Written by William J. Kraemer, Ph.D., CSCS*D, FNSCA, FACSM
In this new crazy world we now live in, did you ever get the feeling that we are rushing through things so quickly? I am not sure why, but the frantic pace appears to be a response to our virtually closed in space, causing many of us to go from thing to thing. Even in a workout, many of us seem to go “lickety-split” right into it with little or no focused stretching in our warmup. However, even back in the day, many of us just hated to stretch and wanted to get on with it. Well, the good news is that before a workout, a dynamic stretching routine is better as one does not want to stretch out the collagen bundles of the tendons as they play an essential role in power and force production during a workout. However, static stretching is important for maintaining flexibility, healthy joint function, and range of movement.
So, what to do? Again, there are static and dynamic flexibility protocols. The dynamic stretches are where movement occurs with controlled bouncing in the movement. For so many years, we thought it was wrong, but research has now shown it is better before dynamic activity. However, now it is a typical warmup after light cardio to perform dynamic flexibility exercises in a controlled manner before lifting, jumping, and running. But now, flexibility for improved range of motion is still the job of “static stretching,” where the most common technique is to stretch and hold at an endpoint of the movement. With continued work on a movement, this endpoint gets further.
Now one has to find time for a bit of focused static stretching at other times of the day. Now while there are many definitions of flexibility, fundamentally, it is the ability to go through a full range of motion meant for the joint or body part. We all recognize the classic test of “touching one’s toes” from the standing position. Wow, many of us realize right away, we need to do some work on our flexibility fitness component. So, where to start? Watching my friend’s cat and my dog back in the day, I noticed that when they get up in the morning or after a nap, the first thing you see them do is stretch. So why not start a stretching routine in bed just after waking up? Just to get started. There are plenty of web sites to get ideas for different exercises. The key is to get going with some flexibility exercises. Typically, a static stretch is held for 6-10 seconds and then repeat 2 or 3 times, trying to reach a bit further for the hold point. Feel that so-called “stretch ache,” but no pain at the hold point. The key in any program is to make sure you work to develop a stretching program for your entire body. With time as a continual challenge in our lives, you can break it up over the day with different stretches. So many of us find ourselves sitting in front of a computer all day. The recent findings of negative health outcomes related to too much sitting the opportunity exist to do different stretches during repeated up and stand breaks each hour by getting up and moving and doing a stretch. Stretches can even be done in a chair as you wait for a download or printing a document. Be creative. There are a host of useful websites for learning static stretching protocols. Again, static stretches allow for the improvement of your range of motion and joint health. As one who has osteoarthritis from my old college football days, stretching is essential.
One other element that comes into play for flexibility is the fact that as we age, our muscles, tendons, and ligaments become less flexible. Now part of this is just aging as our cells lose water no matter how much we drink. This is just part of cell genetics and aging. So, it is a complex scientific issue in aging research. However, we can be aware of our need for adequate hydration and fluid intake as you do not want to further complicate the issue of cell function by being dehydrated. Hydration or getting the needed amount of water and appropriate amounts of electrolytes is still important, so our cells function at their best. Health is highly related to hydration status, and we have to take care of that, or tissues are compromised in function. In one study from my laboratory back in the day, we showed that just a 1-2% dehydration level, even in younger subjects, can reduce lifting performance, and the upper body is particularly sensitive to these small levels of dehydration. Now according to the world-wide experts at the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut, my old place of work back in the day, “The reality is no one really knows how much water we need. We do know that water makes up half our weight; keeps our cells, kidneys and cardiovascular system finely tuned; and may have a role in protecting us from some illnesses. We can survive without food far longer than we can go without water. It is safe to say that water is one of the most important elements to life.” (source) Thus, it is hydration status that is important, and an excellent place to look at this concept in detail is the Korey Stringer Institute for some reliable ways to test and know if you are hydrated. Hydration is the key, and that can vary among individuals, but obviously, we need water and electrolytes, especially with exercise.
So back to our original question about the need for paying attention to our flexibility training component. The American College of Sports Medicine tells us in their position stands “stretching each of the major muscle groups at least two times a week. As you age, keeping your hips and hamstrings flexible is essential for safe mobility as it improves stability and balance.” Again, if you cannot do a full body static stretch workout, break up stretch exercises over the week, making sure to “hit” a given movement at least two times a week. Again, many websites have different exercises, but shoulders, upper back and chest, lower back, hips, and hamstrings, quads, and your calves are important to be included in your static stretch workout routines. Good luck, get flexible and stay safe.
Dr. William Kraemer is an AdvoCare® Scientific & Medical Advisory Board Member and is compensated for his role on the Scientific & Medical Advisory Board.