Incorporating Flexibility Training into your routine

Joe Breen, Director of Baseball Operations, RBI Baseball Academy

Check out Coach Breen’s blog at www.joebreenrbi.wordpress.com!

Flexibility Training can otherwise be dumbed down to “stretching” or “warming-up” although it should also be used for “cooling down” as well.  One question I like to ask my players before a throwing/pitching session is “If you could only pick from the following two options to prepare your body to pitch a game on a 20 degree day, would it be A. run 2 laps around the field or B. a 15-second static shoulder stretch (aka arm across chest stretch).”  About 99% of these players answer the question correctly (Answer A); however, anytime I tell a player “get stretched out and we’ll begin throwing when you’re done”, they typically perform the same stretch and stretches similiar to the incorrect answer (Answer B). 

Flexibility is defined as the movement or degree of movement that takes place at a specific joint, which is also referred to as the range of motion (ROM).  Age, gender, activity level, and the configuration of muscle-tendon structure can all play a role in the degree of ROM at the joint (1).  In order to physically perform at a high level while decreasing the risk of injury, an athlete must properly execute flexibility training exercises on a regular basis, namely prior to athletic performance and strength/resistance training.

There are four key types of stretching including static, dynamic, ballistic, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF).  Static stretching is the ability to maintain a stretch while elongating a muscle at a specific joint for an amount of time with mild discomfort (2).  This is considered the most common and safest form of stretching which is why I believe it is why my players turn to static stretching when I tell them to “stretch out.”  Dynamic flexibility training includes bodily movements that are related to the activity or movement patterns needed for the specific event (1).  Examples of this include high knees, butt kicks, carioca, and lateral shuffles.  Ballistic stretching can be defined as a bouncing movement that is rhythmic in nature where the end position of the stretch is not held (2).  Performing a seated hamstring stretch with a bouncing movement instead of holding the stretch at the toes would be an example of a ballistic stretch.  Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) incorporates concentric and isometric movements that include three muscle actions (hold-relax, contract-relax, and hold-relax with agonist contraction.) (1)  PNF stretches typically involve a partner or outside help such as a strap/rope for assistance.

There have been countless studies done on which type of stretching is the most effective for increasing flexibility/range of motion, preparing for performance, decreasing risk of injury, as well as aiding in muscle recovery.  Much of the research points in the same direction that a combination of all four types performed as part of an athlete’s training regimen provide the greatest results. 

While many coaches and athletes perform static stretches prior to activities such as resistance training, throwing, hitting, and running, research has proven countless times that a dynamic warm-up prior to activity is far more effective in preparing the body to perform sport-specific movements.  Performing a dynamic warm-up prior to an athletic event or workout increases blood flow to the muscles, therefore increasing the temperature of the muscles.  When the temperature of the muscles increases there is a positive shift in the metabolic rate, which leads to an increase in oxygen uptake and allows oxygen to be more readily available to the muscles (2).  Incorporating a dynamic warm-up prior to athletic activity may also lead to an increase in performance (3).  Believe it or not, but many studies out there also reveal that static stretching prior to athletic activity actually DECREASES PERFORMANCE!  Shocking news huh?  At first it is, but when I first made the switch from pre-workout static stretching to pre-workout dynamic stretching my senior year in college, I noticed the increased level of performance immediately…just a little too late in my career. 

Here is a sample program design from the article Flexibility Training: Incorporating All Components of Fitness by Chat Williams, MS, CSCS, *D, NSCA-CPT, *D:

Program Design Dynamic Static PNF
       
Program Orientation Prior to Workout Post Workout: During Cool-down Post Workout: During Cool-down
       
Examples of Exercises High Knees, Walking Lunges, Frankensteins Seated Hurdler Stretch, Cross-body Shoulder stretch Partner Hamstring Stretch
  Partner Calf Stretch
      Strap Hamstring Stretch
       
Frequency Prior to every workout Post workout: 3-5x/week Post workout: 3-5x/week
       
Duration 5-10 mins 5-10 mins, 30-60sec/stretch 5-10 mins, 30-60 sec/stretch

 

REVIEW: So whether it’s prior to a workout at the gym or you are preparing for a baseball practice/game, practice a dynamic warm-up prior to taking part in resistance training and/or on/off-field skill training.  After these sessions, you should take part in 5-10 minutes of static stretching or PNF stretching depending on the presence of a partner, teammate or coach.  Also, try and avoid much static stretching prior to the workout to be sure to maintain a high level of performance during your workout/practice/game.   

REFERENCES

1. Holcomb, WR.  Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. (2nd edition), Champaine, IL; Human Kinetics; 2000. 321-342.

2. Nelson, R, and William, B. An update on flexibility.  Strength and Conditioning Journal 27: 10 – 16, 2005.

3. Knudson, D. Program stretching after rigorous physical activity.  Strength and Conditioning Journal 32: 55-57, 2010.

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