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 are an animal. Other people look at you and say your lifts are 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 it 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. But one day you’re doing a deep squat and you feel something tweak in your lower back. “Damn it,” you say as you rack the weight. 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 hamstrings gradually got stronger and tighter until they started to pull the pelvis down with them. This is called a posterior pelvic tilt and it changes the curvature of the spine. This was continuously reinforced by sitting all day, which also lead to retraction of the hamstring muscles. The lumbar curve got lost, posture went to hell in a hand basket and, under heavy load, this 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 even, until they aren’t. And it’s understandable because mobility work is about as exciting as The Twilight Saga. But, the bottom line is, 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.
If you’re convinced to add mobility work into your routine, here are two ways you can go about it. First, 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 girls. Plus, your presence in any yoga studio will be a welcomed dose of testosterone to what would otherwise be a lot of estrogen. 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 to stretch your three tightest movements. This helps to break up your mobility work into manageable pieces and allows you to utilize what would otherwise be a simple active 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. Here’s an example:
Five-minute warm-up jog Treadmill Sprint - 90 seconds Mobility Work - Pigeon (Glutes) – 60-second hold Repeat five times Incline Treadmill Sprint - 90 seconds Mobility Work - Hamstring – 60-second hold Repeat five times Force Treadmill Sprints - 50 yards Mobility Work - Thoracic Extensions on the Foam Roller - 60 seconds Repeat five times Note: Make sure you’re good to go after your stretches. Sometimes a muscle needs to “wake up” a bit after an intense stretch, so the first 30 seconds of the interval can be easier than the subsequent minute. This is by no means a perfect or exhaustive approach to mobility work; it is the absolute minimum. In fact, any less than this and you might as well get on your knees and pray to Gods of Weightlifting for an injury. But in order to stay pain-free and continue your progress towards weight room domination, you need to address your mobility. Rob Sulaver is owner and operator of Bandana Training. For more check out Bandana Training on Facebook.