Do you ever see a lion limber up before it takes down a gazelle?
Quick, name that movie…
Most of us agree that stretching and mobility work before or after workouts are simply inconvenient add-ons… and annoying add-ons at that! But, as it turns out, this is a critical topic if we hope to be our best. So, in this article, I’d like to get into the issue of mobility and the benefits of focusing on it.
If you’ve begun the 40-Day Intentional Wellness Plan then you’ve likely noticed there are some traditional stretches sprinkled in with some positions that you may not have seen before (i.e. spiderman stretch).
Unfortunately, as your workout habits become ingrained, the act of warming up, mobilizing joints and muscles, and then cooling down after your workout soon become tedious. They quickly get watered down to a few arm waves, an occasional triceps stretch, and a quick leg shake to “loosen up,” and then it’s 3…2…1 go!
Asking for Trouble
Shamefully, I’ll admit this is the way that I’ve warmed up and still do occasionally, but we’re all setting ourselves up for injury, or at least a workout performance that has been drastically hindered by our own laziness.
Most of us skip this part because we don’t see the benefit. We don’t really care about what our knees and hips will feel like in 20 years because it’s not right in front of us. The truth is that if you begin to pay attention to mobility, it will increase your performance during workouts and enable you to function better in the daily grind… now!
Should I Stretch Cold or Warm?
I’m sure you’re familiar with the age old question, “Should I stretch before I work out when I’m cold, or after I’m warm?” But, this is the wrong question. Usually these stretches are just talking about muscle lengthening, and we don’t consider the joint positions that the muscles are supporting nearly enough.
When we think of stretching before a work out, what usually comes to mind is standing up with our legs straight, and bending over at the waist to try to get a stretch on the hamstring muscle group.
The problem with this position is the hamstring muscles are being contracted in order to keep us standing and thus cannot truly be stretched. We’re placing pressure and tension on our lower backs and on structures around our hamstrings, but the muscles themselves are in a state of work so they aren’t receiving the desired benefit.
Another way to illustrate this is to look at your bicep when it is fully flexed. Your bicep is engaged, totally contracted, and thus can’t be stretched in this position. It’s easy to see that it would be futile to try to gain a stretch in a fully contracted state.
What may not be as obvious is the fact that when you’re in weight bearing (standing), your muscles are under tension, being contracted, and thus cannot gain all the benefit from stretching as they would if they were unloaded (not being used to hold your body upright).
A New Perspective
With this new view on how our bodies can receive the most benefit from stretching and mobility, the outlook of our warm-ups needs to change to reflect joint position, neuromuscular control, and midline stabilization.
Our body is a complex system that has numerous components that affect each other, both when they’re working well and when they’re broken. I would suggest that most of us are broken… we’re driving on flat tires and we all think it’s normal.
Sure, you can still go places while the rubber shreds off and the rims get beat up, but just imagine how far we could go if there were air in our tires. We have broken systems and are inhibited in the positions that are needed to recruit the right musculature to perform functional movements effectively.
This results from various things like injury, but often comes from just sitting in a chair, hunched over all day. If we sit in a flexed position with a rounded back all day, then inevitably we’ll squat with a rounded back and pick up the 50 pound bag of dog food with a rounded back. Our daily performance and work output can improve dramatically when we get this piece of the puzzle right.
More to Come!
With this all said… the focus of our upcoming eBook will incorporate more instruction and focus on mobilization and mechanics in order to develop a solid foundation and help with our existing movement deficiencies.
Until then please continue with the stretching plan we’ve laid out in the Intentional Wellness eBook (that can be downloaded below this article). These introductory stretches and mobility exercises will equip you with a solid foundation.
Through a system of mobilization we can work to allow our bodies to express the strength that they actually possess instead of being inhibited by poor mechanics. It’s time to stop treating this part of our workout like an afterthought and focus on the details.
A lion may not limber up before it takes down a gazelle, but we can keep from moving like hippos by educating ourselves about mobility and making it an intentional part of our wellness plan.
Oh, by the way, the quote at the beginning of the article came from the cult classic Zombieland (which may or may not be your cup of tea… but it’s a classic quote used by those who hate to stretch)!