Most people, but not all, like the idea of being able to move freely without any limitations. Even something as simple as reaching up on the top shelf of a cabinet or bending over to pick something up off the ground can be a challenge. The lack of ability, or Mobility if you will, stems from three possible sources: lack of strength, lack of flexibility, or both resulting in lack of Mobility. While most people don’t bat an eye if they can’t reach something or have a hard time bending to the ground, I know there are those who face the same problem when performing lifts. So here is a little education.
Every person has three types of muscle in their body: smooth, striated, and cardiac. Striated muscle, or skeletal muscle, is the connective tissue in the body that is used to put the body in motion. In an effort to cut this article down, just understand that this muscle has two types of fibers that shorten, resulting in the contraction of the muscle. Therefore, the strength of the muscle is based on how much a muscle is able to contract. This is why when you completely flex a muscle, it grows due to all of the fibers contracting together. One major item of note is that muscles are similar to rubber bands, in that they can stretch. This can be problematic because when the fibers in the muscle are stretched, it is very difficult for them to contract unless you test them in their stretched condition. Case in point, if a lifter never goes completely in the bottom of the squat, they will get “stuck in the bottom” of the squat at the heavier weight.
As stated above, skeletal muscle is similar to a rubber band in that it will stretch. With that being said, the muscle can break if stretched too far, just like the rubber band. What makes the muscles so great is that when you “stretch,” the muscle will elongate. This helps the athlete gain an increased range of motion, such as a deeper squat. One thing that must be address is that once the muscle is elongated, it must be trained to contract at that new length.
So how does this all play together? As athletes we want to be strong and flexible. The problem that usually limits the athlete is that a focus will generally stay with training the muscle with lifts, however, stretching is generally underutilized. This results in the muscle contracting with a significant force, however, only when it’s in a shortened state. As a snowball effect, the shorten state can result in improper positioning, such as not able to keep the weight back on the heels.
Bottom line, stretch. Stretching before a workout, after you warm the muscle up, is beneficial but the most bang for your buck is after a workout. Stretching does two things, it helps the muscle elongate after going through multiple contractions and helps the body rid the muscle of toxins produced from the workout. If you have questions on what to do, ask a coach or youtube Kelly Starrett, the Supple Leopard