In the article on Active Isolated Stretching, I commented on the great gains I made in my flexibility after a couple weeks of this stretching. I also mentioned that I nearly fell flat on my face the first time I tried to run, after doing this type of stretching. What was missing? Movement retraining. After increasing my flexibility while lying down, I now needed to work on using it in my movements while standing. When you are standing, you have several muscles working together any time you move – whether you are walking, running, or swinging a golf club. A simple way to do this movement retraining is with multi-direction lunges. For example, you step forward with one leg while reaching towards your toes, dynamically stretching your hamstrings, glutes, and low back, only reaching as far as is comfortable, without straining. You then push yourself back into place as you stand up, switching legs and repeating.
Then you step out to the side with one foot, reaching towards the inside of your ankle, again staying within your comfort zone. Step back into place and switch sides, going back and forth at a comfortable speed that you can control (no straining). Since your body also moves diagonally, you position one foot at an angle about 45 degrees away and slowly lunge forward on the front leg and then back into place, before switching sides. If you are getting ready to exercise or play sports, you can gradually increase your speed of movement, as your body adapts to the stress. Many sports injuries occur when the body is decelerating, so by training this key movement component with dynamic flexibility, you should decrease your risk of injury while increasing your performance. When changing directions while moving, you have to first decelerate before you can accelerate. This dynamic training gives you control of your movements. Strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle has probably worked with more athletes than almost anyone, in the last 20 years, from kids on up to college and professionals.
All his athletes do dynamic movements before their training and not static stretching. Dynamic flexibility stimulates the nervous system, which is what you want prior to exercise. Static stretching, where you hold a position for 20-30 seconds, relaxes the nervous system. Think of it this way, does it make sense to prepare for movement by standing still (static stretch)? No! And that is why you do dynamic movement, “gradually” increasing the speed of your movements as your body adapts and your muscles get warmer. Save the static stretching for after your workout, to relax your muscles and allow them to lengthen. Rehab settings may be different, but I’m talking about those who aren’t currently injured. If you are over 40, and not so concerned with playing sports, doing these movements on a regular basis will help you stay mobile as you age. Many seniors have trouble bending over to pick things up off the floor and getting up from a chair, as well as balance issues, so why not work on these movements before then by working on dynamic flexibility while standing?! Remember, the body adapts to the demands you place on it. So if you work on these movements now and don’t stop doing them, you should be able to bend over and pick something up easily at any age. Moving in all directions with control is key to reducing your risk of injuries and staying mobile at any age.