We hear this question at garage fitness a lot! “What type of stretching is most recommended for general fitness purposes?”
The answer may surprise you.
We will answer that question, plus briefly discuss why you should stretch and focus on mobility, review common misconceptions surrounding stretching, discuss the latest tools used to stretch and offer some of our favorite expert stretching resources.
Is it really that important to stretch?
The Short answer? Yes.
The Long Answer:
Take squats as an example.
In order to “get into the hole” (get your bottom down low) while squatting, it is important to eliminate stiffness in the thoracic and lumbar spine, increase hip mobility and ankle flexibility, to name just a few.
If you do not stretch properly for a squat, your squat will be at best, not as effective as it could be, and at worst, cause injury.
So yes, stretching that focuses on the exercise you have planned are important.
Pre Squat Warm Up Routine (NO MORE STIFF SQUATS!)
The thinking Mans (or woman’s) stretch
You must stretch with the end in mind. There is no such thing as a “good general stretch” but only good specific stretches that have a purpose and apply to the exercise you are performing.
Stretching improves mobility and prevents injury of the muscle groups you plan to use.
Having said that:
Focus, planning and specificity are important elements of your stretching routine. You don’t want to employ an unfocused stretching routine, nor do you want to use the exact same stretches every time you exercise, unless you use the exact same exercise routine every time you work out.
Think about it like this:
Of course you would focus on what the test will cover! So it goes with stretching and mobility.
Mobility? Why am I hearing all this talk about mobility?
Stretching + Mobilization
You should focus not only on stretching the muscle, but on Mobility.
What is Mobility?
Mobility is different from flexibility. Stretching causes passive flexibility of the muscle. Passive means that the muscle is not contracted, and the brain is not focused on the muscle movement, since it is not contracting it.
In contrast, mobility is the active and free movement of the body, joints, muscles etc. Two important features of mobility are that they engage the nervous system, and improve strength, two things passive stretching do not do.
Mobility addresses not only muscle movement, but soft tissue mobility, joint capsule restriction, motor control and range of motion while incorporating the neural dynamic (aka engaging the brain).
Let’s look at an example:
Lets say I want to improve my vertical jump (which I do, IRL). How can mobility and stretching help me?
Well, after watching this excellent video (below), I learned a few things about how I can use mobility and stretching to improve my jump height. I just love Youtube.
What I learned:
- I need to stand with my torso upright to harness the most power, but I don’t, cuz I am not stretching and working on mobility. I am a hunched jumper! Eeek! There is a stretch for that, called the couch stretch.
- I can not extend my hip fully. Sad fact: I have been doing box jumps for three years without ever considering how to stretch properly. That changes today. I performed the “couch stretch” as shown in the video and got a realistic picture of my mobility.
- My calves are also too tight, which not only affects my box jump, but my squats as well. Do you ever feel your heels start to come up as you lower into a full squat? If so you need to work on mobility, dude. I have this problem and must perform calf stretches before each squat session.
While I am able to do an 18” box jump, 40 times in a row with no problems, honestly, if I focused on mobility, I could probably jump a lot higher. I am sure this would up my personal cool factor as well.
That is just one small example of how to improve performance using mobility and stretching, you just need to dig a little and do your homework to find the stretching and mobility moves to unlock your own potential.
How Long should I stretch?
You may not agree, but hear me out.
2 minutes minimum, should be spent on each stretch. I realize that seems like a lot, but if you consider what I said previously, it is not really.
Since the best way to stretch and increase mobility is to focus on what you will be working on today, you should not have very many moved you will be performing. You can finish 5 mobility moved in 10 minutes, easy.
Why everyone needs to just relax!
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation aka PNF is a form of stretching that involves contracting and then relaxing the muscle.
PNF conditioning is a quick way to gain range of motion, which is why it is so popular with athletes looking for performance gains.
K Star gives an excellent explanation of PNF stretching in this video. Starting at about 3 minutes in he demonstrates a mobility move for hip flexion where he lays on the floor, grabs his ankle and begins by pulling the ankle to his chest.
Then he stops pulling and applies tension in the opposite direction for about 10 seconds. He alternates pulling and applying tension for 2 full minutes.
He then stands up and has the participants get in a deadlift position, where it is obvious that the side they worked on is visibly more flexible.
Tools of the Trade: Flex stretch bands, lacrosse balls
Flex resistance bands.
You may associate these bands with strength exercises, but they are great for stretching and mobility movements too! These bands are helpful while stretching and increasing mobility.
Resistance bands allow the muscle and joint to remain in a relaxed position, while tension is applied via the band. After all, a muscle can not stretch passively unless it is relaxed.
Want to see just one example:
There are hundreds of videos covering stretching exercises using these bands, and one that targets your exercise can easily be found.
Lacross balls (link to Amazon.com) can be useful tools to stretch muscles and increase mobility.
Upper Back Mobility with CrossFit Athlete Jenn Jones
Dr. Matt Jones, and 4 tie CrossFit Game athlete Jenn Jones demonstrate how to use Lacrosse balls to increase upper back mobility. There are many videos available that can show you how to use the lacrosse ball as a mobility tool.
So in conclusion, What type of stretching is most recommended for general fitness purposes?
We have to say, for general fitness purposes, the only type of stretching worth doing is the one that increases range of motion and mobility of the muscles you plan to use right now.
Drop us a line and let us know what you think! We read every comment and want to know what you think.