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Stretching and Mobility

There are lots of different techniques of stretching; am going to discuss static, dynamic and long held poses.

Stretching "the application of force to musculotendinous structures in order to achieve a change in their length, usually for the purposes of improving joint range of motion, reducing stiffness or soreness, or preparing for an activity.” (Armiger P and Martyn MA. Stretching for Functional Flexibility. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010)

Static Hamstring stretch

Static stretching

Benefit of Static Stretching

  • Static stretches show benefits to the muscle-tendon unit and reduced neural excitability which increase flexbility

  • Static stretching increases parasympathetic nervous system which is the activity nervous system that promotes relaxation of the whole body.

  • After Static Stretches there is an increasing blood flow, oxygenation and velocity of red blood cell to muscles

There a large debate regarding warm up and static stretches. Static stretches were always part of a warm up but growing research suggest that pre exercise static stretches can reduce force production, power output, running speed, reaction time and strength endurance.

Now when you are a top athlete this would very much make the difference on your performance but as people that enjoy sport/exercise if you did a static quad stretch before a workout and sure you will still feel some benefit.

But if you do static stretches before exercise then why not try instead the movement of the stretch instead, not holding for 15 - 20secs but moving through the movement. See if that stiffness, tightness reduces.

The principles of a warm up should be warming up the body (dynamic), and preparing for exercise

Static stretches still have their place but I would suggest after a work out, as part of your cool down.

Dynamic Stretches

Dynamic Stretches (Movement Stretches)

A warm up is taking your body through range of motion preparing the body for exercise ahead.

Ideally we should be doing a warm up which includes warming up the body, increasing heart rate, core temperature. dynamic stretching (movement stretches) and sports specific exercises

For example if you are going to the gym to do weights......

Warming up the body with rower or treadmill, hamstring kicks, hips opening, air squats, then doing light weight to mimic the exercise ahead.

Running we should be doing some hip opening movements, high knees, heel kicks to warm up the body before you first km.

A warm up is designed to

  • Mentally prepare the body for exercise

  • Physical prepare the body for the exercise ahead, increasing blood flow, muscle temperature, core temperature

  • As an Injury prevention

  • Enhance performance

Long Held poses

Static stretches can be held up to 1 minute, most are held for 20-30 secs but once we go past the 1-2 minutes studies show that we are mostly effecting the connective tissue "fascia" which is the matrix network that connects each structure to the next.

Fascial restrictions

Every organ, muscle and bone in our bodies is formed by a framework of sponge like material called connective tissue.

Holding stretches for 2-5 mins that creates a gentle traction on the connective tissue (myofascial tissue) creating a phase change in its fluids which results in a lengthening of the tissue and a feeling of ease. In long held pose we are trying to stimulate the tissue without muscle strain, causing stimulation to the joints, muscles ligaments and bones. In yoga it would be a form of Yin yoga or Restorative yoga.

Long held Poses/Yin Yoga

What is mobility?

The word mobility? " the ability to move freely"

Techniques using foam rollers, massage balls or techniques of joint mobility, soft tissue mobilisations. "self" treatment to improve you mobility.

There lots of techniques out there but let's focus on the foam roller....

Foam Roller

Foam rolling is relatively a "new thing" but what does it do? Why use them? and when do you use them?

In the early 1920s Moshe Fledenkrais (a physicist and martial artist) first started using foam rollers as a body supports and standing balance work. His theories was to improve human functioning by increasing self-awareness through movement.

In 1987 a physical therapist and one of Fledenkrais students started using foam rollers as a self massage tool. The word spread to Broadway dancers and later foam rolling become popular in the weight lifting community , aiming to reduce aching muscles and improve gym performance.

In 2004 the first foam roller patent registered in the USA and this kicked the foam rolling business into overdrive.

When I finished my studied in 2008 in Scotland and working for a professional football team, foam rolling wasn't used but few years later they were in every gym and sports shop across the country. "Mobility" was in trend.

What does foam rolling do?

One of the issue is we are not sure how foam rolling works on the body. Some say that it releasing tension from the soft connective tissue "fascia" that form the matrix around the entire body - muscles, bones, organs and nerves. Increases blood flow and having a similar effect as deep tissue massage; the deep compression relaxes the tissue.

Researches have become sceptical and think the amount of compression on the tissue is perhaps having more of an effect on the nervous system rather on the connective tissue.

From my experience the deep compression of foam rolling does have an effect on the tissue, many clients have come in with rock solid quads and a week of foam rolling, can feel the tissue is more mobile and softer. It does seem to show change.

The limited research on foam rolling does claim it increase performance, flexibility and recovery after exercises.

When the best time to foam roll?

In the gym setting: Foam roll where you feel restriction after your warm up

After your cool down, if you were aware of feel the lower back during your long run, then foam roll the quads, lower hip flexors, hamstrings and gluteals which all affect the lower back. Then roll your lower back last.

If after sitting in the car too long or slept funny in bed then try foam rolling or using a mobility ball in the area, to help release.

If you feel stiffness in your legs when running then maybe foam rolling regularly for a few week is needed.

If it doesn't relieve after a few times/days seek a professional therapist's advice as sometimes where you are feeling the pain isn't always the place where it need released. There is also some musculoskeletal conditions that can be irritated by foam rolling.

Hope you enjoyed the blog, I am a sports massage therapist working from Queen Street Physiotherapy, Auckland.


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