In our WOD Warm Up discussion we looked at several forms of stretching and identified the benefits (and limitations) of each. Here we expand on this discussion and go into greater detail of the different forms and highlighting the benefits of Dynamic and PNF stretching and how you can utilize these techniques to improve our WOD performance.
On the other hand, studies have shown dynamic warm up exercises and stretching can seriously reduce the risk of injury during competition. One such study tested the effects of soccer players using balance board exercises during their warm up routines and found significant reduction in knee injuries (in some studies upwards of 80%) as well as 30-35% reductions in ankle injuries.
We’d also like to remind the readers the numerous benefits of stretching, which include enhanced range of motion, increased blood flow, reduced risk on injury, and enhanced performance in sports. We all know that stretching increases the flexibility of the muscles. But what exactly does flexibility mean?
If we were to put it accurately, flexibility is the maximum range of motion for a joint or joints, and involves the length of muscles that run across the joints. By applying pressure gradually, stretching increases the range of motion and the length of muscles – thereby, increasing flexibility.
It is perhaps important to mention here that acquiring some blood flow in the muscles involved before stretching is a wise decision. This prevents the risk of over-stretching and fatigue. Athletes can engage in light jogs or some other dynamic movement workout to literally, get their blood pumping.
Throughout the course of this section, we will discuss three important types of stretches, the major muscle groups involved, and the main stretches for each muscle group involved.
3 Major Forms of Stretching
We discussed the significance of dynamic stretching earlier and it is probably the most effective form of stretching and the most important of the three. In many situations, dynamic stretching has completely replaced static stretching and in most situations, ballistic stretching has been completely replaced by dynamic stretching.
A prime reason for this of course, is the fact that static stretching has been shown to have a detrimental impact on many types of training with diverse movements. Most professionals and athletes incorporate some form of dynamic stretching into their routine, even if it is combined with other types of stretching. This type of stretching has been proven to be most effective in the prevention of injuries.
PNF & Myofascial Release
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, also known as PNF, along with Myofascial Release, is a class of stretching techniques mostly employed in rehabilitative settings and enhances passive and active range of motion. The primary goal is to rehabilitate the muscles and maximize motor performance. PNF is also popular for its timely effects on the muscles, as it increases the range of motion fairly quickly, compared to other types of stretching. Other than that, it is also labelled to be safer than other forms of stretching. Its safety and timely results are both reasons for its association with physical therapy.
Myofascial Release is a type of rehabilitative treatment, which involves soft tissue therapy to increase mobility of the skeletal muscles and heal pain. Generally, it aims to improve blood and lymphatic circulation and relax the muscles that are contracted. It is not generally categorized as a form of stretching; however, it does increase the flexibility of the immobile muscles.
This is the conventional type of stretching we have been referring to throughout the course of this article and it involves stretching a muscle up to a certain point and holding the position – usually for 30 seconds – to increase the length of the muscle.
Readers should not get the wrong idea about static stretching. Studies have only proven that it could have a detrimental effect if performed before a workout. However, studies have also exhibited that static or isometric stretching can be very helpful as a cool down exercise. It has been known to be particularly effective in getting rid of the lactic acid in the muscles.
Thus, it is imperative to employ static stretching in your CrossFit Warm Up as well. Many experts suggest that a hybrid form of stretching routine is usually the most advantageous.
Major Muscle Groups
Upper Body & Back
Some of the most important muscle groups reside in the shoulders, arms, and chest. The shoulders include deltoids and trapezius muscles. The front side of the upper arm has biceps, while the backside has triceps. The chest has pectoral muscles. In order to gain the full benefits of stretching, all these muscles should be focused on specifically.
In fact, if you neglect any of the complimentary muscles mentioned, you will not reach your flexibility potential. Here is something you can do to stretch the muscles in your shoulders, arms, and chest:
This stretch resembles the movement you make when you scratch your back.
- Pull your arm to your back to ‘scratch’ your back
- Now hold the arm with your other arm at the elbow and push it further down your back.
- This will stretch your deltoids and triceps.
To stretch the muscles in your chest that pull the shoulders and arms, you should
- Hold both your arms at the height of your shoulders
- Your palms should be facing forward
- Now pull the arms back to stretch your pectoral muscles.
- Sit on the floor while placing your hands behind your back, so your fingers point away and not towards the body.
- Now try to walk your hips – using your glutes – away from the body.
This is the muscle used for postural alignment in the back. The best way to stretch your erector spinae muscles is to do a cat stretch. It just involves kneeling on all fours and stretching like a cat with a rounded back.
Upper back stretches involve the stretching of rhomboids located between the shoulder blades. The simplest way to stretch rhomboids is to literally hug yourself, by placing both hands on the shoulder blades for maximum stretching.
IT Band, Hip Flexor & Groin
This is perhaps the most important muscle group, as it connects your core and your back with your legs.
- Stand straight
- Cross your right leg around the other
- Lean on your left side on a wall or a chair and you will feel a stretch in your IT Band muscle in the right thigh.
- Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat with the other leg.
Myofascial Release – IT Band
- Lie on your side supporting your weight with your arm
- Support your lower body weight with foam rollers placed at the side of your thigh
- Place the other leg in front of the leg placed over the foam rollers
- Now use your arms and leg to roll yourself up and down.
Hip Flexor stretches (psoas muscle group) can be tricky because it is easy to confuse them with stretching the quadriceps. The hip flexor muscle is involved in flexing your hip joints, pulling your knees upward, and moving your legs from one side to the other. A butterfly stretch can be a good way to open up your hip flexor muscles.
- Just sit with your feet facing and touching each other
- Pull your feet towards your hips and you will feel tension in the hip area
The groin muscles are very commonly associated with injuries and are quite important for runners and athletes. There is a variety of ways to perform groin stretches, the most popular of which is called the ‘butterfly‘ however but we’ll focus on more of a dynamic groin stretch.
- Stand with one foot firmly planted on the floor
- Slowly swing the other leg forward
- Move it in a half circular motion and swing it back before returning to the original position.
- Keep increasing your range of motion slowly.
- Lie on your side
- Try to grasp your ankle
- Push your hips forward
- Put one of your heels on a chair
- Keep your leg and back straight, and your hips contracted
- Now bend your back towards the stretched leg to stretch the hamstring muscles.
Calves have two muscles, which include Gastrocnemius and the Soleus muscle. Lunges with a straight back leg can be used to stretch the Gastrocnemius muscle (Figure A), while lunges with a bent knee can be done to stretch the Soleus (Figure B).
By performing these basic stretches, you will definitely be on your way to developing overall flexibility. Once you’ve attained some flexibility in your muscles, you can get creative and start doing hybrid stretches that are dynamic as well as static in nature.