I often go to gyms and train, and I tend to keep my head down and earphones on. Why?
Normally as I look around I will often see people training incorrectly, doing stretches when they don’t need to, doing things that will compromise their health whether musculoskeletal and/or general health, like a newbie doing a high intensity class with no assessments and no knowledge of that individual! I’ve also seen some awesome PT’s where I live in Milton Keynes as well…just for balance 🙂
I see bro-science, poor fitness magazine adaptions to exercise and generally people doing what they think is correct because of an ‘fitness influencer’ on social media or I saw a PT do this!
All of this goes on whilst the Personal Trainers all just go about their business or the class instructor targets the people they like.
This isn’t a blog specifically about the amateur nature of fitness professionals that I see and my internal monologue of ‘why don’t they help these people’? Maybe they don’t see it! One of the main reasons for starting the academy 🙂
This is about one of those areas that people don’t really understand or the flip side of the coin is some PT’s make this too complicated.
Stretching Vs mobility
What’s the difference?
Mobility refers to the joint…you mobilise joints
Generally you have 5 grades of mobilisation…so straight away you can imagine that just going at it in the gym could be good or bad!
Grade 1 and 2 generally are really low intensity and small movement just from your normal range (resting position). So imagine you were going to mobilise the ankle.
Go into a calf stretch and just stop short of that stretch, now perform a small oscillating movement (opposite leg gently goes back and forth) and this would be enough to stimulate the Parcinian Corpuscles (nerves). These are superficial and provide the nervous system with regards to joint position. When you gently stimulate these you can coax the nervous system to give you more. Worth knowing that it’s your nervous system holding onto that range of motion and nothing else.
Here is how to complete that stretch
When I treat people this is very effective if you want to increase range of motion in somebody with an injury, I will for example take the ankle into a stretch just before the pain is felt and mobilise and this will then allow me to take it into a deeper pain free position.
But lets say your a runner and you have a slight niggle this would be the perfect start point, to give you some more range to allow movement.
As you get more intense you need to find the point of bind (the point you can feel the stretch) but don’t force it then start to drive your opposite leg, (see YouTube link above)
As the intensity increases (not by much) you aiming for a grade 3 mobilisation which is a relatively large movement, and rhythmical in nature and will give you more range by not only stimulating the nerves but also stretch the joint capsule. Sometimes the joint capsule around every synovial joint can become sticky due to how we use it or misuse it, which can inhibit joint movement and function. See video link previous!
Only in treatment with a patient and/or a suitable qualified manual Therapist would you do a grade 5 which is normally one almighty thrust which will stimulate the Golgi Tendon Organs which inhibit soft tissue and give you more range…not suitable before training etc.
So in conclusion to mobility it should be gentle and pain free designed to give you more range of motion in a joint. It comes with a warning
Do you need that extra range of motion?
Having too much range in a joint is just as bad as not enough both result in injury. Range of motion too small then great stability but increase torque through joint as it can’t dissipate forces (tendinopathy etc). Then too much mobility and the joint is weak and you’ll probably tear something (ligament and tendon).
I would recommend getting checked out by a qualified professional, or read a bit more around the subject. There is a good book called the Supple Leopard by Kelly Starett.
Stretching…Where to begin?
Stretching is over rated, yes I just said that!
Stretching has not been shown to reduce injury or improve performance. You will find that it’s belief and bias toward stretching that believe this such as in Yoga…But if you think Yoga is about stretching then I recommend you go and study Yoga as it’s not stretching!
It’s crucial to understand that a ‘tight muscle’ is secondary to weakness! Muscles do not suddenly get tight for the sake of it. The nervous system will wind the muscle up if it feels there is a perceived weakness. For example hamstrings will normally get tight due to either a previous injury and the fascia keeps going into a protective like spasm, or your spine/core are compromised so your hamstrings will tighten to secure your hips against your knee, and you want to stretch your hamstrings and compromise your spine????
Stretching (holding for over 15 seconds) will stimulate the Golgi tendon organs to give you more length in that soft tissue such as hamstring. Probably best that you don’t ask a muscle or soft tissue to relax just before squats and running etc. Not good! People still keep doing it because they believe that they will prevent injury. This will only change if the PT’s out there and Therapists start to educate their clients.
What are the pro’s of stretching?
Static stretching will also help re-hydrate that area in-between the multiple layers of fascia, there by increase range of motion hours after, as the compressive nature of static stretching forces water out of the areas and then it gets drawn back in like a tide going out and coming in. This then allows the layers of fascia to glide over each other easier.
Another huge benefit that I would use static stretching for is to stimulate the para-sympathetic nervous system (your relaxation, recovery response). when you get stressed the adrenaline (nor epinephrine) binds to the muscle spindles in the muscle (muscle spindles increase the readiness of the muscle). Static stretching and this is where Yoga really works, is that it stimulates the para-sympathetic response and allows the adrenaline to separate from the spindles and you feel that melting, relaxing response!
So stretching statically is good?
The issues with stretching stem from how its used. For example we just looked at the more static stretching which is where you hold it. Dynamic stretching on the other hand is used to enhance a state of readiness in the activity you are going to do. The top tip is whatever movement you will do start with small slow movement and gradually move to bigger range of motion to faster.
For example you are going to complete a training session and your first exercise is a squat. You will start with a small squat as if you’re just initiating the movement and over the course of 20 reps you should be in the deepest squat you can be.
So here is the biggest issue in stretching (In my opinion, others may disagree). In fascia and in muscle bellies etc. You can get what people commonly refer to as knots. These are acute areas of sensitivity that cause restriction.
Imagine a flat bit of paper (fascia), it’s smooth, and you just crumple up a little bit of the paper toward the edge. Watch what happens to the rest of the paper, it gets distorted, so that area of acute sensitivity now causes disfunction on the whole of that fascia.
Muscles work with fascia and fascia works in slings/chains etc. That one dysfunction now has a knock on affect to the other areas and so on.
Now imagin your muscle underneath that fascia and picture your muscle as a rope with a loose knot within it. If you pull both ends of that rope (stretch) does that knot disappear or get worse?
It gets worse as it tightens!
This is where your Manual Therapist can get hold of these areas which are referred to as trigger points and de-activate them. One way that you can help yourself that would be more affective is to use the foam roller.
Using the foam roller you would roll to the point of tenderness and hold until it starts to go (should take 10 seconds), if it doesn’t then move on. Do this as many times as you need.
Do you want to improve mobility and function?
Here’s the steps and questions you will need to do and ask.
Do I need to mobilise?
- When I do any movement such as running or weight lifting do I feel a restriction?
- Do I have any niggles?
- If yes then perform a low level grade 1-2 mobilisation (watch out on our YouTube channel for mobility movements…So subscribe 🙂
Do I need to stretch?
- Is it after a workout/long stressful day/first thing in the morning but not before exercise?
- If you answered yes then go for it.
- Don’t force the stretch. Go to the point you can feel it and hold for 45 seconds to 2 minutes
In conclusion stretching and mobility just like any other form of movement such as weight lifting or running. You probably would not just go and run as hard and fast as you can or lift weights with little information. Mobility and stretching is just the same.
Why am I stretching? Why am I mobilising? What do I hope to get out of this? Is this correct? Is there another way? These are questions you should just ask yourself, a bit of reflective practice goes a long way.
Thank you for reading this blog and I hope it makes sense to you.
For further information on this or you think you want to learn and apply this and much more then why not become a Personal Trainer? We have weekend courses in Milton Keynes, and coming soon Bristol, Brighton, Manchester and Birmingham.