Everybody understands that flexibility is closely related to physical performance. What most people don’t understand is that simply being more flexible isn’t always better, and furthermore that simple flexibility may not be what limits you from getting into the position you want to be in. Coach Kat takes a deeper look at stretching and whether or not it is the cure to your ills.
By Kat Girard
The other day, someone said this: “Kat, everything hurts and I feel really tight, should I stretch?” At first I thought about flashing the shirt I was wearing under my sweatshirt which read “No One Cares Go Harder”. I almost did, but then my brain said: “why does it hurt? is it because there’s an instability in a nearby joint? Is it because there’s some acute trauma from a recent WOD or weekend DIY job? Is it because this person is crazy tight and just asked their body to do things it wasn’t presently capable of?” Point is, there’s options. Their muscle could be in need of some stretching. Maybe. In order to know what it needs you must first understand what the problem is. It’s just like having a pet, or a child, or something that is dependent on you to do what it needs.
Here’s an example. When I get home from work, my cat starts meowing, loud. Anyone who’s met my cat immediately says or at least thinks: “Dang, what does your cat NEED?”
Good question. Damned if I know. She needs something. It could be food, or to go outside, or she could be in need of some serious snuggle time, I have to figure out what she needs before I can respond appropriately, and after paying attention to her for quite a few years I can often respond appropriately. Likewise, the body is telling you it’s tight for a reason.
So, what’s the reason already? Well, just like it’s taken me years to understand what’s up with my cat, it’s takes an ongoing relationship with your body to understand what it needs. Its needs could range from simply needing a day off so your para-sympathetic system can become more dominant, or it could need some serious soft tissue TLC. The tightness may also be the result of an ongoing dysfunction (like instability) where the tissue is tired of compensating and is telling you so- it just depends. And honestly, our bodies always have something to say and listening to it will always help. Ignoring it never works. Staying active in a way where your not in any more pain is a good way to not help the situation but at least not make it worse. Aside from all that, here’s something you should ask yourself.
How long has it been hurting? This could be days, weeks, months, or years. Sometimes it’s hard to realize how long you’ve truly been in pain and compensating in movement. If that’s the case, maybe you genuinely don’t know! So here’s the next things to think of: How limited is your joint ROM above or below the pain site? In the end, limited joint range is a reliable culprit for compensatory actions in the surrounding musculature. If your limited ROM has only been around a few weeks or maybe months, doing some soft tissue work in the fibrotic tissue will definitely be helpful. (You know, the body is amazingly adaptive, anything you ask it to do it WILL do. If you have limited ROM in a joint but continue to do movements beyonds that joint’s current capability, your tissue will have to adapt to uneven pressures and as a result lay down extra collagen or scar tissue as an automatic reaction to stress and strain.) Basically you need to have a general idea of what the problem is before you can formulate a solution. However long it’s been hurting, soft tissue work will be a part of the answer.
I generally like to do things that help so I will do this and suggest others do it. However it’s important to note that the soft tissue work may not be offering long term changes. Basically your nervous system needs to integrate the lengthened tissue so it you use the new material. So once you loosen up an area you need to take that joint through it’s intended ROM. If there’s a lessening of pain you know you’re on the right track. But it is important to note that not all soft tissue work is made equal.
For example, when people roll on foam rollers before a workout because they are told it helps break up tissue, that may not be totally true although it does offer immediate pain reduction. This is because your mechanoreceptors will respond favorably to the pressure stimulus and as a result you’ll experience an analgesic affect, or a lessening of pain. However using a lacrosse ball does operate more as myofascial release which suggests more lasting results. There’s also a caveat here: basically the “myo” in myofascial reverse to the deeper fascia that wraps around your actual muscles as opposed to the superficial fascia that connects your skin to your anatomy. In other words just laying on something won’t really break up the layers of fascia that are deeper. So again, once you do your soft tissue work you have to take your joint through it’s proper ROM
As exercisers and trainees, we ask a lot of our bodies. It’s therefore important (even imperative) to listen to the pain signals that your body is telling you. You should have a regular soft tissue routine you do for your body based on the movements you plan on taking it through in your workout. I would also suggest if you have problem areas you address those in regular intervals throughout the day. It may seem like a lot on top of what you already do, but if you find what works for you, you can be employ time economy.
Hopefully this article was illuminating for some of you, I know I learned more about my body in the quest to write it. We really do ask a lot from our bodies and having an individualized soft tissue routine based on your current movement abilities is extremely important, otherwise you could be doing more harm than good in your workouts! When you workout especially in a WOD, it’s easy to put our heads down and drag our bodies through the work. Don’t let this happen to you! Notice how your body feels, and when it cries out to you via pain signals, listen to what it’s saying. And always ask “why”.
A1: Back Squat @20×1; 4 x 1.1.1; rest 1 minute
A2: Strict Pull-Up; 4 x 2-3; rest 3 minutes
A1: Jumping Squats; 3 x 15; rest 30 sec
A2: KB Sumo DL High Pull; 3 x 12-15; rest 30 sec
A3: Single Leg RDL @3111; 3 x 10-12 per leg; rest 30 sec
A4: Single Arm Push Press; 3 x 10-12 per arm; rest 30 sec
For Time (5 Minute Cap)
20 KB Swings
15 Wall Balls
10 High Box Jumps
Rest 2 Minutes
A: 70/53; 20/14; 30/24
B: 53/35; 16/10; 30/24
C: 35/26; 14/10; 24/20