Richards: Pitfalls of stretching and mobility exercises (column)
February 11, 2019
The last several years has been an exciting evolution within fitness culture. From the progressive, and relatively overnight success of CrossFit, to more benign strategies including Pilates, yoga, Peloton and online "bootcamp" style fitness platforms, we have seen tremendous growth within the industry. The boom is positive; new ideas and concepts have increased general fitness, and the public is better educated on health and longevity than ever before.
However, some information has been less than optimal at preparing trainees for success. I have always maintained that you can't beat optimal. Too much of a good thing? It's the American way, if something is useful, more is better. Well, pizza and beer is a necessary part of my life, but I'm not sure I need more of it.
Here's what you need to know. Fitness qualities are performance metrics that can be quantified. These qualities include, but aren't limited to, muscular endurance, strength, aerobic capacity, flexibility, speed and coordination. Any fitness quality attained to excess is a potentially bad thing for overall well-being. For example, a marathoner will sacrifice her muscular power, in pursuit of aerobic capacity and endurance required for the sport of running.
It is currently fashionable to increase mobility (the joint and soft tissue's accessible range of motion) at all costs as it's widely accepted that this trend reduces injuries. As bipedal upright beings, we must be able to maintain a level of muscular integrity as we walk, recreate, work and carry on daily life.
Think of a bridge and it's many taut cables and concrete pillars that hold the structure together. What if the cables were loose? What if the pillars were made of rubber? Think about the muscles of the back of your legs as they hold the knee in place, and help articulate the body through motion. Now, using the analogy of a rubber band, would I rather have a taut rubber band hold my knee in place, (that could still be stretched with reasonable pliability) or a worn out, loose rubber band?
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Gray Cook, an orthopedic specialist, said "If you're using 'flexibility' as an umbrella term for tightness, you're like a map maker who still insists the world is flat. Calling all limited range of motion problems flexibility issues is problematic because it suggests that all can be helped with stretching."
STRENGTH AND INTEGRITY
Range of motion is necessary, but stretching beyond a reasonable level can lead to specific joint problems. It's not proven, but it's a possible explanation of why women tend to experience more ACL injuries in sport than the male counterpart. Women are inherently more flexible than men because of the necessity to deliver children into the world. Increased flexibility is often accompanied with a decrease in stability about a joint. Again, what's optimal?
The specifics of joint mobility and what needs addressed is beyond the scope of this discussion. Generally speaking, most people need a moderate amount of range, and should aim to increase the strength and integrity of the muscles to better stabilize their positions in life and sport. Stay tuned for more specific mobility guidelines in the next column. Have a great week.
Ryan Richards is a fitness professional who has been keeping the Vail Valley strong for over a decade. You can find him at ryanrichards.com or 970-401-0720.
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