Another eye-opener and muscle-stretcher routine

Dave Ortman, a.k.a. Perspiring Minds, who can run fast without warming up, sent me this link to a stretching article in his local Seattle paper. Dave wrote: “Old habits die hard.” But old tracksters love to experiment. So there. The article starts: “Sometimes you simply have to rethink a routine, and it’s fair to say Tyler Oakley has a leg up on that. He is a personal trainer and owner of Seattle-based Flow Life Fitness. Oakley says his approach to stretching is that ‘flexibility is not necessarily a healthy characteristic.’ Instead, ‘what you are looking for is mobility. You want the muscle tissue to relax.’ ”

And here’s the rest:

For a warm-up, Oakley typically asks clients to perform what might be called a cradle rock or rolling crunch. You start prone on the floor similar to an abdominal crunch. Then you gently roll or rock along the spine. The desired outcome is to massage the spine and internal organs. As it turns out, the exercise doubles as a strength builder for the body core of the abs, lower back muscles and hip flexors.
If the rolling crunch sounds a bit like yoga, it makes sense. Oakley teaches a form of the ancient healing practice to clients.
“The rolling crunch is a staple of what I do to get people started on their workouts,” said Oakley. “It takes a while to develop the proper technique. It is all about the technique.”
And decidedly not about pain, feeling the burn, soreness, stiffness — none of that symptoms many of us might associate with workouts. A major indicator of fitness success, said Oakley, is “how well people are moving” both during workouts and in everyday life.
As Oakley paces clients through rolling crunches, he appears to have company in thinking differently about how we need to warm up before working out. This fall, a new U.S. study about stretching points away from the “static” technique in which you hold a series of stretches for 20 to 30 seconds each before exercising. This research builds on past studies, notably first coming from Australia, questioning the practice of stretching before workouts.
In the September study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, exercise scientists at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas found typical stretches for the hamstrings (back of thigh) and quadriceps (front of the thigh) actually may reduce leg force during a workout that follows.
The subjects in the study were college athletes. They were divided into three groups that performed static stretches, ballistic (bouncing) stretches or no stretches. Both stretching groups tested lower for overall leg strength. Other studies even show that workout power is diminished even in the opposite leg not being stretched.
“Developing flexibility is important for reducing sports injury,” said UNLV study co-author Bill Holcomb, who also directs the university’s Sports Injury Research Center, “but the time to stretch is after, not before, performances.”
In fact, the researchers recommend that coaches skip pre-game and pre-practice stretches in favor of a “whole-body warm-up.” Similarly, Oakley urges his clients to embrace his concept of “circular strength.”
“I want clients to work the whole body,” said Oakley, who trains near the Space Needle. “Conventional fitness calls for isolation of muscle groups to work out (typically done with weight lifting and flexibility work). But that’s a myth. You can’t single out muscles. Circular strength is aimed at getting you into a flow, first with your skeletal structure and joints, then we move to the muscles.”
To this end, Oakley uses yoga and dance movements for what he calls “rewiring” the skeletal structure, then typically employs kettleballs (medicine balls with handles) and pull-u bars to continue encouraging a flow format to the workout.
Consensus is building: The best strategy before a workout is to heat the body with about five minutes of aerobic activity. Breaking a light sweat is a good indicator of a proper warm-up. If you prefer a quantitative perspective, you can do two to three minutes or running/walking at 40 percent capacity, then finish with two to three minutes of 60 percent capacity.
Other studies show that warming up — common sense dictates it — too early before a game or practice won’t help much and could even leave your lower back vulnerable. The best approach, gleaned from the latest research, is a minimum of five minutes warm-up and no more than 10 minutes. Then give your muscles three to five minutes to “recover” or, perhaps better expressed, recharge for the workout.
Here’s an idea for the time-challenged exerciser (a likely definition as holidays approach): Perform a proper warm-up as described here, then forgo your usual workout and move right into a flexibility routine that might be, say, a yoga sun salutation sequence or more functional work such as “hitting” golf balls with no balls or even without clubs. Walkers can do squats and lunges. Basketball players can move back and forth on a court on all fours (harder than it sounds).
Even 10 minutes of such flexibility and agility work can improve your fitness or create what Oakley calls more “life flow.” And you will done with the “workout” in 15 minutes.

Have a warm Christmas and Hanukkah, y’all!

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December 24, 2008

4 Responses

  1. Pete Magill - December 24, 2008

    Well, quite a few of us have been saying the same sorta thing for a long time!
    I stopped stretching pre-workout and went to post-workout 25 years ago … when I learned that the great New Zealand middle-distance/distance runners of that era did the same thing! And for me it’s all about relaxing the muscles (taking them out of spasm), not “stretching” them. Amazing how much better you feel the next day if you stretch after running!
    But as for the warmup: studies have shown that runners need closer to 12-15 minutes of easy aerobic jogging/running to prep the body for 100% effort. That’s the time it takes to reach full suppleness, aerobic enzyme activity, etc. This, of course, is commonsense for most of us, who can physically feel the moment when our bodies are suddenly “ready” to run harder (when I was younger, it was at the 12 minute mark; nowadays, it’s closer to 15-16 minutes).
    Okay, thanks for the great blog post, Ken!

  2. Diane Palmason - December 24, 2008

    Pete is still young! At 70 I find it takes me at least 20 minutes of gradually increased effort – walk, jog, easy run – to even “break a light sweat”, especially in our current climactic conditions. Here in my new home on Vancouver Island – Comox – we are SNOWBOUND! “Oh what run it is to run through 20 cms of snow” – and it’s still coming down.
    Many thanks to you, Ken, for all you do with this blog. And Season’s Greetings and Best Wishes for 2009 to you and all your readers.

  3. Tom Fahey - December 25, 2008

    While an active warm-up seems to be the best approach, the research is far from clear. Several studies found that ice baths before distance running improve performance. That certainly runs contrary to conventional wisdom and the concept of a general warm-up.
    Stanford University physiologists developed a convective cooling device called “The Glove,” that reduces muscle temperature without causing peripheral vasoconstriction (reducing blood flow in the skin). Preliminary data shows that it will improve performance in endurance events. It also prevents heat illness during prolonged athletic events such as football, tennis, and soccer.
    Thousands of warm-up studies have been published since 1938 (Asmusen and Boje). We still don’t have an answer.

  4. Fidel - May 3, 2009

    After countless hamstring, groin, and quad pulls, I’ve settled into a warm-up/stretching routine that gets results. I typically compete in 100/200/400 races and haven’t had a hamstring pull like I used to get in years. My warm-up/stretching routine does take an hour but I know I reduce the risk. I’ll warm-up my body by doing squats, leg curls, lunges, and toe raises without weights. I then go into a 1/2 hour full body stretching routine. After stretching, I do strides while doing light skipping, high knees, one leg hops, and various jumps during the walk back recovery. Lots of prep but works for me.

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