Functional stretching is a relatively new concept that’s replacing the traditional static type stretching for pre-activity warm-ups. As the name implies, functional stretching deals with movement related stretching that is similar to dynamic stretching, but includes sport or activity specific mimicking. More traditionally, we tend to think of this as the warm-up exercises prior to some event. Examples of functional stretching would be a sprinter that’s jogging in place or a baseball player in the on deck circle swinging the bat.
It has been interesting to read some of the recent research on static stretching versus functional stretching. One of the papers I read that was published earlier in 2014. It was analyzing athletes and comparing them between static stretching and functional stretching with emphasis placed upon muscle strength post stretching. It was shown that muscle strength decreased after static stretching, especially with regard to vertical jumping. Functional stretching actually showed an increase in strength as compared to the non-stretching control group.
These new revelations emerging about stretching will profoundly affect warm-up activities prior to sporting events. Static stretching really needs to be replaced with functional stretching in order to provide more power, increased flexibility and potentially better activity performance.
So, what kinds of activities could actually be done. It’s obvious answer seeing the baseball player or the sprinter in some of their normal pre-activity warm-ups as mentioned above, but what about if going to work out with weights or doing some kind of gym activity. A great overall body warm-up activity that’s functional, yet covering a variety of joint ranges of motion would be the jumping jack (this is a good 1:17 min YouTube video with some variations). Other functional stretching you might consider would be to imitate punching a bag, throwing a ball or kicking a soccer ball.
As a general rule of thought, start with smaller ranges of motion and gradually increase the movement as the tissues become more flexible. This might take 30 seconds, a minute or even longer. You’ll develop a sense and feel as the tissues become more flexible and warmed up. Just don’t overdo it.
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Click photos for video
This type of stretching is very similar to the active static stretch except that dynamic stretching, the joint is going through a range of motion. By this I mean that you are actually moving the joint at the same time while sensing a little bit of a stretch on the muscle. It’s a good, simple stretch to do as a warm-up prior to your event. Be cautious with this particular type of stretching because you can actually strain the muscle if you go too quickly. This is actually a common stretch that’s often done incorrectly.
If you ever watch athletes doing some of their warm-up activities, quite often we will see them bending forward to stretch out the back of the legs and at the end range of motion are bouncing up and down reaching for the ground or toes. Now, this might be OK the well conditioned athlete and an acceptable thing for them to do, but for the vast majority of individuals bouncing at the end range of motion can only lead to an injury. The better way of doing this would be to start from an upright standing posture position and bend forward to the floor backup then return to the upright position again. Gradually you get a little further each time. Bouncing at the end range of motion can only lead to an injury.
My suggestion is to go through a small range of motion first (video above). Gradually increase the range as a muscle starts to feel more warm up. This might take 10 to 20 seconds to gradually increase that range of motion. For instance, stand up straight then bend forward a little bit and return to upright. Go slightly further each time until you can bend forward as far as you can comfortable (see diagrams above). It’s a gradual increase in the range, so don’t overdo the pull.
Position A Position B
Last blog discussed one of two different types of static stretching which is the passive type. The second variety is called active. In this method, you position which ever part of the body you’re stretching at its end range of motion and hold it at that location without moving the joint. Hence the term static (being still). The major difference between passive and active is the degree of muscle contraction. In passive stretching the joint is positioned at its end range of motion while having support or resting on some object. Active stretching still has the joint at its end range of motion, but there is no support. The muscles have to provide the support.
In position A, her hands are supporting the hip to help keep it the in the 90 degree location but is not an active part of the stretch. In position B, the quadriceps (front of the thigh) are contracting causing the hamstrings (back of thigh) to lengthen out.
In position B, you’re contracting the quadriceps and neurologically the body is trying to relax the hamstrings. There still is contraction to the hamstrings. Technically this is called an eccentric contraction which is muscle contraction as it lengthens. This is a normal physiological response and happens all the time. The eccentric contraction acts as a braking mechanism to the opposing muscle that is also contracting, but shortening (technically called concentric contraction). In this case it is the quadriceps.
