Many coaches and athletes perform static stretching because they believe it necessary. Many do not take the time to ask questions about how relevant it is to athletic performance. I believe that after this article you will be asking a lot of questions about how static flexibility should be used. – Grif Fig
Flexibility: The What, Why, and How
JC Santana, MEd, CSCS
One of the most controversial topics in fitness is flexibility. Many personal trainers consider flexibility and stretching to be synonymous, and thus include some for of stretching exercises in their workout programs because they have always heard it is the right thing to do. One of the most popular forms of stretching is static stretching. Whether it is performed pre or post workout, static stretching is the most common form of flexibility training. If one performs a Medline search for “flexibility” related research, the search will provide a plethora of conflicting studies on stretching and flexibility. Field observations may also be equally diverse in their findings. In spite of this diversity in theory, many educational organizations and trainers still espouse to static stretching when it comes to enhancing flexibility.
Flexibility is generally defined as “the range of motion about a joint” (1). There is no doubt that healthy movement and proper range of motion (ROM) are necessary for normal function and optimum performance. However, the question still remains, what is healthy and proper? If one references any anatomy or rehabilitation textbook, one will find anatomical ROMs assigned to all joints of the body. These ROMs are labeled “normal” and serve as references. Traditional fitness and rehabilitation programs have been guided by these ROMs in order to provide “optimum” function. However, applying this traditional approach allows a few very important concepts to be overlooked.
In order to provide some clarity to this discussion, we have to ask some important questions.
1) Why are we stretching?
2) Is flexibility related to injury prevention?
3) Is the passive ROM (developed through static stretching) related to active ROM? OR – just because a can get 140 degrees of static (passive) ROM out of a joint, will the body provide that same range at high speeds and loads (i.e. during a functional task)?
4) Is it healthy to statically develop a ROM that can’t be controlled at functional speeds and loads? Is there a difference between anatomical ROM and functional ROM?
5) Can we get flexibility through other methods of training outside of conventional stretching techniques?
6) Which flexibility do I really need the most of in functional daily activities (FDAs) and sports, static or dynamic, anatomical or functional?
All of these questions are valid and deserve some attention. However, getting to the absolute truth behind each question may be a different story. Since any position on flexibility can be supported by some research, we would like to keep the discussion based on our observations, coaching experience and common sense. I believe a simplified discussion will allow one to see flexibility from a more holistic perspective.
Most trainers stretch to gain flexibility. There is no doubt that flexibility is important, we just don’t know how important it is. The research from the armed-forces illustrates that the most and least flexible recruits are the most injured during boot-camp.(5) Furthermore, all of the research reviews that have looked at stretching and injury prevention show no correlation between the two. According to this body of work, more flexibility and stretching before an event does NOT protect one from injury.
Another aspect of flexibility one has to look at is the difference between passive flexibility (i.e. stretching) and active flexibility (i.e. functional ROM). Working with many athletes, we have had the ability to see many different ways to develop and express flexibility. Not all are tied into static stretching. Based on our observations, static flexibility is not related to active ROM. That is – the body will give you more ROM when it does not need to control speed, tension and stabilization in the ROM. As an example, all of our fighers can exhibit more ROM through a controlled passive stretch than they can through a live kick, even when instructed to kick as high as possible. What does it mean to us? We interpret this as, “if you can’t stabilize and control ROM the body won’t allow you to use it.” Therefore, our clients warm-up dynamically and incorporate full ROM training into their strength programs. We feel our strength exercises move our clients through the ROMs they will encounter in their chosen activity. Some research even indicates that it is the total amount of time at a given ROM is the predominant factor in providing ROM, and not the time of each stretch. In practical terms, this could mean that 15 reps of a reaching lunge may provide the same hamstring ROM benefits as15 seconds of a sit and reach stretch. However, the reaching lunge would provide additional stability, balance, strength, caloric burn and coordination not derived from the sit a reach stretch. This approach to training develops all of the functional flexibility we need for health and elite performance. All of our warm-up and training protocols inherently develop active ROM and if extreme static ROM is needed (i.e. as with our wrestlers), we make it part of our warm-up; holding the extreme position for 5-10 seconds.
