Stretching Wrong? – Sun 8.27.17
If you have never been to a CrossFit training course, they are really good. But the CrossFit Journal gives out a ton of information (for little money) that can get you by and improve your fitness. Like this article on stretching
For 15 years, former gymnast Jon Levell has been a coach in a sport that demands the range of motion of a contortionist.
Levell, a coach at CrossFit by Overload in Murrieta, California, knows about flexibility training but still sought out more education at the inaugural CrossFit Workshop: Flexibility. Led by Adrian Bozman—also head judge for the CrossFit Games—the first workshop was held in June at CrossFit Humanity in San Diego, California.
Levell said he’s glad he decided to attend.
“The biggest takeaway I got from the course is that there are different types of stretching and different intensity levels of stretching, and you need to know when you should use each method,” Levell said. “There are times to do passive stretching and times to do really intense stretching. For example, you don’t necessarily want to do an intense stretch after a double Grace.”
Bozman, a former gymnast and the creator of the one-day workshop, said the course is designed to teach people how flexibility relates to a CrossFit athlete’s overall development.
“A lot of people have their niche—the thing they think is the most important corner of fitness—so this workshop tries to present something that fits into the bigger picture. It’s not a magic bullet, but it will supplement what people are already doing,” Bozman said.
“I want people to understand about how being more flexible fits into overall fitness.”
Many CrossFit athletes don’t actually understand the concept of functional flexibility. A lot of athletes believe they just need to stretch all the time, and they lack focus when they do it, Bozman said.
“People think more is better: Work on it to infinity—but this might not support the other goals they have,” he explained.
Instead, Bozman said flexibility training is much like strength or endurance training: It’s just one piece of the puzzle, and it requires some structure.
“It’s like anything else, where there becomes a point where focusing more time on developing that one attribute will eventually become a detriment to other attributes, the same as developing strength or power,” he said.
“And eventually, just like (gaining) strength, you’ll get to the point where the returns won’t be as immediate. That being said, you can make progress pretty quickly if you’re smart about it. That’s where most people go wrong: They don’t know how to structure (flexibility work) in their training.”
In a program that focuses on general physical preparedness (GPP), useful flexibility is key, Bozman said.
“Most people don’t think about how they want to use their flexibility. Context is important for you to display a range of motion. Being flexible is one thing, but you need to be able to display that range of motion under load or at speed, for example,” he explained.
The workshop is designed to help participants learn:
• How much flexibility is necessary for increased fitness.
• How the nervous system influences an athlete’s ability to display range of motion.
• How to use foundational CrossFit movements to spot range-of-motion deficiencies.
• How to develop daily pre-workout, post-workout and standalone sessions for flexibility training.
Bozman uses both lectures and practical application to teach attendees about the various types of stretching and how to incorporate them into a GPP program. Attendees learn about static stretching, dynamic stretching, joint rotations, loaded stretching and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF or contract/relax) stretching, as well as when and why to use each method. All techniques are useful at the right times, Bozman explained, and that insight resonated with Levell.
“You shouldn’t accidentally have a hard stretching session at the end of a workout. You should plan for it in your program, just like anything else we do,” Levell said.
In short, static stretching means holding a position for a period of time. It’s typically most effective after a workout or when done in a dedicated stretching session. It’s the kind of stretching everyone thinks of first, but it’s not necessarily the most effective.
“Static stretching is more of a recovery tool than a range-of-motion builder,” Bozman said.
Dynamic stretching and joint rotations—moving a joint through full range of motion with minimal loading or stretching—are more effective prior to a workout or first thing in the morning.
“Joint rotations should be done daily,” Bozman said.
While static and dynamic stretching are familiar to most people, loaded stretching and PNF stretching are new to many, Bozman said.
Loaded stretching involves work close to the end range of motion. The isometric variation involves using an external object or gravity to amplify a stretch while an athlete holds a position near the limits of flexibility—an overhead squat with a narrow grip on a piece of PVC or a bar, for example. The in-motion variation involves holding a position near the limits of flexibility, contracting the stretched muscles to come out of the stretch, then going deeper—using a mobility band to create dorsiflexion, pointing the toes (plantarflexion), then moving into deeper dorsiflexion, for example.
PNF stretching can be very intense. It involves using a partner or external object to move a joint close to its end range of motion before the athlete contracts against the resistance for about 10 seconds. Once the contraction is complete, the athlete relaxes and moves into a deeper stretch.
All three variations improve strength at the end range of motion, which is very important for functional movement. Consider the benefits of strength in the bottom of a heavy overhead squat, for example. When the body is strong at the end range of motion, the nervous system becomes used to the position and is more likely to allow an athlete to enter it without a stretch reflex in the future. These neurological adaptations are critical to flexibility even though most people relate flexibility only to muscle length.
“I had never done PNF stretching before,” Levell said. “I’ve done a lot of hyper stretching and passive stretching, but PNF in short bursts can give quick returns. There’s a lot of science behind it, and a lot of athletes use it because of the adaptation benefits that go with it. Learning about it was probably one of the most valuable things to me.”
The Big Picture: Total Fitness
“Many (courses) that deal with flexibility or stretching are self-serving and are only interested in that,” Bozman said.
He doesn’t want athletes to become more flexible just for the sake of becoming more flexible. The ultimate goal is becoming fitter and more functional through optimal flexibility, Bozman explained.
“This workshop is about how it fits into the bigger picture. And whether you’re an athlete or a coach, I think everyone can get something out of it.”