May 1 2019 – Stretching

Here’s a question I get all the time – Should I stretch before or after my workouts?

This is a fairly complicated question actually, but the simple answer is YES.  Yes you should stretch before your workouts.  And yes you should stretch after your workouts.  But the approach for each of those stretching sessions should be very different.  Couple things we need to understand to really understand this topic:

1.  The difference between static vs active stretching
2.  Optimal Instantaneous Axis of Rotation
3.  Reciprocal Inhibition

Each movement you perform in any joint has an Optimal Instantaneous Axis of Rotation (OIAR).  The Instantaneous Axis of Rotation in any joint, during any movement, is the exact point in the joint that has zero velocity at a particular instant in time.  Each joint has a perfect anatomical point where this axis of rotation should be.  For that axis of rotation to be in that exact place at any time during any movement (optimal), there has to be a perfect synergy of forces acting on all sides of the joint throughout the movement.  If we can accomplish this during any movement, we can lay claim to having an Optimal Instantaneous Axis of Rotation.  This requires, basically, that all forces are equal and opposite at all times throughout any movement, and through any point in that movement’s range of motion.  If the muscles on the front side of a joint are tight and pulling the joint forward, you’ll have a less than optimal axis of rotation, and through no part of the range of motion will that axis of rotation be optimal.  Doing this repeatedly over time will create wear on portions of the anatomy within that joint, leading to breakdown over time.  So, we need to use our stretching regime to create synergy and balance between the muscles in any joint.

If the above scenario exists, in which a muscle on one side of a joint is chronically tight, we will always see the muscle on the opposite side of the joint become long.  One’s tight, while other is taught.  One’s short, while the other is long.  Like a guitar string.  Those strings are not tight (short), they’re pulled long (Taught).  This happens in our bodies all the time.  Tight muscles become excited, and taught muscles become inhibited.  The nervous system sends lots of tone to the tight ones, and turns off the information flow to the taught ones.  So, a tight muscle on one side of the joint can cause an inhibition of the muscles on the other side of the joint.  This is called a reciprocal inhibition.

So what to do??  If we have the presence of a reciprocal inhibition in any joint (we all do… its very typical), causing a less than optimal instantaneous axis of rotation through movement, causing long term structural damage to the joint, it’s worth fixing right?!?!  I would agree.  So, now to understand the difference between static vs dynamic stretches.

A static stretch is one that you’d hold for a period of time.  For example, reach for your toes and stretch your hamstring for 45 seconds.  A dynamic stretch is one where you’d move into and out of a range of motion somewhat quickly.  For example, floor swipes where you’d walk across a room and reach for the toes on your front foot on each step.  This way you get a short stretch to the hamstring on every step.  Both are stretches for the hamstring, but they accomplish very different things.  Static stretches are neurological inhibitors, while dynamic stretches are neurological exciters.  One puts the muscles to sleep, while the other wakes them up.

So, here’s the moral of the story.  Pre-workout you need to put to sleep the tight muscles and wake up the taught ones.  Static stretches for the tight ones and dynamic stretches for the taught ones.  Post workout you can then repeat the static stretches for those chronically tight muscles, and then layer that with some static stuff for the taught ones to ensure they properly cool down.

So now the question you need to answer is which muscles in your body are tight vs taught.  Its not hard to assess, but if you’re like most people it’ll be an easy guess.  Most people suffer from what we call upper and lower cross postures.  Basically, because we have a sitting culture, we’re all tight in the front of our hips, front of our chest, and low back.  We tend, therefore, to be weak and inhibited in the hamstrings and glutes, abdominal wall, external shoulder rotators and external hip rotators.  So without a big assessment, here’s a basic pre-workout stretch routine to find the Optimal in most people’s OIAR.

1.  Static Hip Flexor Stretches (couch or proposal)
2.  More static hip flexor stretches
3.  Static chest and internal shoulder rotator stretches (Scorpion is a good one to hit both the hip and chest together)
4. MacKenzie Press Ups to loosen through the core and foam roller T-Spine mobilizers to loosed the upper back and core
5. Floor swipes and soldier walks for the hamstrings
6.  Leg swings for the hamstrings and glutes
7.  Monster shuffles to wake up the glutes
8.  Banded shoulder external rotator movements to wake up the back of the shoulders
9.  Trap 3 Raises and banded shoulder blade retractions to wake up the upper back

In under ten minutes you can easily do the whole works of these plus a few other specific to your needs each day.  Of course everyone is different and any great stretching/mobilizing routine should be assessment based, but this is a basic starting point for many of us.  If you need someone to show you how to do any of these be sure to come in and let us help you out.


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