Todd Durkin—two-time personal trainer of the year (according to two leading industry associations) and strength coach to LaDainian Tomlinson, Reggie Bush and dozens of other professional football and baseball players— recently released TD Performance, a set of seven instructional training DVDs. Two of the seven discs focus on flexibility work, giving it a higher priority than strength, speed, power or any other training goal. Since flexibility is the key to Durkin’s training, we caught up with him to get the 411 on all things stretching.
STACK: What kind of stretching should be done before a workout?
TD: The dynamic warm-up, which lasts 10 to 20 minutes, is the first part of our workout; and it’s absolutely critical because it warms up your tissue temperature, activates your nervous system, and lengthens and prepares your body for the activity that’s about to take place. You’ll work out or compete better if you warm up properly and go into your workout sweating.
Should an athlete perform static stretches before working out?
TD: I don’t think there’s a black and white answer for that. You don’t want all of your pre-activity stretching to be static, but throwing in a couple stretches between dynamic exercises isn’t going to throw off your workout or competition.
Why is static stretching better to do post-workout?
TD: Static stretching for about 10 minutes after a workout relaxes your nervous system and improves any improper length tension relationships within the muscles and fascia that may have occurred during activity. The best time to do that is when your body is already warmed up.
How does static stretching improve recovery?
TD: Any time you lengthen your fascia and connective tissue, you improve your ability to recover quicker and reduce post workout soreness. It also facilitates the movement of lactic acid out of your muscles.
How should you work flexibility independent of a workout or competition?
TD: When stretching on your own, spend 30 to 60 minutes and start with a five-minute warm-up—a walk, jog or even a dynamic warm-up. Your warm-up doesn’t have to make you sweat, but you need something to help you get into deep stretches without injuring yourself. Make sure you listen to your body as you get into deep stretches. Pushing through a stretch beyond what the muscle is capable of can cause a pulled muscle or torn ligament.
How can you tell the difference between working hard and pushing too hard during a stretch?
TD: You should never feel pain in the area you’re stretching, but you should feel just enough discomfort to be aware that the muscle is actually lengthening. And always breathe during the stretch; take three to five deep breaths, which will work out to about 30 seconds per stretch.
What’s the point of foam rolling?
TD: Foam rolling is great for lengthening fascia and improving flexibility by reducing the delayed onset of soreness and improving recovery time. It also tells you a lot about the health of the tissue in your body. Feeling a lot of tightness and pain during foam rolling is an indication that you need to spend more time lengthening your fascia and working on flexibility. From a performance standpoint, foam rolling can help your speed, quickness and ability to cut, decelerate and accelerate, because you have a greater range of motion and flexibility.
When should foam rolling be used?
TD: In a perfect world, you should do it before and after a workout. But since time is an issue, I typically do foam rolling after any workout or competition, when the body is warm and the best results can be achieved.
5 Biggest Stretching Mistakes
1 Sloppy form Don’t lose the alignment and integrity of your body when stretching. Use good form so you actually get results.
2 No purpose Too many people just go through the motions of stretching. Stretch to lengthen your soft tissue and become more flexible overall. Since you’re taking the time to stretch, concentrate and focus through each movement.
3 Causing pain Don’t push past the stopping point of an end range-of-motion. Stretching should not be painful. You might feel slight discomfort, but not pain!
4 Not breathing Don’t hold your breath! Take three to five deep breaths per stretch, and relax into each stretch.
5 Not stretching After every practice, workout or competition, stretch for at least 10 minutes.
An exercise that requires you to hold a position to lengthen the muscle.
Example: Stretch your hamstrings by bending at the waist to touch your toes, then hold the position.
An exercise that lengthens a muscle by taking it through its full range of motion during a movement.
Example: While walking, keep your legs straight and kick your feet to your outstretched hands to stretch your hamstrings.
Self Myofascial Release
An exercise that lengthens the fascia by applying concentrated pressure on deep tissues; it typically includes rolling a specific muscle or muscle group over a six-inch-diameter foam roll, using your body weight to create pressure.
Example: Sit on a foam roll so that it is under the top half of your hamstring. Rock your body back and forth so the foam roll moves up and down the length of your hamstring.
Connective tissue surrounding muscles, bones and internal organs that provides support, protection and structure to your body. When cold, fascia is rigid and plastic-like. When warm, fascia becomes more pliable, elastic and susceptible to the benefits of stretching and flexibility work.