Athletic performance is so much more than strength, power, speed, and endurance. Performance is also largely determined by your mobility, flexibility, and your ability to stay balanced and stable throughout all of your range of motion.
For some reason, mobility and flexibility get pushed to the wayside. When we are pressed for time, it is our stretching exercises and activities that get left out. But what if your ability to lift, push, pull, and power through your movements with strength and speed actually improved if you simply took an extra 30 minutes a week to focus on stretching?
Imagine how much more you could squat if you had enough range of motion of your hip and ankles to get to a full depth position. Or imagine how more efficient your sprint could be if you had adequate hip extension to push off through your trailing leg to power your forwards. Mobility and flexibility are very important and trainable aspects of fitness. Without you cannot unlock your full potential.
Facts About Stretching
Despite the fact that we often ignore it, stretching will improve your flexibility, assist in improving your mobility, and overall gives you more range of motion. At this point, you might be wondering, isn’t flexibility and mobility the same thing?
Flexibility is the ability to move through a range of motion. As you stretch, your muscles get accustomed to lengthened positions, decreasing their protective response. Stretching can improve your flexibility by increasing the size and length of your muscle fibers. ¹ Having a good amount of flexibility of your muscles is important to ensure that you are moving with good mechanics, balance, and coordination.
Mobility is the ability to have control, or strength, of your body as you move through your range of motion. The word stability is paired with mobility. If you have large ranges of motions of your limbs and joints but not enough strength to control the motion, then you don’t have stability. It is a lack of stability with your mobility that can lead to injury. Conversely, a lack of mobility can also lead to injury or poorer movements and performance.
Working on your flexibility may seem daunting, as though it will take weeks, months, or years to make any improvements. While this may be true for long term improvements, we actually have the ability to improve our flexibility immediately after stretching, even for just a few minutes.
Stretching exercises teaches our brain and the protective responses, the stretch reflex of our muscle, that the movement we are stretching into is not actually dangerous or harmful. ² ³
However, by being consistent with stretching, you will be able to make and maintain gains in flexibility.
Working on your mobility is different from your flexibility.
People tend to use external devices such as foam rollers, lacrosse balls, superbands, or trainers to help move their joints, not just their muscles, into more and more range of motion. With these movements, we are typically using our muscles to help move into these ranges, allowing us to load our mobility, also improving the stability.
Stability is key here. After you have worked on your mobility, for best results, perform exercises that load and strengthen into these new ranges of motion. For example, foam roller mid back extension, then go into a row type of exercise. This will help you gain stability into your new ranges of mobilty!
MythBusters- Static vs. Dynamic Stretching
For years there has been a debate about whether athletes should perform static or dynamic stretching prior to training or competing. Is one better than the other?
Static stretching = holding a stretch for a prolonged period of time, over 15 seconds.
Dynamic stretching = smoothly and continuously moving in and out of a range of motion without holding for any length of time.
Static stretching has been found to decrease performance when performed before exercise or competition. Dynamic stretching has been found to be a better warm up. But, if you have adequate time before your workout, static stretching can be performed with at least 10 minutes of dynamic stretching afterwards.
If you are pressed on time, focus on dynamic stretching prior to a workout or event and keep your stretching for your cool down or for active recovery days.
But, do not skip out all together on your static stretching! Aim for 5 minutes of stretching per week for each major muscle group. Hold stretches for at least 15 seconds, but no more than 60 seconds. ⁴
And remember, stretching is not just for your flexibility, but it also is proven to improve muscular strength and performance. ⁵ ⁶
It does so by:
Increasing your muscle size and length ¹
Allowing you to move deeper into all of your exercises and movements
Using more and more muscle fibers as you move into deeper ranges of motion, stimulating increased release of muscle building hormones
Challenging your core and stability muscles as you work hard to stay balanced in the stretch position
Helping you recover faster from hard workouts ⁷ ⁸
By reducing your risk of being sidelined by an injury ⁸ ⁹
What about mobility? Less research is out there on mobility specific activities. Many things can fall into this category, including what we mentioned above, also yoga and dynamic stretching can be considered mobility.
What is most important is to realize that range of motion and performance is not only dictated by muscle flexibility but also by the ability of your joints, including your spine to move. So, although research is not yet conclusive, don’t skip out on this, work on dynamic stretching prior to exercise, foam roll tight areas and keep those joints moving and strong!
At Elite Performance, our coaches and trainers are well educated, experienced, and equipped to help you improve your mobility, flexibility, and ultimately your performance. Don’t let areas of tightness hold you back!