The caution here is that any muscle at its end range of eccentric or concentric contraction has a far greater chance of cramping and even more susceptible when it is fatigued. So, the safest way to go about active static stretching is to slowly approach the end range of motion without fully getting to the end right away. Maintain the position for a few seconds then relax and try again. Repeat as often as you like unless you’re starting out for the first time. In this case, I’d only do several repetitions, holding for a few seconds and then call it a day. If you over did it, you might not realize it until the following day. Just take baby steps when starting out.
So why do we want to do active static stretching? Well, it is a good way to introduce blood flow into the muscle groups and get it ready of activity. It’s also a great way to begin muscular exercise routine when starting out for the first time. It doesn’t take much load to get the muscle active, especially when starting out for the first time or retraining injured muscles.
For the most part, stretching gets such a bad rap in the exercise world. Most athletes and exercise enthusiasts become hooked on the “real” part of exercising; cardiovascular and strength training. Well, I never saw a tripod be able to stand on only 2 of the 3 legs! It’s going to fall down for sure. This same concept applies to the tripod of exercising: cardiovascular, strength and stretching. We can see the improvements in strength and endurance, but it seems nothing appreciable when stretching. Why do it if there seems to be no benefit? The short answer to this that the more flexible the muscle, the stronger it is; harder you could potentially train and less likely to become injured. Sounds like good stuff to me. So, let’s not poo poo stretching and begin to have a new respect. Remember, a tripod needs 3 legs to stand.
My CTM classes rely heavily on flexibility and is required to have a solid base with good control. Knowing the types and methods of stretching provides an excellent cognitive approach to improving range of motion, joint health and overall body wellness. This series will go over the various types with the pros and cons. These are the major types of stretches we will be discussing:
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Think about drinking your coffee or tea this morning. Within about 30 minutes your mood and alertness picks up. For most of us, it’s why we have a cup or two. On the other hand, the more coffee we drink we have to urinate more frequently. From an exercise perspective, an important question is whether any potential water lose from caffeine intake might counteract any positive effect on increased energy output that might be gained from caffeine consumption. The research indicates that about 180 mg/dose of caffeine is the level to consume prior to an event to help boost performance with endurance activities and sprints lasting about 5 minutes. This will give the added energy, yet not compromise water loss. This is equivalent to two tea cups of regular plain drip coffee with blood caffeine levels peaking in 1-2 hours.
From a sport fairness stand, it can be argued that caffeine should not be ingested as it qualifies as a performance enhancing drug. By rights, it is. However, it is not tested for in sporting events.
I certainly do not recommend kids taking caffeine in this manner. Just too many risk factors and unhealthy habits that can develop. Don’t do it!
I have to admit that I do have coffee every morning. If it happens to coincide with a race or sporting event, so be it. I do not use caffeine with the intent of performance enhancement.
With regard to alcohol, it is not recommended pre-exercise or post exercise. It significantly dehydrates. In fact, post exercise alcohol consumption prolongs the 12 hours it normally takes to re-hydrate. Alcohol has no benefit in an athlete’s regular conditioning protocol. Perhaps an occasional drink, but that’s it.
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Sport drinks get a lot of “talk” and attention for water and electrolyte replacements. My last blog discussed the average intake of sodium, potassium and water replenishment during activities. Recall that the hourly intakes should be 8 oz of water, 115-173 mg sodium and 20-48 mg potassium. The Gatorade produced chart below shows what’s contained in various sport drinks.
Carbohydrate consumption at a small level, less than 8%, is suggested when exercising 60 minutes or more as it provides an added fuel source for the muscles. This equates to 17 g of carbohydrates in 8 fluid ounces. Amounts greater than 8% tends to slow down gastric emptying. This would interfere with quicker absorption of the needed water and electrolytes in the small and large intestines of the digestive tract.
Some good all round choices would be Gatorade (of course!), Accelerade and Met-RX. Notice that all the drinks do not have caffeine. I will address this next blog.
If you’re not a big fan using sport drinks, water is still very good. You have to keep in mind that you’ll need to get the proper amount of electrolytes as well; perhaps in oranges, bananas or energy packs/gels.
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