Stretching and Mobility: Pre or Post Workout?

For Merrill, may her hip impingement rest in peace

So much stretching, so little time.

I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way. Some days I get to the gym a little later than I planned because that meeting or that phone call lasted a little longer than it was supposed to, or traffic was particularly brutal that day, or maybe I’m just one of those people who take forever to get myself ready. Either way, something is now going to pay the price, but will it be my warm up, my workout, or my cool down? And I’ll be honest, some days my warm up/stretching/mobilization takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. I know some of you right now are thinking, well that’s just crazy, I only have an hour to get the whole thing done, not just stretch. Believe me, on the list of things I fully understand this is at the top, which is why I try to do most of my stretching and mobilizing in my down time. ‘Try’ being the operative word. The best advice is to do your best to stay on top of your stretching and mobilizing as frequently as possible so that you can just do a quick stretch and warm-up, and then start your routine. But as we all know this isn’t always the way it happens, so let’s go over some general information so you have a good place to start.

Let’s break down a few key terms so there’s no confusion. Particularly mobilization, or mobs, as some people will call them. In general mobilizing basically means to gather together all the forces at your disposal in order to accomplish a task. A general would mobilize his army in order to go to battle successfully. While the concept of mobilizing your joints and muscles in order to do an exercise is somewhat different than going into battle, the ultimate goal is going to be the same; for the task to be accomplished successfully. The more adept you are at mobilizing effectively, with thought and purpose, the more likely you are to have a successful campaign.

With exercise, mobilization basically means to get your muscles all working together in a state where they are activated and able to shorten and lengthen without compensation in their intended range. This translates to your joints being able to move comfortably and without impingement through their intended range of motion so that, for example, you can successfully execute a squat. In a squat you want your hips, hamstrings, quads, calves, and glutes all activated and moving properly in order to avoid the joints connected to those muscles being pulled out of position. Side note: if you’re barbell back squatting you also need your shoulders and back mobile in order to get your arms to the bar behind your head otherwise you’ll end up arching your back to get there and not know why.

Another side note to stretching and mobilizing; try thinking of it like this: the muscle’s natural response to being challenged is to tighten up, and as you challenge it more and more through your workout all that tension is eventually going to cause it to fatigue. That’s the end of your workout. Now if you start your workout with tight muscles that’s like starting at a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. You now have from 5 to 10 to get in whatever work you can, get stronger, burn calories, etc. But if you stretch beforehand and get yourself down to a 2 or 1, then you can get much more work done and calories burned because you have all the way from 1 to 10 before you hit fatigue.

Now, there are all kinds of ways and means to stretch and mobilize, and almost all of them will depend on what’s personally going on with each of us individually. It would take a lot of time to go over all of the stretching and mobilizing techniques that exist. What we can do instead is come up with a good way to self diagnose the problem areas in order to then figure out what stretching and mobilizations you should focus on.

One of the simplest methods is to focus on the specific exercise you’re going to be working on that day. Almost all of the exercises we do will break down into two distinct positions, your start position and your finish position. Without worrying about the movement between the two or any weight involved just put yourself into both of those positions. Can you stabilize yourself in both places? If you can’t then forget about the movement between the two and focus on the problems you have in those positions. Let’s look at squat. The start position for your squat is standing up in your braced position, neutral hips, foot to hip socket engaged with the floor (if you don’t know what your bracing position is please research or contact us for a free consultation). Your finish position for squat is loaded up glutes and hamstrings, straight back, weight over your mid foot, with your hips just below the knee joint. Typically the finish position tends to be the more problematic. So get down in that position and assess what’s going on. This is where exercise becomes more than just working up a sweat and being out of breath. Do your hips feel tight? Are they pinching in the front? Do your calves feel tight and you want to rock back on your heels? Are your quads on fire and desperately begging you to stand the hell up? This is where it becomes your job to learn and listen to your body and recognize where the weaknesses, compensations, and overactive muscles are, and with that information then fix the problems.

Your next moves are pretty straight forward. Any muscles that are tight or overactive (burning right from the start) need to be addressed with either stretching or foam rolling until the tension subsides to at least a moderate level. The more you practice these techniques the faster your muscles will lose their tension and to a higher degree, but like with anything it takes practice. Once you’ve done that to any tight or restricted muscles you should try your positions again, with the result hopefully being that you now can stabilize and control yourself in these positions. I’ve found that it’s also extremely beneficial to identify the primary muscles you’ll be using in the exercise and do an activation exercise that isolates the desired muscle or muscle group. For example doing a floor bridge is a great way to isolate and activate your glutes for deadlift or even squats.

The breakdown is this: almost all moves have a very straight forward start and finish position. Before you begin make sure that you can effectively put yourself in both of those positions, and use any feedback you receive from your body to come up with a stretching and mobilizing plan to fix any problems before you begin. Wrap it all up at the end with a solid 5 to 10 minutes of stretching or foam rolling to help flush out any built up lactic acid in order to aid your muscles in a pain free recovery. Please contact us if you have any questions or find yourself struggling to assess and correct your joint and muscle tension.

 

Written by Jamie Maguire

 

 

 

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