To illustrate exactly how we integrate flexibility into our strength training programs, we would like to share two of our favorite exercises: the reaching lunge (RL) and the T-Stabilization (T-Stab) push-up. Both exercises include a unique blend of strength and flexibility. Each can also be modified to match any application. The bottom position of the RL resembles a static hamstring stretch. It can be performed in all three planes of motion to address the multi-planar nature of functional ROM. The stance, speed and range of movement can be tailored to meet the specific capabilities and training goals of any individual. The RL can also emphasize any muscle group within the kinetic chain. For example, reducing knee and spinal flexion can increase the ROM demands of the hamstring. This concept of “isolated integration” was first coined by Gary Gray, the father of modern functional training.(2) Using dumbbells with the RL can provide an excellent combination of ROM and strength. The RL progression is a staple movement in our training model and, along with other exercise, is credited with our near-perfect record against hamstring injuries.
The T-Stab push-up is also one of our staple exercises that incorporate functional strength and flexibility training. It too looks like a chest stretch, accept with more versatility. Like the RL it can also be modified specific to the capabilities and goal of any individual. For example, the upper body support can be elevated (e.g. using a fixed barbell at about waist high) and the rotation reduced to attenuate the intensity of the movement. Conversely, a lower support position (i.e. floor), the use of a weighted vest and increased rotation can provide a more advance training stimulus.
It should be made clear we do not feel that static stretching is not effective or does not have a place in fitness and performance training. However, we have not been able to identify to what degree it is effective, if it is the most effective road to functional flexibility and performance, and where its exact place is in the training scheme. We certainly acknowledge it as a tool in the rehab setting. We can also accept it as a “feel good” modality and have no objections to it being used everyday for that purpose. We often roll on medicine balls and biofoam rollers for a few minutes prior to workouts for that reason; it loosens us up and makes us feel good. However, we do find it alarming when coaches and organization insist on static stretching as the “best” or “necessary” method of preparation, improving functional ROM and reducing injuries. We believe the best flexibility method is still an ideological figment.
In summary, our field observations clearly indicate that static muscle compliance and active muscle compliance are not related (i.e. muscle compliance is a big component of ROM). Our observations also indicate that active muscle compliance is more important to our fitness performance goals. Over the last decade we have combined dynamic flexibility into our strength movements and have basically removed all static flexibility from our day-to-day training. The results are without question; over 500 case studies show a better then 95% success rate against non-contact and overuse injuries in the absence of static stretching. This is not to be taken as the best way to train. It just illustrates that there may be many ways to do things right.
1) Baechle, T.R., Earle, R.W.(ed). Essentials of Strength and Conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2000.
2) Gray, G.W. Chain Reaction Festival Seminar. San Diego, Cal., Sept 1996.
7) Jones, S, B. H., and J. J. KNAPIK. Physical training and exercise-related injuries. Surveillance, research and injury prevention in military populations. Sports Med. 27:111-125, 1999.
8) Knudson, D. V., P. Magnusson, and M. Mchugh. Current issues in flexibility fitness. Pres. Council Phys. Fitness Sports 3:1-6, 2000.
9) Kokkonen, J., A. G. Nelson, and A. Cornwell. Acute muscle stretching inhibits maximal strength performance. Res Q. Exerc. Sport 69:411-415, 1998.
6) Pope, R. P., R. D. Herbert, J. D. Kirwan, and B. J. Graham. A randomized trial of preexercise stretching for prevention of lower-limb injury. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 271-277, 2000.
3) Santana, J.C. Flexibility: More is not necessarily better. NSCA Journal: 26(1). 2004.
4) Schiilling, B., Stone, M. Stretching: Acute Efects on Strength and Power Performance. NSCA Journal: 21(1). 44-47. 2004.
10) Shrier, I. Stretching Before Exercise Does Not Reduce the Risk of Local Muscle Injury: A Critical Review of the Clinical and Basic Science Literature. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 9:221-227. 1999.
