A few weeks ago, I was backstage at an MMA event assisting fighters with their final preparation before they entered the ring. There were all kinds of activity going on such as athletes punching mitts, jumping rope, performing push-ups and a host of other things. One guy stuck out in my mind in particular. This guy sat in a split position and twisted his body like a pretzel for thirty minutes.
The Human Pretzel
In his mind he was preparing his body for battle, although it appeared to me that he was conducting a yoga class. The point I am making is that he thought this was honestly what he needed to do. A little Static Passive Stretching (relaxing your body into a stretch and holding it there by the weight of your body or some external resistance) probably would not be detrimental, but at the same time it offers little benefit. I know what you're saying right now.
This guy is crazy; everyone knows that you stretch before performing an intense activity like fighting. You are correct, but the right type of stretching is crucial for performance enhancement. Dynamic Stretching (moving body parts in a controlled manner with gradual increases in range and speed of movement) is the preferred method before performing dynamic athletic activities. We save the static stretches for post workout.
If you are involved in martial arts, particularly traditional martial arts, you have been exposed to the slow static stretching regimen for years. As I pointed out earlier, this type of stretching is fine and can be conducive when performed at the right times and in the right doses. Below I have provided a few reasons why excessive amounts of static passive stretching is contraindicated before engaging in combat...
- Relaxation of the nervous system which causes decreased neural firing.
- Mild fatigue
- Decreased coordination
- Decrease in agility
- Decrease in quickness
- Weakens the stretch reflex
All of the above effects are side effects of the relaxation of the nervous system which is responsible for all movements. As you can see from the above list, if the nervous system is relaxed there is no way you can perform at optimal levels. Static stretches performed post fight or workout can offer the trainee positive benefits such as mental relaxation, calming of the nervous system, specific static flexibility and enhanced recovery.
Dynamic Range Of Motion Stretching
On the other hand Dynamic Range of Motion stretching is just what the doctor ordered before intense physical activity. The following are some benefits that can be expected with a proper DROMS program...
- Increased neural firing
- Muscle lengthening
- Heightened body awareness
- Improved agility and quickness
As you can see all of these qualities are important for someone stepping on the battlefield.
Isometric stretching (use positions similar to those in Static passive stretching and adding strong tensions of stretched muscles) is another type of stretching that I should briefly mention. The benefits of this type of stretching is particularly important for grapplers.
Grapplers require great static strength to enhance their ability to hold certain moves. Static holds with weights and isometric stretching can improve this quality enormously. When performing static holds with weight simply hold a weight in a particular angle that stretches the intended muscle and joint.
An example would be sit at the bottom of a front squat while holding a weight. Another example would be to find a heavy partner and have him lay in your guard while putting pressure on you as this heavily stretches the hips and the entire posterior chain. Be cautious when using these techniques.
Effects On Performance
All of the stretches mentioned above can have positive effects concerning performance. Adequate Flexibility (your ability to move your joints through their intended full range of motion without a large decrease in absolute strength) is necessary for athletes to perform at optimal levels. As stated above it is of utmost importance that athletes understand what types of flexibility is most needed for their sport.
Do not forget that the manner in which the athlete performs should also be taken into consideration when developing a flexibility program. If you are a fighter who likes throwing high kicks or likes to pull off fancy submissions from the guard, hip mobility should be a top priority.
If you box and like to throw low Thai kicks this attribute would not be as significant. As with all training programs I would recommend that you get a general understanding of the specifics of what you need and a well organized plan. On a final note flexibility is one of the easiest motor qualities to attain with a little time and dedication.
This means prioritizing this quality and training it adequately. Spending 3 minutes per day stretching before you workout will do little to enhance this important quality.
One of the best programs I have ever seen for athletes interested in developing flexibility is the program Coach Davies outlines in Renegade Training For Football. The hip mobility drills are a thing of genius. Give Coach Davies' program a try and you will be happy with your new-found levels of flexibility.
Even if you do not try Coach Davies' program be sure to incorporate various types of stretching in to your regimen.
We will look at enhancing aerobic and anaerobic endurance (work threshold) in next week's installment.