Are you struggling to find the time to stretch daily or even weekly? Or maybe you just hate stretching in general (join the club). As a physical therapist, mobility is something I'm quite passionate about. While I'm passionate about helping others, I was seriously slacking on my own stretching routine (and by seriously slacking I mean non-existent). Recently, I've been really working on improving my own mobility and incorporating it into my training regimen.
So, why is it important to focus on mobility? To name a few, improving flexibility will significantly decrease your risk of injury, help you move more efficiently, decrease aches/pains and also improve your strength and power generation. Mobility will also decline as we age so we need to make sure we address it sooner rather than later (although it is never too late to start!). We all know that stretching is good for us, but let's be honest, it's not always something we enjoy or prioritize. I, like many others, have neglected stretching for years and have always struggled with tight calves, hamstrings, and the inability to touch my toes. Making it a New Year's resolution repeatedly didn't help either. However, there was a study I came across that changed my perspective and motivated me to take action. It examined the minimum effective dose required for long-term flexibility improvements. And guess what? It wasn't a daunting amount at all. This revelation was a game-changer for me and might just inspire you too.
The study revealed that dedicating just five minutes per body part per week can lead to noticeable changes in flexibility within three to four months. To break it down further, this equates to just three sets of 30 seconds, five days a week. When you hear these numbers, it suddenly becomes much more manageable compared to the lengthy stretching routines some people do.
So, how can you incorporate these short stretching sessions into your day? The key is finding pockets of time that work for you. Personally, I've started utilizing those five-minute gaps between patients at work. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media, I take that time to do a calf stretch or a quick hamstring stretch. To stay accountable, I mark each day on a calendar whenever I complete my stretching routine.
Now, you may be wondering if static stretching is the only option. The truth is, anything is better than nothing. If you can find a dynamic stretching routine or a lengthier mobility drill that fits into your lifestyle, that's fantastic. For example, I always do a dynamic stretching routine before my leg workouts and I have even added some loaded stretches/exercises into my routine to improve both strength and flexibility. But for many people, finding the minimum effective dose is crucial due to the time constraints of a busy lifestyle.
Consistency is key when it comes to maintaining flexibility gains. Even the most flexible individuals, like my dancer girlfriend, notice a decline in mobility if they skip just a few days of stretching. Consistently incorporating stretching into your routine will help you sustain your flexibility in the long run. I also want to emphasize the importance of strength development throughout your available range of motion. At Streamline Performance, we believe in the mantra of "strengthen to lengthen." Simply stretching without developing strength can limit your progress. Strengthening your muscles throughout their full range of motion is the missing link for many people who struggle to see improvements despite regular stretching.
One effective way to accomplish this is through eccentric training. Eccentric movements focus on the negative portion of a contraction, providing resistance as your muscles lengthen. For example, incorporating stiff-legged deadlifts with a barbell into my workouts has greatly helped my hamstring flexibility. By slowing down the descent and feeling the tension, I actively engage and strengthen those muscles throughout my entire range of motion. The added benefit is that the load of the barbell also provides me with a deeper stretch. Over time, I've noticed increased range of motion and improved blood flow, which aids in improving both flexibility and strength.
Remember that eccentric training shouldn't be the sole focus of your routine. It's just one element among various stretching and strengthening methods. However, incorporating eccentric movements specific to your target areas can provide both strength and flexibility benefits.
So, whether you're targeting hamstrings, hip flexors, or glutes, there are a ton of exercises/stretches you can try. For instance, the rear foot elevated split squat or Bulgarian squat targets the back leg, engaging the muscles while lengthening them. In conclusion, mobility is a crucial aspect of overall fitness and well-being. By dedicating just five minutes per body part per week of static stretching, (or also adding eccentric training and other dynamic movements in your workouts), you can make significant improvements in your flexibility over time. Remember, consistency is key, and integrating these practices into your daily routine will lead to long-term benefits. So, take those five minutes and prioritize your mobility. Your body will thank you.
References: Bandy WD, lrion JM. The effect of time on static stretch on the
flexibility of the hamstring muscle. Phys, Ther. 1994;74:845-850.