Okay everyone, hold onto your hats, we have a super awesome post by Julia Ryan for you. Now Julia is completely kickass. She is an absolute beast, a hell of an athlete and one of the nicest people you will ever meet. I was very lucky to train with her at JustLift in Ottawa. Be sure to check out her IG @julialiftsbig
I guess I should start off my introducing myself. Hi! My name is Julia. I am one of Antonella’s teammates in Olympic Weightlifting, and I am also doing my PhD in Clinical Psychology. I am passionate about health (mental and physical), fitness, and of course, high performance athletics! I am a competitive Olympic Weightlifter.
When I first started Olympic weightlifting, I had a background in endurance sports and some experience in my own, self-taught style of powerlifting. I got decently strong and decently fast, but when I moved to Ottawa to do my PhD, I wanted to join a community of people that could push me to my limits. That is how I got into Olympic Weightlifting, and at first, I came with a host of mobility issues and chronic pain, particularly in my low back, upper back, and shoulders.
In the past, I was an irregular stretcher at best. I sometimes did 5-10 minutes of stretching once a day, but I was not very consistent and I didn’t know what I was doing, so obviously I didn’t really see any improvements. But as I continued to increase my activity level to see more improvements, I realized that my mobility issues and the associated pain was one of the main things holding me back. It’s been about 3 years that I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to take care of my body, and only recently have I found a solution that really works. For the rest of this article, the information I give you will be coming from a book called “Stretch to Win”, by Ann Frederick and Chris Frederick. These two are the original stretching scientists, and their success is proven through the testimonies of the athletes and teams they have worked with. Check out their book if you want to read about it yourself!
Why do I need to stretch?
Stretching is critical for athletic performance and for maintaining a healthy body. Stretching elongates and loosens muscle. This is important because nearly 50% of a healthy person’s lack of range of motion at a joint can be attributed to tightness in the muscles around the joint. If you can’t move your body in a full range of motion, and chances are you can’t, then the first thing to fix is muscle tightness. Limited range of motion is a problem because it can limit your functional movements, create pain, and impede athletic performance.
But I’ve tried before, and nothing changed!
You were probably not stretching correctly. Stretching isn’t supposed to hurt, and it’s not supposed to be static. Most people hold a stretch for 10-30seconds, but they forget to breathe, and they hold a position that is so painful that the muscle ends up re-tightening as a rebound effect. It’s important to only hold a stretch that is mildly uncomfortable (like a 3 or 4/10), and to move in and out of that stretch in sync with your breathing. This will be covered in my recommended stretching routine.
Key Stretching Principles
1. Synchronize your stretching movements with your breathing.
Instead of holding a stretch for a specific amount of time, hold the stretch until you feel a change in the muscle. Use your breath as a guide. When you reach into a stretch, you should be exhaling deeply. After your exhale, you should briefly and gently exit the stretch as you inhale. This process should be repeated for a minimum of 3 breaths, or until you can reach further into the stretch, which indicates that you have successfully loosened the muscle.
2. Stretch according to the conditions
The way you stretch before engaging in physical activity is not the same as the stretching you should do after activity or when you are at home before bed. Stretching your muscles needs to be a way of tuning your nervous system to the conditions it is about to experience. If you are warming up for practice, dynamic stretching (like leg swings, arm circles, neck circles, etc.) is ideal, because the slightly faster movements prepare your muscles and joints for the movements they are about to perform. After physical activity, the goal is to help your body cool down and recover from the work just done. This is the time for slower stretching with longer breaths. If you want to increase your overall flexibility, that is best separately from your training sessions.
3. Follow a logical order
This principle means that stretching should be performed in a logical anatomical order. Stretching from head to toe isn’t an anatomically logical order. The best way to stretch is to start with major joints, like hips and neck and shoulders, before working out to the other muscles in your legs and arms.
4. Pain, no gain
You should NOT feel pain when you are stretching. If you do, you need to pull out of the stretch to a more comfortable level. You should be able to hold the stretch through a long exhale without any discomfort.