5) Thacker, S. B., J. Gilchrist D. F. Stroup, and C. D. Kimsey, JR. The Impact of Stretching on Sports Injury Risk: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 371-378, 2004.
Here is one of our favorite exercises for developing functional strength and flexibility. This reaching lunge protocol was designed by Gary Gray. Click below to see the video.
This is a ten day cycle. On the 2nd ten day go-round, on the odd numbered days, add a heavier med ball to the routine. On the 2nd go round add WEIGHT to each exercise. Same on the 3rd go-round. Same on the 4th go-round. After 40 days of training like this, we should adjust the routine to incorporate some changes and new material. You’ll start out needing 30 minutes a day on the first couple of days, (outside of running, which can be done in the same session or at a different time of day. But it will rapidly increase to about 45 minutes/1 hour per day towards the end of each cycle because of the increase in numbers.
Probably good to take a 2-3 day Break from dryland at the end of each 10 day cycle.
#1 – Run 30 minutes steady, easy
Med ball – standing – 25 chest passes, 25 overheads
Med ball – standing – 50 figure eights – change direction half way.
Med ball – “hikes” – 10 each partner.
Med ball situps – 4 x 25 sprint speed with ball.
Pushups – normal position – 3(10-9-8-7-6) 40 per set, 120 total.
Med ball wall throws – Overhead – 25, from side 25 left, 25 right, heavy ball.
#2 – Planks – 4 positions – 2 sets – 1 warmup 15 seconds, 1 full at 30 seconds.
Pushups with feet on med-ball – 10
Situps with feet on exercise ball – 30
Pullups – 5 x 5
Pulldowns with light weight on machine – 3×30
Dumbbell alternate arm flings – 30 each arm.
Bam-bams with med ball – 3 x 50
Swim Bench – 75 recovery strokes – Turned around backwards.
#3 – Run 30 minutes – 20 steady, 10 sprints.
Med ball – standing – 30 chest passes, overheads
Med ball – standing – 60 figure eights – change direction half way.
Med ball – “hikes” – 15 each partner.
Med ball situps – 5 x 25 sprint speed with ball.
Pushups – normal position – 4(10-9-8-7-6) 40 per set, 160 total.
Med ball wall throws – Overhead – 30, from side 30 left, 30 right, heavy ball.
#4. – Planks – 4 positions – 2 sets – 1 warmup 15 seconds, 1 full at 40 seconds.
Pushups with feet on med-ball – 15
Situps with feet on exercise ball – 40
Pullups – 5 x 6
Pulldowns with light weight on machine – 4×35
Dumbbell alternate arm flings – 40 each arm.
Bam-bams with med ball – 4 x 50
Swim Bench – 100 recovery strokes – Turned around backwards.
#5 – Run 30 minutes – 15 steady, 15 sprints
Med ball – standing – 40 chest passes, 40 overheads
Med ball – standing – 70 figure eights – change direction half way.
Med ball – “hikes” – 20 each partner.
Med ball situps – 6 x 25 sprint speed with ball. (125)
Pushups – normal position – 5(10-9-8-7-6) 40 per set, 200 total.
Med ball wall throws – Overhead – 350, from side 35 left, 35 right, heavy ball.
#6. Planks – 4 positions – 2 sets – 1 warmup 15 seconds, 1 full at 45 seconds.
Pushups with feet on med-ball – 20
Situps with feet on exercise ball – 50
Pullups – 5 x 7
Pulldowns with light weight on machine – 4×45
Dumbbell alternate arm flings – 50 each arm.
Bam-bams with med ball – 4 x 70
Swim Bench – 125 recovery strokes – Turned around backwards.
#7 – Run 40 minutes – Steady
Med ball – standing – 50 chest passes, 50 overheads
Med ball – standing – 70 figure eights – change direction half way.
Med ball – “hikes” – 25 each partner.
Med ball situps – 7 x 25 sprint speed with ball. (175)
Pushups – normal position – 6(10-9-8-7-6) 40 per set, 240 total.
Med ball wall throws – Overhead – 40, from side 40 left, 40 right, heavy ball.
