Why You Must Stretch and Foam Roll!
Two very beneficial things people neglect when weight training or being active to improve their body are stretching and foam rolling. Most individuals do not even have a clue what a foam roller is or what it is capable of doing. My goal at the end of this article is to discuss and provide the benefits of both stretching and foam rolling and what aspects they can have on your overall training.
First and foremost lets talk about stretching, most individuals when they hear the word stretch associate themselves with touching their toes or trying to gain flexibility. While that is true for the most part, stretching goes far above this. The first thing to consider is what improvements can I see while implementing stretching into my daily routine. Studies from 2010 have showed that these 5 benefits can be achieved through adding stretching into your daily routine for 5-10 minutes daily.
First and foremost increasing flexibility is the number one aspect by aiding in lengthening of the muscle to aid in movements and reducing the fluid susceptible to muscle strains, ligaments sprains, and other soft tissue injuries that can occur during training. Another important factor is improving circulation. Stretching can increase the blood flow to your muscles and while doing this can bring blood flow and nourishment to them muscles by removing waste byproducts. This can also have a positive aspect on reducing DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and joint injuries. A third factor is improving balance and coordination. While this does seem very straightforward improved balance and coordination will aid those who do lift weights or train to improve their physique. Try doing single legged or isolation movements that require increased the balance to hold your bodyweight on one leg or do a 1-arm chin-up with lacking coordination or balance in holding yourself up doing a pistol squat it may be damn near impossible! The fourth important factor is stretching aids in reducing lower back pain. Not only the lower back but nearby areas such as the hamstrings, glutes, butt, and hips (IT Bands). These are the parts of the human body that will rack up severe tension over prolonged periods of running, training, or walking around on a daily basis without any form of treatment or alleviation through a massage. I will talk more about this later regarding foam rolling and releasing those parts. Last but not least it can help improve cardiovascular health. Most individuals who do train or workout try to improve this on a daily basis to improve the most important muscle in the body (the heart). Stretching can lower blood pressure and show improvements in artery function
Now that we know important factors on why we should include stretching let’s talk about two different forms of stretching we can implement into our routine. The two types I will go over are “Static” and “Active” stretching. Most of these techniques are very common among individuals who weight train or train to become a bodybuilder due to warming up before a session to prevent injury to those specific body parts. Active stretching deals with taking weights and using fully stretched ranges of motions to warm up the muscle group for a prolonged period. Many individuals will use these types of techniques at the end of their working sets to help push blood into those areas to improve the overall pump of that set or try and put excess time under tension (TUT) for that particular body part. Some great examples would be holding Dumbbells in the eccentric portion of a Dumbbell fly to help stretch your chest. For the triceps take a Dumbbell and do a two arm extension behind your head by bringing the dumbbell down towards your neck and keeping your elbows tucked together placing a strain on your triceps and stretching them out. Holding a Shrug motion for you traps at the top of the movement will put continual strain and stretch out those trap muscles after multiple sets of trap work. If you have ever heard of DoggCrap (DC) training, you will find that these types of techniques are implemented after training those specific body parts.
Static Stretching, on the other hand, deals with trying to find discomfort in improving your range of motion on the body parts and holding that stretch for 30-60 seconds. The key is to ease into this type of stretching or else it will rack up some excruciating pain and risk pulling the muscle. This can be said when individuals try to touch their toes and have a hard time getting past their knees or to their ankles. Individuals will have others assist them by pushing down on their back or pulling their hands down to try and increase their range of motion when they are placing that individual in significant discomfort. Increased static stretching will improve mobility, flexibility, and will aid in reducing DOMS over periods of time.
Some examples to consider during your workouts would be grabbing a chin up bar as wide as possible and holding yourself up there for as long as you can go (30-60 seconds minimum if possible) allowing your body to stretch the lats as much as possible and aid in back soreness. To stretch your lats and chest at the same time grab a bar or a machine that is about waist height and extend your back to a 90-degree angle while stretching your arms out as far as possible. Continue to press down on your palms on the machine/bar and focus on stretching your lats out as far as possible while keeping your chest up to give your chest a stretch. Hold this for 30-60 seconds and then repeat multiple times if you feel comfortable increasing the duration. Last is a stretch for your quadriceps to help alleviate leg DOMS. Simply bring back one of your legs up to your butt and hold it with that corresponding hand. Try to hold your balance as much as possible and focus on squeezing your quad as hard as possible to try and get rid of the tension in your quads. Do this for 30-60 seconds per leg and rotate back and forth between legs to give them a break as you continue to increase the duration of each stretch.
Now that we know a good deal about stretching let’s talk about what Foam Rolling can bring into the equation towards preventing injury, increasing the chance of reducing DOMS, and aiding in Active Release Therapy (ART). Foam Rolling, In my opinion, is a lost art that people are clueless over. Individuals will see long foam tubes and wonder what part they have in a gym and their significance. Foam Rollers have the ability to duplicate what can be achieved through a hands-on massage and prevent injury. Due to the amount of stress foam rolling places on specific muscles its practically trying to duplicate deep tissue massage on points of interest such as glutes, IT Bands, back, quads, chest, calves, etc. The hardest part is getting down the motion and finding how to massage those specific areas. Many physical therapists include foam rolling work, and personal trainers are now adding this in as a staple for their clients to increase their flexibility and mobility during a workout session due to a very relaxed muscle compared to a very stiff muscle when executing an exercise. Foam Rollers are geared towards getting rid of trigger point pressure, knots, and area’s of muscle density (such as legs/back for example).
Foam Rolling is something that will have to be researched by the individual it’s not something you can pick up and understand. My best advice for you when looking into a foam roller is to spend a few extra dollars and get a reliable foam roller. Some will break in very fast and become very ineffective over time due to prolonged use. Find a foam that will hold its ground and stay stiff over a long period so you can reap the benefits of ART on sore body parts and release your muscles for your workouts. My last piece of advice will be to YOUTUBE videos on specific bodyparts you wish to utilize the foam roller with. This will be very important in getting down the foam rolling motion and setting up for that specific muscle area.