The Who-What-When-Where-Why of Flexibility Training
Written on June 23, 2009 at 6:55 am, by Eric Cressey
I got this question the other day and thought I’d share my response:
Q: When significant improvements in flexibility are either desired or needed, do you have any general suggestions with regard to what method(s) and type of schedule set-up (frequency, duration of session, etc.) would help accomplish this in the most timely and efficient manner possible?
A: As always, my answer would be “it depends.” And, more specifically, it depends on whether you are talking about short or stiff tissue.
If a tissue is legitimately short – meaning that it has lost sarcomeres due to chronic immobilization – longer duration holds are ideal. Bill Hartman and Mike Robertson go into great detail in covering this in the Indianapolis Performance Enhancement DVD Set, as I noted HERE.
If you are dealing with someone with capsular issues (outside the scope of practice of the personal trainers and strength coaches out there, in most cases), then you might just leave them alone with 15 minutes of low-load passive stretching (e.g., theraband wrapped around a DB to hold the shoulder in external rotation after a period in a sling). Going back to our “loss of sarcomeres” scenario, if you’re dealing with something more muscular-only issues, the least you’ll want is five 30s holds throughout the day, in my experience. Or, if feeling bold, you can have people set up for 3x5min holds or 1x15min hold. In both cases, total duration over the course of the day is likely more important than duration per stretch.
If it’s stiff, in order to get it to relax, you likely need to train an adjacent tissue that acts as a synergist. A good example would be strengthening the lower traps to take the stress off chronically overused upper traps and the stiff neck that follows. Or, we have activating the glutes to take the stress off the lumbar erectors and/or hamstrings and adductor magnus. Here is a great blog post from Bill Hartman that closely illustrates the point that you don’t necessarily have to stretch a muscle to reduce its stiffness.
Of course, you can never go wrong with integrating a good dynamic warm-up program prior to exercise, as this option challenges both range-of-motion and stability to provide a comprehensive training effect in a matter of minutes.
So, in the end, it’s different strokes for different folks – at different times, with different issues. Keep an eye out for an upcoming project from Bill, Mike, and I that really delves into this in great detail. It’ll be the most comprehensive resource out there for self-assessment and corrective exercise.