What happens when you don’t stretch?
Nothing. For a while. You lift. You get stronger. You improve your diet a bit. You get leaner. You look good. Who needs to stretch? “Stretching is for yoga girls and geriatrics.”
Then you wake up one day and you have a slight pain in your lower back. Nothing major. “Damn,” you say, as you roll out of bed. You instinctively try to stretch it out. Maybe you lean over and touch your toes, which, coincidentally are very far from the tips of your fingers. It helps a bit, so you forget about it.
You keep training. In the weight room, you feel unstoppable. Other dudes whisper in the locker room about how animalistic you are. It feels good. But you start to notice that after sitting all day at work, your lower back is aching. You try to stretch it out. Maybe you put your hands on your lower back and do the old man, hips forward stretch with a bustling sigh. But…the pain lingers. Not the biggest deal though, because once you get warmed up at the gym, things feel A-okay. So you forget about it.
You keep lifting. You keep getting stronger. You can now squat a small automobile, which feels good.
Then it happens
One day you’re doing a deep squat and you feel something tweak in your lower back. It’s hard to get the weight racked. “Damn it,” you say as ease out from under bar. That hurt. You don’t stretch it out this time because it’s hard to breathe. It feels like you need your spine popped back in place. Something’s wrong.
At this point, most guys credit this to an unlucky break. “Shit happens,” they might say. “Injury is a part of sport.” But, contrary to this brilliant guy wisdom, this could have been avoided.
So what happened here?
From a physiological point of view, the body continuously got tighter and stronger until it lost natural movement at the hips. Sitting all day reinforced tight hip flexors (namely, the iliacus and psoas) that pulled the pelvis into an anterior pelvic tilt. This caused initial back pain. But a slew of other muscles also tightened, including the calves, the hamstrings and the adductors which pulled the pelvis down with them during a deep squat. This is called a “tuck under” position and it changes the curvature of the spine. Initially posture went to hell in a hand basket and eventually, under heavy load, the lumbar curve was non-existent which lead to a vertebral herniation.
It is a story that is unfolding all too often in the weight room because guys refuse to work on their mobility. Everything seems good, damn good, until it isn’t. And I get it. ’Cause mobility work is boring. But the fact remains, if you want to stay pain- and injury-free, having a strong body is only part of that battle. Having a mobile body is also essential.
The best way to get mobility work into your routine is to take a yoga class once a week. I know. I know. “Yoga is for the birds.” Trust me, it’s worth it. An hour per week of mobility work will make a difference. As an added bonus, yoga classes are full of cute, open-minded, extremely flexible yoga girls. Plus, your presence in any yoga studio will be a welcomed dose of testosterone. I hope.
If adding another workout to your week is absolutely out of the question, I also like what I call Mobility/Intervals. Since interval training is already a part of your routine (it is, right?), use your recovery time (especially between series) to stretch your tightest joints. This helps to break up your mobility work into manageable pieces and allows you to utilize what would otherwise be simple passive recovery.
Your glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors are likely culprits for your lower body. Your thoracic spine and your lats are a good place to start up top.
The bottom line…in order to stay pain-free and continue your progress towards weight room domination, you need to address your mobility.
*Something sorta like this article was originally posted on MensFitness.com on Jan 18th, 2012.
Let’s get 25 comments on this badboy and I’ll post the exact mobility/interval routine I use (you get some solid mobility-improvement techniques AND an interval routine – DOUBLE VICTORY.)The Routine High Intensity Interval Training + Mobility = HIITILITY Dynamic warm-up World’s Greatest Stretch
Mini band – side step
Marching & skipping
Easy jog – 2-3 minutes
Series 1 - Treadmill Sprint – 30 on, 30 off x 5
Mobility Work – Pigeon (Glutes) – 90-second hold (per side)
Series 2 – Incline Treadmill Sprint – 30 on, 30 off x 5
Mobility Work – Hamstring – 90-second hold (per side)
Series 3 – Force Treadmill Sprint – 50 yards on, 1 min off (x 5)
Mobility Work – Hip flexor - 90-second hold (per side)
Series 4 – Fan Bike – 20s on, 40s off (x 5)
Mobility Work – Thoracic Extensions on the Foam Roller – 2 min.
Note: Make sure you’re good to go after your stretches. Sometimes a muscle needs to “wake up” a bit after an intense stretch to be ready for the subsequent interval series. A little marching, skipping or easy jogging will do the trick.
This is by no means a perfect or exhaustive approach to mobility work; it is the absolute minimum (any less than this and you might as well get on your knees and pray to gods of weightlifting for an injury.) But it’s a good way to take advantage of passive recovery time and make mobility happen.
IF YOU TRY IT, PLEASE SHARE AND LEMME KNOW WHATCHA THINK…