My FAST Philosophy revolves around 4 pillars and a 4-way approach to fitness. The pillars are Fast, Agile, Strong and Toned and the 4 steps are about 4 elements (nutrition, training, hormones, environment), 3 steps (skill development, practice, application), 2 modalities (Ballistics and Grinds, as in the RKC school of strength training) and 1 body (yours).
When you mention “flexibility”, most people think of yogis, dancers, Pilates instructors and generally very lean body types. Other words associated with flexibility, among others, are “stretching” and for the folks who are not flexible, “pain” and “discomfort” also comes to mind. However, few people think of strength when the word “flexibility” is brought up.
Have you ever seen an Olympic lifter lift well over their bodyweight in an overhead lockout and deep squat? The shoulders or fully brachiated, elbows locked, chest open, back flat and straight and buttocks inches from the ground, heels firmly planted. I challenge you to go pick up a broomstick and perform the same movement. Go do it now (insert intermission music here while you try). You back yet? Not so easy, huh?
The overhead squat is a great way to assess a person’s mobility, flexibility and imbalances. Notice that flexibility is only one of the aspects I am focusing on. First of all, flexibility comes from mobility, a.k.a. your ability to move well. Most people confuse stability with stiffness, whereas if I can troubleshoot your movement and teach you how to move better, you will gain better flexibility and overall stability (e.g. the overhead squat requires tremendous flexibility under load while keeping that load -you and the weight- stable). Using the example of the lifter performing an overhead squat, his back is strong, shoulders are very mobile, calves and quadriceps very flexible to allow for proper dorsiflexion while the hamstrings come in contact with the calves at the bottom of the squat without lifting the heels off the ground.
I am not saying a yogi cannot perform such a feat, rather am merely pointing the fact that the ability to move a fridge and do a backbend are not mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, incorporating heavy lifts into your program will not only build your muscles and allow you to burn more fat, build strength and slow down the aging process, it will help your body become more functional because you are not focused on just one modality.
PROPER STRETCHING INJURY-PROOFS YOUR BODY
Stretching is an activity that, if you’re not good at it, is often overlooked or done improperly, especially if your range of motion is poor. Plus, your mind has trained your body into thinking you can’t go past a certain point. First, assess what your individual needs are. Second, your muscles are like an animal under attack, guarded and braced. Relax the muscles as you would appease the animal and you’re likely to be able to increase your range of motion, as you can pet the fearful animal. One way to relax your muscles is by actually engaging and contracting them. Say you cannot touch your toes. Stand with your knees touching, squeeze your glutes, contract your quads and lats and forcefully push your fists downwards, toward the floor. Repeat the action at every forceful exhale as you inch along towards the ground. It’s OK to bend your knees. Just make sure your butt is dropped below your shoulders before you come back upright.
Now, take a deep breath, exhale and relax into the toe touch. You’ve just gained a few millimeters, or inches, based on your natural level of fitness. By contracting the muscles, you’ve removed the fear of pain and focused on their strength. Upon release, the relieved muscle now is like the calmed animal and goes further into the stretch.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, or PNF, revolves around the concept of contracting the opposite muscles to relax the primary muscle and ease it into further range of motion. Relaxing your muscles into it is a great way to protect your muscles, especially under load when most injuries occur. Loosening up the body by loosening up the joints is a great warm-up prior to any kind of physical activity. Many people stretch before working out not realizing that stretching itself is a workout. Do a round of strength stretching and you might find the need to drop your working weight because of the onset of fatigue. And remember, when fatigued, your muscles are relaxed and if they’re too relaxed, your ability to lift heavy is compromised and you may hurt yourself.
Don’t stretch when you warm-up, rather loosen up the joints.
Use tension (strength) when going into a stretch, then relax and instantly increase your range of motion (temporarily at first, gets better with practice).
Stretch after training to restore proper length-tension relationship in the muscles and connective tissue.
Flexibility under load is crucial for injury proofing the body. If you perform heavy lifts without the flexibility and mobility to maintain proper form, you WILL get injured.
If your flexibility is only the result of stretching workouts like Pilates, keep in mind that it is not enough to develop strength or the ability to load your body with heavier weights, as you will not have developed proper leverage skills for your heavy lifts.