With all the controversy surrounding the negative effects on performance of pre-workout passive stretching, many trainers and coaches have shifted focus to purely dynamic warm-ups. Passive stretches are saved for the cooldown period. This all-or-nothing approach can be fine for athletes without significant flexibility deficits. For others, there may be a better solution.
According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine:
"Acute pre-exercise stretching, while it has been shown to have negative effects, may benefit those with flexibility limitations shown through a variety of assessment procedures (which in turn may show concomitant movement limitations such as decreased joint range of motion or altered arthrokinematics). These acute bouts of stretching may in fact increase performance through increasing range of motion, decreasing synergistic dominance and increasing neuromuscular efficiency."
In other words, athletes with flexibility issues may benefit from the release and stretching of specific muscles to better access others that need to be strengthened. Try the following combinations, comprised of trigger-point release, stretching and strengthening to increase range of motion and improve pain-free strength and function.
Problem 1: Tight Shoulder Capsule Causing Shoulder Pain During Barbell Bench Press
The relationship between tightness in the posterior capsule (i.e., the backside of your shoulder) and shoulder dysfunction restricts internal shoulder rotation in overhead athletes. Bench pressers also require significant internal shoulder rotation when the bar is closest to the chest to avoid impingement of shoulder tendons. This is especially important because of the inability of the shoulder blades to naturally slide inward with the bench in their way.
Cross Body Stretch: A 2007 study showed that the improvement in internal rotation from the cross-body lengthening exercise was greater than for the commonly used "sleeper stretch." Make sure to anchor your shoulder blade to isolate the joint. Use your other hand to pull the elbow up gently. Let the feeling find you.
Problem 2: Limited Hip Extension and Lower Back Dominance/Stiffness During Bridging
The muscles that attach on the front of the hip can reduce the effectiveness of exercises that target the muscles on the back of the hip and leg. The gluteus maximus should be the primary muscle responsible for the motion of hip extension but it can be restricted because of tightness in the hip flexors. This can lead to pain and injury when athletes over-arch their lower backs to complete the bridging exercise with weight.
Psoas Stretch: Keep hips under ribs, shift the knee forward and sink the hips down as the body moves forward.
Rectus Femoris Stretch: Sit back and gently reach your hands behind to the bench for support. Tuck your pelvis under to avoid excessive arch in your lower back. Extend your hips forward and feel the stretch in the front of your thigh.
Rectus Femoris Release: Hold the top of your thigh on the roller when you feel the painful area. Keep it on for 30 seconds, then roll down and out to find more spots. Repeat four times.
Barbell Hip Raise: Push your heels into the floor, brace your core and squeeze your glutes as your hips rise. Don't go too high if your hips are tight, and especially if your lower back needs to excessively arch to get there.
Problem 3: Weak Grip During Pulling Exercises
When young athletes perform disproportionately more pressing exercises than exercises for scapular stability and posterior shoulder development, they tend to get tight in their pec minor muscles and also in the muscles attaching at the front and back of their neck. As this tension increases, there can be compression of the nerves and blood supply that runs down toward the lower arm, causing weakness in the forearms and hands.
Pec Minor Release: Push your index and middle fingers into the sore spots on the chest muscle as you slowly perform a "chicken wing" motion. Do 5 slow reps of this.
Pec Minor Stretch: Allow your shoulder to elevate as your body sinks down away from the hand that is holding the door frame. Gently turn your chest away from the elevated arm and push it forward. Hold 30 seconds.
TRX High Row to External Rotation: Pull your hands wide and try to rotate your shoulder at the end instead of just pulling from your hands.
Problem 4: Low Back Hurts During Wood Chops and Standing Rotation
Tightness in the external rotator muscles of the hip will limit internal rotation during movements. According to a study from the Strength and Conditioning Journal, the detrimental effects of inadequately conditioned and ill-prepared hip rotators predisposes the athlete to lumbar spine injuries. In another study of 13- to 17-year-olds, pain tended to be associated with decreased lower limb joint mobility and increased trunk length compared with others without back pain. This is made much worse in athletic movements where the feet stay planted and do not turn in the direction the load is going.
Piriformis Stretch: Get on all fours, cross your right foot behind your left knee, move your right hand wide and plant it for support. Shift your hips to the right and hold until you feel the stretch in your glutes.
Standing Cable Rotation: Move slowly and turn your back foot with your hips while opening your front hip and stepping toward the target. Brace your abs throughout.
- Alexander MJ. Biomechanical aspects of lumbar spine injuries in athletes: a review. Can J Appl Sport Sci. 1985 Mar;10(1):1-20. PubMed PMID: 4006039.
- Cools AM, Declercq G, Cagnie B, Cambier D, Witvrouw E. Internal impingement inthe tennis player: rehabilitation guidelines. Br J Sports Med. 2008Mar;42(3):165-71. Epub 2007 Dec 10. Review. PubMed PMID: 18070811.
- Dunn, Ian MD, Mark R. Proctor, MD, Arthur L. Day, MD. Lumbar Spine Injuries in Athletes. Neurosurg Focus. 2006;21(4).Novak CB. Conservative management of thoracic outlet syndrome. Semin ThoracCardiovasc Surg. 1996 Apr;8(2):201-7. PubMed PMID: 8672574.
- Fairbank JC, Pynsent PB, Van Poortvliet JA, Phillips H: Influence of anthropometric factors and joint laxity in the incidence of adolescent back pain. Spine 9: 461–464, 1984
- Kenny RA, Traynor GB, Withington D, Keegan DJ. Thoracic outlet syndrome: a useful exercise treatment option. Am J Surg. 1993 Feb;165(2):282-4. PubMed PMID: 8427413.
- McClure P, Balaicuis J, Heiland D, Broersma ME, Thorndike CK, Wood A. A randomized controlled comparison of stretching procedures for posterior shoulder tightness. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2007 Mar;37(3):108-14. PubMed PMID:17416125.
- Nicols, Andrew. The Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in Athletes. Journal of The American Board of Family Medicine. Sept 1, 1996. Volume 9. Pages 346-355.
- Regan, Daniel P. RN, ATC, CSCS. Implications of Hip Rotators in Lumbar Spine Injuries. Strength & Conditioning Journal:December 2000 - Volume 22 - Issue 6 - ppg 7. Tyson, Alan. A Common Mistake in Stretching the Hip "Piriformis" Muscle
- Vad VB, Bhat AL, Basrai D, Gebeh A, Aspergren DD, Andrews JR. Low back pain inprofessional golfers: the role of associated hip and low back range-of-motiondeficits. Am J Sports Med. 2004 Mar;32(2):494-7. PubMed PMID: 14977679.
- Wilk KE, Hooks TR, Macrina LC. The modified sleeper stretch and modified cross-body stretch to increase shoulder internal rotation range of motion in the overhead throwing athlete. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2013 Dec;43(12):891-4. doi:10.2519/jospt.2013.4990. Epub 2013 Oct 30. PubMed PMID: 24175603.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock