Stretching secrets

Touching your toes means squat. Mobility is the new flexibility.

You might not need to stretch — well, at least not in the conventional sit-and-reach sense of the word. According to Charlie Weingroff, head physical therapist for the United States Marine Corp Special Operations and certified Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist, the new bendy buzz word is "mobility," not flexibility.

"Your goal should be to have a mobile body, not a flexible one," Weingroff advises. "Being flexible is often not very meaningful and doesn’t always translate to motion, which is really the goal."

Recent studies have shown that old-school static stretches have no measureable benefits (aside from potentially protecting certain athletes like gymnasts and hockey goalies from muscle strains uncommon to the majority of exercisers). What we thought was lengthening the muscles may have been doing no such thing.

Weingroff agrees. "Often an area is 'tight' because your body is protecting it, and by pulling on it during a stretch, you’re actually telling the body to protect it more," he says. "Think of it this way: If you take a rubber band and tie a knot in it and pull either end, all that happens is that the knot gets tighter. The center never stretches. Parts are being elongated, but not the right parts."

Though static stretching may not be the answer, jumping right into your routine is not a good idea either. Weingroff’s suggestion instead: dynamic warm-ups. He recommends starting with bridges, then going into single leg bridges to loosen up the joints. "You’re sort of telling your body, ‘hey, it’s ok to move,'" Weingroff says. You can then go into more actionable movements such as walking, shuffling and skipping.

But if static stretches have always been a part of your routine, there’s no harm in continuing to touch your toes before you take off. Don’t wreck your flow. After all, a good percentage of exercise is mental. Weingroff’s advice? "Stay standing while you stretch. That way you’re getting your whole body involved, since ultimately it all needs to work together anyway."
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