- Re-activating and strengthening the gluteal muscles
- Shoulder instability and rotator cuff issues
- Boost the natural release of anabolic hormones
- Training for power and speed
- Exercise groups in-depth
- Conditioning for golf
- Core training part I: Inner and outer unit
- Effective and safe supplements
- Flexibility/mobility in-depth
- Planes of motion
- Weight loss workouts
- Core training part II: a functional approach
By Bram Swinnen
Benefits of flexibility
Flexibility allows an athlete to move more freely in a greater range of motion. A flexible athlete moves with ease and is more mobile on the court. This will also benefit skill training and dexterity.
Appropriate flexibility also enables the athlete to accelerate over a wider range of motion, enhancing speed and explosiveness.
Most sports are unilaterally dominant and have an unbalancing effect on the body. The wear and tear of practicing the same drills over and over again can cause muscles to shorten. Muscles can tighten up as a result of trauma, to protect the body from moving into a position of vulnerability. Weak stabiliser muscles can lead to a compensation pattern in which prime movers tighten up to help stabilise the joint. Regular stretching can help to prevent these disparities, really contributing to the longevity of the athlete’s career.
Despite the benefits of flexibility, flexibility training is the most undervalued component of sports conditioning.
Static stretching before a workout is counterproductive
For years athletes have been stretching statically before a workout to enhance performance and prevent injuries.
Research however shows that static stretching reduces the athlete’s strength and power output for up to an hour after the stretch. Research also challenges the premise that static stretching before sports performance decreases the risk of injury. Static stretching reduces eccentric strength for 60 minutes following the stretch. Eccentric strength enables the athlete to decelerate movements. A poor ability to control deceleration has a high correlation with injury.
Dynamic flexibility enhances performance and prevents injuries
An active warm-up that consists of dynamic flexibility exercises prepares the athlete more effectively to compete or workout.
Dynamic flexibility exercises are performed with gradually augmenting reach and speed, to lengthen the muscles. The constant motion increases blood and oxygen flow to the muscles, activates the nervous system and maintains body temperature, effectively preparing the body to workout.
During a static stretching routine, the muscles will relax, through the activation of the Golgi tendon organs, and body temperature will lower.
Research also shows that teams that integrate dynamic flexibility into their warm-up suffer fewer injuries than teams that stretch statically.
There are very few sports where achieving static flexibility is a key to success. Performing sport skills in their full range of motion requires dynamic flexibility.
Static and dynamic flexibility stress different stretch receptors
Research shows low correlations between dynamic and static flexibility. Muscle length is only one part of the equation.
Dynamic activities such as sport skills performed in their full range of motion use the dynamic stretch receptors (the muscle spindles) to limit flexibility. The muscle spindles monitor force and speed and are activated during dynamic lengthening of the muscle. When a muscle moves to its end of reach, muscle spindles will cause the muscle to contract through feedback to the brain, limiting dynamic flexibility.
Static and dynamic flexibility stress different stretch receptors. Static stretching activates the static stretch receptor located in the muscle tendon (the Golgi tendon organs) that monitors the magnitude of force, resulting in muscle relaxation.
The SAID principle (specific adaptations to imposed demands) states that to express fluidness of motion and sport-specific flexibility, dynamic stretches that resemble the activity of sports, need to form part of the warm-up.
The more challenging dynamic flexibility exercises also enhance coordination, balance and stability.
Hurdle mobility drills
Hurdle mobility drills are another great way to warm up, giving you plenty of bang for the buck.
These dynamic drills prepare the body to work out, elongate the muscles and enhance core strength, single-leg stability and balance.
Hurdle mobility drills are also very effective to enhance hip rotational mobility and strength. Hip rotation plays an important role in many sports. A lack of rotation at the hips results in compensation patterns that compromise performance and increases the strain on the body.
Passing under the hurdles promotes lower spine flexion and loosens up the lower back muscles. As a result of training habits, wear and tear on the body and bad posture, the spine can lose mobility. One of those common restrictions in range of motion of the spine is lower spine flexion.
Static stretching after a workout
Although research shows that a static stretching routine has no place in the warm-up, there is still much data to support the benefits of static stretching after a workout.