- Alison Synakowski
Stretching, Foam Rolling and More….
So many times I get questions about “how much should I stretch” or statements such as “I foam roll/stretch every day”. “Is this good? Is it bad”. “It’s hard for me to fit it all in”.
I answer first with a couple of questions
1. How does “it” make you feel? If the answer is good - cool keep going, If the answer is I do not feel any different - then I ask why are you doing it?
2. What’s the purpose behind what you are doing? If there is an understanding, a true understanding of what you are doing - great. But if the answer is “I thought it was good for me” or “because that’s what is always done” - I will question this.
A woman who has been a mentor to me - Dr. Laura Latham, DC in Boston - said what I have always felt - and it stuck with me. “I am not against stretching but the dogma that surrounds it”.
I feel the same, and the same about foam rolling. If this is labeled as “the fix” for your situation - I will question that. If you can “stretch” the same muscle by doing an active movement and groove a better pattern into your brain - then why sit there, spend a ton of minutes stretching.
Let me give a couple examples.
Hip flexor stretching - why not just do a lunge?
Hamstring stretching - why not just a crunch or curl up, or a dead lift?
When doing an active movement - you will make the opposite muscle relax (e.g. do a bicep curl - and your tricep relaxes).
Many “tight” muscles are not truly short and tight, but they are HOLDING ON tight, maybe for a protective reason. If you “stretch much better after you warm up” - chances are you have the later issue - these muscles are finding the need to “hold tension” vs be in a relaxed state. This is movement issue, not a muscle length issue.
Does this mean I never give stretching or foam rolling - no, I do, but I will say it is rare - and if you come in saying “I’ve been stretching my hamstrings all of the time, for years” - the chances of me giving you a hamstring stretch are slim to none (unless it makes you happy).
Foam rolling - it can feel nice (or not :) ), it can help you feel better with movement, maybe it helps you recover a bit from the work out. Typically I will program this as a part of a pre-warm-up warm-up (more of an assess the tissue activity) - or at the very end of the session.
Stretching - I have to be honest - I rarely give to someone. That does not mean never, but rare - again I tend to favor active movement.
Remember - the guidelines for physical activity are 30 minutes of “huff and puff” exercise daily and 2 resistance training days a week. If you are not hitting these - working towards these should be the initial goal. If you are hitting these - then ensuring you have solid foundations of movement is next.
So if you stretch or foam roll often and you like it - don’t stop, but if you find you are spending a lot of time doing it and maybe could be active during this time instead or spending more time on things you like to do - maybe it's time for a change of your program.