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Why should you move better?
As we talk about in our blog ‘Training for Tomorrow‘, whether you’re office-bound, work outside or a domestic engineer (stay-at-home parent) or simply like to play sports at the weekend, functional training involves exercises designed to train and develop your muscles to make it easier and safer to perform everyday activities that you might do at work, at home, or in your chosen sport.
Examples included an ordinary squat as a functional exercise because it trains the muscles needed to rise up and down, perhaps from a chair or to pick something up from the floor. So too, multidirectional lunges help prepare your body for common activities, such as vacuuming and gardening. In any of these scenarios, mobility plays a huge part.
To understand mobility requires first understanding the difference between mobility and flexibility. These terms are often interchanged merely as a result of ignorance.
There are many, many different positions that experts take when it comes to mobility and flexibility (pun intended). But let’s think about it in practical, real-life terms because that’s where we, the Everyday Athletes of the world, operate.
As discussed with The Bay Games‘ Head of Programming, Will Henke, I’m not a fan of stretching for the sake of stretching and Will shares that belief. But that’s not to say it’s bad, it just has its place.
Let’s use an example of a back squat. Let’s assume that Person A can perform a perfect back squat. The integrity of their spine is maintained and they have a range of motion that allows them into a controlled descent to the bottom of the squat without their hips curling underneath them.
In this example, repeated excessive stretching could, over time, reduce the elasticity of the affected muscles’ ability to contract as effectively and therefore hinder Person A’s back squat.
But most Everyday Athletes spend infinitely more time sitting at a desk than they do trying to master the back squat. This has certainly been my reality. And the likelihood of this is, among other things, that your hamstrings are going to shorten as a result of extended periods in a seated position. So stretching in this case, to counteract the impact of sitting and to elongate the muscle, is likely worthwhile.
The main point here is to understand why you’re stretching or why you’re working on mobility, and which area of the body receives your attention.
Now, this is not to say that you shouldn’t warm up. You definitely should. But your warm up should be thought of as muscle activation that primes your body, or a part of it, for a specific movement or activity. Activating and progressively loading specific muscle groups is really important to help avoid injury and to help achieve optimal outcomes.
Imagine you’re going to go for a run. Do you think holding a static stretch of the hamstrings for a few minutes is priming the muscle groups you are about to use better than an active walk and jog warm up?
The same principle applies at the end of your training. What you should be aiming for at that stage is the best and fastest recovery you can achieve. Like in business, we should always try to employ the most efficient, effective version of something to achieve the best results.
So, to figure out what the best recovery looks like, we should first understand what recovery is.
You have no doubt experienced pain or soreness in your muscles when training and most likely, after training. Sometimes, this soreness can last for a few days, something known as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
There are a couple of likely reasons for this pain and soreness. The first is a build up of lactic acid, something that naturally accumulates during intense exercise — it’s almost like a burning sensation. The second is because high-intensity exercise can cause tiny, microscopic tears in your muscle fibres. Your body’s natural and protective response to this increased inflammation.
In both cases, the best form of recovery is to flush the lactic acid and other toxins out your muscles while simultaneously providing a lovely fresh supply of oxygenated blood to your muscles.
So what is the most efficient and effective way to provide recovery to your body in this case? A static stretch hold or moving your body?
As an example, Mat lock, author of this blog likes to spin his legs on the bike after a hard session for 20-30 minutes rather than do any sort of static stretching. It’s just at a conversational pace — almost no effort — but he’s allowing the blood to be pushed around my body, importing oxygen and exporting toxins.
For those of you reading this who are shaking your head and tutting. To be clear, we’re not demonising stretching. Part of Will’s approach to coaching is to understand what makes any one of his athletes feel good. He wouldn’t tell someone not to stretch. If it’s not causing any pain and not detrimental to their training, go wild. If you like sitting on a foam roller, do it. If it has a positive effect on your muscle or your mind, it’s a good thing.
Just be sure to consider the priming and recovery elements we’ve just talked about in addition to, not instead of, stretching.
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