Third Space’s Head of Education, Josh Silverman, reveals why your pre-workout stretch is hindering your performance goals.
“The evidence strongly suggests that stretching pre-exercise does not prevent injury. It may actually lead to injury.” It’s a conclusion that flies in the face of a regular gym-goer’s common conceptions. But here I’m going to open this contentious can of worms and put an end to “stretching” before exercise.
Have you ever felt like you have tight hamstrings and automatically go into a stretch to relieve it? There is no shame here; it’s something that has been ingrained into us all from PE lessons as kids to Sunday league football. However, that tight feeling has almost nothing to do with the pliability of the muscles. Instead, three factors play a much bigger role:
- Your central nervous system response – the brain will signal to the muscle to hold on as it does not feel safe going that far.
- Patterning – your body just doesn’t “know” how to do that movement in the current position it is in.
- Alignment & structure of your joints.
Here we are going to focus on point three.
If you think you are “tight” then try this. Try to do the splits and go as low as possible. Now hold that position and tense your legs as hard as you can for 10-15s (pinch the floor, pulling your legs together).
As if by magic, you’ll go down further. Confusingly, it is the flexing, rather than the stretching, that can increase flexibility and relieve tightness.
If everything you thought you knew about mobility has now been turned upside down, allow me to explain.
The best example to consider is the hamstrings. The hamstring is a biarticular muscle, which means it crosses two joints – the knee and the hip.
If someone was to complain that their hamstrings and hip flexors were “tight” then the common-sense approach would be to stretch them. However, the average Londoner working at a desk is most likely carrying an anterior tilt in their pelvis.
This forward rotation of the pelvis, elongates the hamstring, creating that tight feeling (see image below).
In this position if we were to now stretch the hamstring more and more to try and release this tight feeling, it will eventually lead to possible lower back and even shoulder and neck injuries.
So, if stretching isn’t the answer, then what is?
Activation and reposition – both of which form the basis of Third Space’s new Stretch Lab.
If you were to contract the hamstrings by using exercises such as glute bridges or lying curls, as well as contract the abs using exercises such as deadbugs or hollow bodies, this would now reposition the hip into a more “neutral position” (illustrated on the left-hand side of the picture). This neutral position remedies the over stretching of the hamstring and therefore alleviates the “tightness” felt in the muscle, whilst allowing you to access a full range of motion.
We can do all that without stretching anything!
What you need to work on before your training session is activation, not stretching “tight” muscles.
Throughout October, Group and Soho members can visit the Stretch Lab and learn the best primer – warm up – exercises for the workout you are about to complete.
These 1-1 PT workout primer sessions are completely free and will run every Monday and Friday from 5-7pm in Third Space Soho.
Learn how to:
Select primer exercises applicable to your specific workout.
Activate the right muscle groups.
The form required to execute these moves safely.
This 1-1 session is also a great opportunity to ask our PTs any training related questions you may have.
Book via the PT desk.