Warming up before a training session is important, simply put, it is the process of preparing our bodies for exercise. This movement preparation will allow us to move more efficiently, which from a performance point of view is preferable. More efficient movement puts less stress on joints which contributes to lower injury risk. Flexibility is the combination of mobility and stability, so being bendy is pointless without the ability to control it.
Here are three types of commonly used flexibility work and where they can be used:
Static stretching moving our joints into a lengthened position until we feel a stretch and holding. While this will temporarily lengthen a muscle, and allow greater range of motion, it does not allow a nervous system adaptation to the movement and as such we are not stabilising. This lack of awareness may increase injury risk in explosive movements e.g. performing a static hamstring stretch, before performing lots of kicking movements. Static stretching is best used where poor joint mobility prevents proper movement. You should then follow this up with dynamic stretching or light movement to allow the body to re-learn the joints new range.
Repeatedly taking a joint or joints through a full, stabilised range of motion. Many dynamic stretches can be movement based progressions of static stretches. If we continue with the hamstring example; you could slowly bow from the waist towards the floor until you felt a hamstring stretch and then return to the upright position, maintaining control throughout (No bouncing), repeating this and gently moving further each time until your maximum comfortable reach is achieved. Progressions from here can include single leg/arm variations and with the addition of rotation to mimic the movements required for many sports.
FOAM ROLLING / TISSUE RELEASE
Using foam rollers, massage sticks & mobility balls etc. Muscle & connective tissue can be mobilised without lengthening, which is very useful when improved movement is needed, but not at the cost of joint stability. Perhaps the most common example would be the mobilisation of the Iliotibial band (ITB) on the side of the thigh as the restricted movement here can cause incorrect movement of the knee and put unwanted stress on the joint. Other useful areas for triathletes to treat in this way include; Glutes, lower leg, back, shoulders and feet.
EXAMPLE MOBILITY WORK
Foam rolling (ITB) – When using foam rollers or any kinds of mobility tools, the aim is to target muscles using massage and trigger point type techniques. Whichever mobility tool you’re using, get into position with the roller/ball and start by applying gentle pressure to the target area before moving around to apply different pressures and roll through the length of the muscle. In the case of the IT Bandstart at the hip and slowly roll towards the knee. By keeping your opposite foot on the floor, you can control the movement and how much force you put on your leg, so as not to make it too uncomfortable.
Dynamic Flexibility (Hamstring, glutes & back) – This progressive variation of a single leg hamstring stretch also targets muscles in the glutes and back. Begin with a split stance with the front leg straight and toes raised. Bow forwards pushing your hips back and reaching towards the foot with the opposite hand. When you feel a stretch, return to the top position and repeat. Progress to movement with each repetition including more rotation towards the foot at the bottom and in the opposite direction at the top of the movement.