In part 2 of the “Stretching Conundrum” we are going to cover how to start best implementing these alternatives to stretching.
Inevitably, Part 1 of this series opened Pandora’s Box for a plethora of questions…
If you are not stretching, then what are you doing?
We do dynamic warm-ups, so why would I need to do these active positional breathing exercises?
How would you place these into a client’s programs?
Don’t worry….We have you covered!
The purpose of a warm-up is to simply prepare the body for whatever task or event is at hand. The cooldown is a time to kick-start the recovery process. At both of these times, it can be beneficial to work on other injury reduction strategies.
Your goals as a trainer or clinician are usually to help improve an athlete’s performance and reduce the likelihood of injury. With this in mind, it’s important to do everything you can for the athlete in the time allotted. Because time is limited, you must prioritize and determine the best use of that time. That is often the biggest challenge for coaches, so we need to consider what is even possible.
The trainable qualities that accomplish the goals outlined above are as follows:
- Work Capacity
- Motor learning/coordination
The first two are accomplished through solid training programs. The third is often forgotten, or it gets prioritized so heavily that there’s not enough time to adequately address #1 & #2.
It’s no secret that dynamic warm-ups are an excellent way to prime the nervous system while also getting the tissue “warm and ready” for high-level activity. Continue performing these dynamic routines as you typically would, and think of this as an excellent time to introduce motor learning/coordination.
The most frequently missed component of a dynamic warm-up, in my opinion, is positional integrity. I tend to see a lot of athletes in rehab who are excellent at utilizing momentum to their advantage. They rely on external forces such as momentum and excessive or accessory joint compression to create stability as opposed to utilizing their active muscular support system to its fullest capacity.
Teaching joint control in space via utilization of muscles to create positional integrity, while taking momentum out of the equation, is very challenging for a lot of athletes.
That’s what these “stretching replacement” activities are intended for, and they often reduce the sensational need for continuous stretching.
Another downside of stretching is that it takes a long time to incorporate and hit all the muscle groups. Done properly, including a couple of these exercises can address many things all at once. This saves you time to get to bigger and better things like actual practice and training!
To keep it simple, I usually pick 1 or 2 of the following activities to include in someone’s program before the dynamic warmup. There certainly are others depending on the situation, but this is a good place to start! Exercises are listed from easiest to hardest:
The Lazy Bear
Wall Press Abs Bilateral Lowering
Hamstring Hooklying Bridge
Modified Side Bridge with Glute
I usually give my athletes the option of light “stretching” or foam rolling for 2 minutes hitting their “needy” areas. Again, I’m not against stretching, but I don’t think it’s a long-term solution worth spending a lot of time doing. Next, we move onto 1 or 2 of the above exercises, performing each 2 x 5 long breath cycles (this should take a maximum of 4 minutes). You then move right into your dynamic warmup and into your training session.
The end of each session would include the same 2 exercises from the above list as part of a cool down. The emphasis is still on positional control, but the long cycle breathing also works to help shift into a parasympathetic state after high-level activity. So, not only will this help improve positional control, but it aids in the recovery process.
Tip: This is why these activities are included prior to the dynamic warmup. Because of the breathing component that can shift the body toward a parasympathetic state, we need some neural activation before high-level activity. These exercises improve positional stability, while the dynamic warm-up activates the nervous system.
Because these exercises can be done anywhere, the athlete now has activities that are easy to do and can help them continue to recover between training sessions.
All in all, the addition of these activities should not take any longer than 8 minutes to include your programs. If you are really hard-pressed for time, I would consider adding them only at the end of the session and perform your typical dynamic routine as a warm-up. These exercises are an excellent way to promote controlled mobility and positional integrity, and they truly challenge body sensory/motor awareness without letting the client utilize external stabilization methods. Give this approach a try for a few weeks and see how your athletes feel.
Dr. Greg Schaible is a physical therapist and strength coach specializing in athletic performance. Greg is the owner of On Track Physiotherapy and owner of the popular online education resource Sports Rehab Expert. Greg works with athletes and active individuals of all ages. As a former athlete himself, he attended The University of Findlay and competed in both Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field where he earned honors as a 5x Division II All-American and a 6x Division II Academic All-American.