5. Use multiple planes of movement
Stretching your hamstring isn’t complete after performing one stretch. It is important to stretch a muscle group in various different ways. You muscle needs to be lose and flexible in various movements, not just in one.
6. Target the entire joint.
Stretching your hips requires more than a hip flexor stretch, because there are muscle all around your hip, like your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and yes, hip flexors. Stretching must target the whole joint.
7. Increase your body temperature before stretching
If your body isn’t warm, your muscles won’t be ready for the stretching. You should always start with 2-5minutes of light aerobic activity, like jumping jacks, skipping, a light jog, etc., unless you have just finished training. Another great time to stretch is right after exiting the shower or bath, or while you sit in a steam room or sauna.
If these principles seem like a lot, it’s because they are! Stretching is a science, just like training or eating. But don’t fret, the following stretching routine accommodates all the important principles and should be no more than 10 minutes to complete!
Pre-Training Dynamic Stretching Routine
This routine is best for before physical activity. It is also great for first thing in the morning, and for non-athletes it is recommended to do it at least once a week to maintain good joint health.
2 minutes of jumping jacks, light jogging in place, skipping, rowing, etc.
Neck circles 10 each direction
Shoulder shrugs 10
Arm circles 10 small, 10 big, each direction
Wrist circles 10 each direction
Hip circles 10 each direction
Leg Swings 10 each leg
Side bends 10 each side
Knee circles 10 each direction
Air squats 10
Ankle circles 10 each direction
Basic Stretching Routine
This routine needs to be followed in order for best results. It is designed for post training or after a shower or bath. It is a basic routine with key stretches that should be performed regularly. If you have a particularly problematic area, you should add stretches in to the end, following the same breathing principles. Don’t forget to move out of the stretch a little when you inhale, and then fully extend into the stretch when you exhale.
1. Hip Flexor Stretch
Get into a lunge position with your knee on the floor and the other foot out in front of you flat on the floor. Hold this position for three breaths, then raise your arm (same side as the knee that is down on the ground) up beside your ear. Hold for another 3 breaths before reaching your arm over your head to the other side. Hold for another 3 breaths before opening your chest up toward the ceiling for a trunk rotation. Hold for another 3 breaths.
2. Glute and Hip Stretch
Sit on the floor with one leg in front of you and knee bent. The other leg should be behind you with the knee bent in the direction of your front foot. In yoga, this is called the pigeon pose. Hold this position for 3 breaths before moving your chest down to your front knee. Hold for another 3 breaths before reaching behind you leg to put your hands on the floor outside your leg. Hold for another three breaths before raising your arm on the same side as the leg that is tucked behind and reaching over your head. Hold for a final 3 breaths.
Sit with your legs crossed. Tilt one side of your head down to your shoulder as far as you comfortably can. Hold for three breaths; when you inhale, shrug your shoulders up and when you exhale, push your shoulders down. Repeat on both sides, and repeat again with your head tilting down, with your gaze set at your knee.
4. Mid Back
Get on your hands and knees with your hands right under your shoulders. Hunch your back so that your spine is reaching to the ceiling, and hold for three breaths. Then push your belly button towards the floor to arch your back, and hold there for another three seconds. Actively think about pinching your shoulder blades together while you breath in and out of the stretch.
5. Low Back
Lie on your back and bring your knees into your chest. Hug your knees while keeping your head down on the ground. Hold for three seconds. Let your feet and knees drop to one side, and hold for another three breaths. Stay in this position while you open your arms in a T. Hold for three breaths before repeating on the other side.
A lot of my teammates at the gym ask me why I stretch so much, or comment on how I always warm up for 15 minutes before starting. The reason is that it is my secret ingredient to athletic success and to moving through life with as little pain and as much functional movement as possible!
Other than these basic stretching routines, I am systematic and consistent about foam rolling, a concept has an effect on your muscles similar to a massage. It is recommended to begin all training and all stretching sessions with a short 5 minute foam roll of feet, hips (front and back), and spine. But we’ll leave that to another article ☺