#8. Planks – 4 positions – 2 sets – 1 warmup 15 seconds, 1 full at 50 seconds.
Pushups with feet on med-ball – 25
Situps with feet on exercise ball – 60
Pullups – 5 x 8
Pulldowns with light weight on machine – 4×50
Dumbbell alternate arm flings – 60 each arm.
Bam-bams with med ball – 4 x 80
Swim Bench – 2 x 75 recovery strokes – Turned around backwards.
#9 – Run 40 minutes – 20 steady, 15 sprint, 5 steady.
Med ball – standing – 60 chest passes, 60 overheads
Med ball – standing – 80 figure eights – change direction half way.
Med ball – “hikes” – 30 each partner.
Med ball situps – 8 x 25 sprint speed with ball. (200 )
Pushups – normal position – 7(10-9-8-7-6) 40 per set, 280 total.
Med ball wall throws – Overhead – 45, from side 45left, 45 right, heavy ball.
#10. Planks – 4 positions – 2 sets – 1 warmup 15 seconds, 1 full at 55 seconds.
Pushups with feet on med-ball – 30
Situps with feet on exercise ball – 70
Pullups – 5 x 9
Pulldowns with light weight on machine – 4×60
Dumbbell alternate arm flings – 70 each arm.
Bam-bams with med ball – 4 x 100
Swim Bench – 2 x 100 recovery strokes – Turned around backwards.
There is still time to sign up for ASCA Schools! AND…There are still spots available for COACHES and SWIMMERS at the CENTRAL STATES SWIM CLINIC!
Don’t delay – REGISTRATIONS can still be mailed at the pre-registration rate until May 6!!! Door registrations will be accepted on site.
Additionally, the hotel has extended the special clinic rate until Friday as well. Rooms are still available, but they are going quickly. Be sure to call soon to guarantee yours – rooms can be booked as available until Friday May 6 at the special clinic rate by calling (630) 573-8555.
The Central States Swim Clinic on May 14-15, 2011 will be held at the Oak Brook Marriott, in Oak Brook, IL.
If you wish to register for these additional courses, please note in the appropriate space on the clinic registration form and include payment payable to Central States Swim Clinic. These courses may be attended separately or in conjunction with the clinic.
Click below to register
Listed below is a list of ASCA Schools
*Age Group Sports Psychology
(May 12th: 1-5pm) $50.00
This course is designed to give coaches a clear and concise approach to developing their own mental training program for age group athletes. Areas covered are: organizing a program for your team and teaching methods; developing peak performance skills (relaxation, mental rehearsal, concentration) and how to practice these skills; and the teaching of life skills. (15 education credits)
*Working Successfully with Swimming Parents
(May 12th: 6-9pm) $50.00
This course is designed to provide you with “instant experience” and successful options in working with parents. Offers over 20 actual case studies and seven chapters of immediately useful, practical suggestions on how to be effective with your swim team parents. (15 education credits)
*The Physiology School
(May 13th: 9am-5pm) $60.00
The course is designed to give coaches a broad understanding of physiological principles and a working knowledge of season and workout design. Presented is the physiological basis for performance of the cardiovascular system, energy metabolism, swimming economy, type of training, fatigue mechanisms, and nutrition. Specific applications are presented including periodization of work and rest, workout design, taper, over training, strength and flexibility training. The school is conducted in simple, coach-oriented language that concentrates on conceptual understanding of the processes that lead to faster swimming and more effective training. (20 education credits)
*Creating Team Leadership
(May 13th: 6-8pm) $65.00/person
Previously ASCA has taught a class for just athletes. This course is for both coaches and athletes. Concepts to be covered will be what leadership is all about, how it applies in swimming, teaching the tools of being a leader & when to apply those tools. We will both teach the coach and teach the swimmer about leadership. This course is applicable to both real life and a swim team. It is designed so the coach & athlete can go home and educate their team about the skills of leadership.
