that not only can static stretching alone be detrimental (we’re not as strong, it slows us down and can weaken us), but it does not help us avoid injuries. We do need a warmup before exercising – one that raises our heart rate, raises our body temperature and activates our muscles. Experts are agreeing that static stretching with muscle activation stretching is the best way to prepare for a workout.
Marco Antunez, an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, co-founded Total Body Performance Fitness and Wellness. He explains here why he incorporates Muscle Activation Stretching in his fitness training:
Flexibility and mobility exercises are integral forms of movement in all workout regiments. Some of the most popular exercise programs such as Barre, Yoga, and Pilates use many of the flexibility and mobility principles in their globally known routines. One form of stretching often overlooked yet equally as important is the relationship between strength training through muscle activation and flexibility.
One misconception of muscular tightness, particularly postural and under activated musculature is the over-reliance of static/dynamic stretching to loosen up muscles. Flexibility of muscle tissue can be enhanced by activating the muscle’s antagonist (for example- contracting the glutes or hip extensors will stretch the hip flexors in front of the hips; thus, the glute extensors are the antagonist of the hip flexors).
Try it yourself!
Lie on your stomach with your knee bent.
Raise your leg by squeezing your glutes, and you should feel a stretch in front of your hip. By performing this exercise you are stretching while strengthening/activating your glutes. One set of 10 repetitions(5 each side)holding 5-10 seconds each side is ideal.
Core and abdominal activation has been known to improve overall flexibility and mobility even for trouble areas. Several studies have been conducted to test this theory. One example is Datta, S. et al (2014) Effects of Core Strengthening on Cardiovascular Fitness, Flexibility, and Strength on Patients with Low Back Pain from the Journal of Novel Physiotherapies. In the study, participants with various low back pathologies were put in two groups: one which performed little to no core activation but did perform basic stretches and the experimental group who strengthened their core with various stability and core activation exercises from planks to bridging to crunches. Their conclusion was the experimental group’s abdominal strength improved muscle coordination, increased blood supply, and strength to allow for more flexibility.
Dynamic stretching prior to exercise improves overall workout biomechanics and performance while greatly reducing injury. However, combining core exercises with dynamic stretching/mobility exercises will improve preparation of the body through muscle activation.
Performing a sit up/crunch and adding a lumbar rotation stretch at the end of the crunch is an example. Two sets of 10 repetitions (5 each side) holding the stretch for 3-5 seconds is ideal. After the stretch, descend slowly to the floor.
Mobility training for areas of the body often tight while activating muscles that are generally weak is a win-win.
To conclude, tightness may require more than just stretching. In many cases the tightness experienced is caused by muscle and joint weakness and the inability to move freely through range of motion. Often when clients experience restricted mobility, we implement in our program muscle pulsing and oscillation techniques to loosen up the restricted joint to allow for free mobilization. By performing strength training at the limit of joint movement, we are able to obtain more range of motion while activating muscles.