The 2011 Clinic proudly offers the following prestigious line-up of speakers and Olympians:
- Dave Salo: ’08, ’04 & ‘00 Olympic Coach, Author, Head Coach USC Men & Women
- Brett Hawke: 2 time Olympian, Head Coach Auburn Men & Women, Coach of Cielo
- Rick DeMont: Assistant Coach to the South African Men’s Swim Team at three recent Olympic Games
- Dave Durden: ‘04 Olympic & ’03 Pan Pac Coach, Head Coach UC Berkeley men
- Jackie Berning Ph.D: Nutrition Consultant, Author and Educator
- Brendan Hansen: Olympic Gold Medalist ’04, Bronze Medalist ’00 & World Recordholder
- Kristy Kowal: Olympic Silver Medalist ’00, 8 time American Record holder & 1 World Recordholder
- Lindsay Mintenko: 2 time Olympian, American Recordholder & USA Swimming National Team Managing Director
Our clinic offers you a special opportunity to be with top age group & university coaches as well as ASCA, USA Swimming Facilities Planning and USA Swimming club certification courses.
You can find more information about the clinic, here: http://www.swimclinic.com/central_details.html
Registration forms are available here: http://www.swimclinic.com/central_registration-form.html
ASCA just started a focus group, comprised of roughly two dozen young, resourceful and dynamic coaches. The topic of discussion this week — Dryland —
Here’s what Coach Kelton Graham, of Club Wolverine, had to say on the subject…
Coach Kelton: Basically we start off with some dynamic stretching where we have the kids swing their arms and maybe some leg swings as well. Things like touch their toes and maybe arch their backs. Bend over and swing inside their feet and then swing outside their feet. We do this maybe three times a week about 30 to 45 minutes ages 11 on up. Depending on our location we like to use med balls. I still use some of Mike Barroman’s exercises where the kids pass the ball back and forth and do chess passes, or over head tosses, between the leg tosses. This is good for all ages, we have lighter med balls for the kids who are 11 and heavier ones for the older kids (up to 18). We typically alternate between doing these sort of exercises and doing some core body work with a physio ball or just basic planks. We also do pull ups and some of the older kids tend to use stretch cords as well.
I try to make my dryland follow the water portion of the season. So in the beginning while I may be doing drills in the water and teaching. In the beginning I am going over proper technique for maybe squats ( although I have to review this myself). I maybe doing basic things such as sit ups and lunges etc. And just adding reps in order to build strength. Not must need for speed yet. And we ALWAYS ATTACK THE ABS. We do as many ab exercises as we can in order to strengthen it.
As the season progresses, and I think the kids maybe getting bored, then I may add in the med balls and try to make them more explosive. So mid season we may just be doing basic sets of 10, I may ask the kids to increase the speed of them and become more explosive than before.
2. Is your dryland plan for this time of year different than what you do in the fall or winter?
Coach Kelton: Well yes and no. Not to different than the fall, since that is also early season, but yes for the winter. Right now, all we are doing is just dynamic stretching or just some basic ab work. Our spring season just started today. So we basically just introduced ourselves to the kids and that was about it.
3. Where do you get your dryland information? What is the best resource (e.g., book, website, person, course) you have used to improve your dryland?
Coach Kelton: Various places. We are surrounded by colleges here in Ann Arbor. But I still like Mike Barrowman’s med ball training. I’ve picked ideas from EMU and U of M. Bottom and Richardson and Linn all have great ideas. Vern Gambetta has some interesting things that he puts up on his web site. Bailey Weathers has some good stuff. There is even an old Scott Volkers video that I thought was really good that I some times peek at here and there. Bowman had some good stuff here that I still use.
4. Do you have a specific dryland coach?
Coach Kelton: We’ve had some in the past, unfortunately they’ve all got other jobs because they are good at what they are doing they move on.
5. Do you do dryland with your swimmers?
Coach Kelton: Sometimes, if I think it will motivate the kids to do a good job. Like if I have a swimmer not doing a good job with a med ball, I may become his partner and do it with them and remind them that I am old and can still throw the ball harder than them. (That only works with boys). Other times I may go running with some of the kids and just talk to them as we go around a track or just run through a trail of some sort, kids seem to like that sort of stuff. Never play dodge ball with them, because they all just aim at you however.
6. What do you want to know about other teams’ dryland plans and training?
Coach Kelton: Probably just seasonal planning. And how do they keep it interesting?
7. What do you want to share about your dryland plan that is not addressed in the above questions?
Coach Kelton: I think one thing that we do pretty well is that we mix it up quite a bit in order that certain kids excel at certain things. Some of our kids are good runners, so every once in a while we may go for a run and you’ll see certain kids take off, while us coaches may be in the back with those kids lagging behind or if I am feeling good I may try to keep up with the fast kids. Other days, we may see how many sit ups a kid can do in a minute and you’ll see another set of kids rising to the occasion and winning that competition as well.
- Build Better Athletes with ASCA’s New Dryland Course (swimmingcoach.wordpress.com)
- Dryland: Stronger Shoulders for $2 and 6 Minutes Per Day (swimmingcoach.wordpress.com)
Grif Fig, of IHPSWIM.com, recently posted a great article on shoulder stability and prehab exercises. Prehab – rather than rehab – is the coined term for sports injury prevention – i.e., make the body strong and mobile with functional and sport-specific exercises as a way to prevent overuse/overtraining injuries down the road.
Grif’s post shows a demo of these exercises using a flexibar. A similar piece of equipment is the Bodyblade. I don’t know much about the flexibar, but a Bodyblade will cost you somewhere between $50 and $150, depending on the weight/size you want.
Use is simple: You push and pull on the pipe (basically waving it back and forth), which produces the oscillation or flex of the pipe, which then require force output from you to neutralize the speed and movement of the blade. You have to start, stop and change directions of your own body while controlling your mass.
Your athletes can get the same effect – at a much cheaper cost – through the use of PVC pipe. Here’s what I’ve had my athletes do:
1. Go to Home Depot/Lowes/any sort of hardware store that sells PVC pipe.
2. Purchase 1/4 inch PVC pipe at a length somewhere between 7 and 8 feet (long enough to be flexible; short enough to be manageable). This will cost you less than $2.00.
3. Bring to practice. (Obviously, it’s much easier if you can store these at the pool, once acquired.)
4. Daily, incorporate a prehab routine into your practice. There are a multitude of routines you can follow, but I’ve had my athletes on a very simple plan that took us about six minutes per day.
– 30 secs left arm/30 secs right arm — arm extended overhead
– 30 secs left arm/30 secs right arm — arm extended in front of body
– 30 secs left arm/30 secs right arm — arm extended out to side – palm forward
The benefits are enormous – athletes increase core stability, shoulder stability and improve their overhead and lateral range of motion. And incorporating these exercises with some regularity and self-discipline really does prevent shoulder soreness, pain and injury.
So, if you want less whining and “stretching” on the wall, and/or stronger and healthier athletes with far less susceptibility to injury, start some shoulder prehab – all you need is $2 for PVC pipe and 6 minutes per day.
(Note: Although the shoulder prehab routine described above is a bit different from typical use of a Bodyblade, click here for a video if you need a little more insight as to how it all works.)
Check out this new edition of ASCA’s popular Dryland Training School (Oct. 2010). This edition is almost 50% more extensive than the original school and has a number of new and useful features for coaches. First, it comes with a DVD with 110 minutes of extensive demonstrations of more than 100 dryland training exercises. Second, there are three chapters that fully develop the place of dryland training in all programs from young age group novice athletes, to the elite athlete. Third, it has a chapter that develops the idea of how we relate what we do on dryland, to direct faster swimming in the water. The course also has information on developing a ‘cookbook’ approach if you lack the time to spend on extensive dryland development, and still want to do some dryland training. And finally, there are five chapters that develop specific routines in different modalities such as stretch cords, Med-balls, Plyo-balls, hand weight exercises, and exercises with very limited amounts of equipment. Whether you coach Age Group Athletes or Senior Swimmers, this manual is your basic primer on what to do, when and how to do it, and what it takes to effectively improve the athleticism of your athletes.