Daily Stretching

originally Posted on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 8:40 PM

This is an awesome song (which has nothing to do with the blog post):





 I recently mentioned on our Facebook training group page that each day you should do a few select stretches.  Lee asked what those might be.  I have the ones I like, and there are some others I'll also recommend.  Let me start by saying that the stretches I've chosen are heavily influenced by Pavel Tsatsouline, Joe De Franco, and Steve Maxwell.  You'll probably see these influences in what I say and I clearly defer to the experts in these matters.  


One of the simplest ways to improve mobility and flexibility is to move in the morning.  I found a simple warm-up in Tsatsouline's writings, and when I do it I feel much better throughout the day. 



Simple Morning Mobility


You can do the routine before you leave bed or as soon as you wake up, or even in the shower.  You can also do this simple routine throughout the day to feel better and move better, more fluidly as you go about whatever your daily routine is.  Often, this is the only warm-up I do before I train, saving my energy for the lifting session and stretching more significantly after the heavy lifting.  


  • Start with your extremities and work in, moving each major joint.  Move each joint until the movement feels lubricated/ in the groove.  Learn to recognize when the synovial fluid and blood flow have increased; this feeling indicates you can stop the warm up and move on.  Initially, the movements might need to be done 10-20 times before you're ready to move to a different body part, but soon you'll only need a few rotations and you'll be okay to move on.  
  • Rotate your ankles inward and outward in circles.  Go one way for 10-20 rotations, go the other way for 10-20 rotations; flex and extend your toes as you do the ankle rotation.  Switch feet if you're standing up, do them simultaneously if you're lying down.
  • Then do your wrists.  If you can, do the wrists and ankles concurrently (at the same time).  As you rotate your wrists, flex and extend your fingers.   
  • Working toward the center of your body, next flex and rotate your knees and elbows.  This is a good time to look completely awkward in front of a romantic partner, but do it anyway.  I start by bending the knees and elbows and then rotating them, both with my feet/ hands planted on the floor or another surface and with the extremity in the air, unsupported.  
  • Shoulders are next as we work toward the center of the body.  Start with shoulder circles, and move from the shoulder joint, not the wrists.  Do small circles and gradually get bigger, then get smaller.  Do a series of small to big to small circles moving your hands clockwise and counter clockwise.  So, you start with the fingers doing a circle toward the front wall, then those circles get bigger, then those circles get smaller.  You then, immediately, do a series of shoulder circles with your fingers moving away from the front wall, then those circles get bigger, then those circles get smaller.  
  •  Your neck is next.  Nod your head, turn it under control left and right, relax your jaw, move the head in circles.  Good stuff. 
  • Now for your back. Flex and extend your back, pulling your stomach in and blowing it out, fixing your lower abds and posture, etc.  Twist your trunk left and right.  
  • Finish with your hips, the center of your power.  Start with hip circles, hands on your hips, just moving in circles to the left and the right.  
  • Then you do the pelvic clock.  These movements are much more important now than I've ever imagined.  Few people in our Level 1 Certs can do this properly, and if you can't open your hips, you can't do the lifts.  The Pelvic clock teaches and enables us to open our hips up properly.  To do the pelvic clock, you stand up (you can also do it laying on your back, knees up, feet flat).  Then, you simply imagine that a clock intersects your pelvis with the 12 directly under your belly button and the 6 on your butt.  You squeeze your abds and glutes to push only the pelvis to the 12, then retract and go to the 6, then move to 3, 9, 11, 5, 1, 7.  Once you do each of these directions discreetly a few times, you go ahead and do circles around the clock.


The above mobility session should take 2-3 minutes at most.  Do it every morning when you wake up.  Life and lifting will be better.  Do it at lunch, do it after you get to the gym.


After Lifting Stretches


In addition to, or in place of what I have below, Maxwell's Daily Dozen is pretty good.  You can find this routine here: http://maxwellsc.com/articles.cfm?art_id=3000&startrow=1

My basic after training stretching philosophy is as follows:  roll then stretch.  If you can take 45 minutes to do a mobility and stretching routine, go for it.  That rocks.  Do so after you lift, not before. Stretching on a basic basis should involve one good stretch for each major body part, plus one or two for any problem area you have.  You should also stretch the problem areas before you lift, but more on that routine later.


I break the body down into the following major areas for the purposes of stretching:  calves, hamstrings, butt, lower back, hips, lats, shoulders, wrists/ forearms.  I also prefer to stretch from the inside out as I learned in college.  The last couple years, however, I've come to believe that stretching from the outside in is more beneficial (based on the book Synerstretch).  I don't care which direction you stretch, see what works better for you and do it.  

Here's what I start with:  


Calf stretch.  I do one of the following two:  in bare or stocking feet (or VFF), stand close to a wall and put one foot flat.  Push the knee of that same leg to the wall until you feel a stretch in your calf.  Do the other side.  
The other calf stretch I like is to face a wall and then lean against it. I put a foot behind me and pull my heel to the ground.  Alternate feet.    

Hamstrings:  As far as I'm concerned, this is the most important body part to stretch because mine have always been horribly tight.    I have several hamstring stretches I like, and I'll give them out from easiest to most complex.  Choose whichever works  best for you.

Easy hamstring stretch:  Stand in front of a power rack or rig with a sturdy post.  Put your feet about a two foot lengths back from the post, hold onto the post, and sit into a nice, deep squat using your arms to stabilize you.   Your squat should be as deep as possible WHILE maintaining a good arch (not hyperlordotic).  Once you've sat deeply into the squat, rotate your hips up (I like to say "Put your ass into orbit") until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.  BE SURE TO KEEP THE ARCH IN YOUR BACK.  Read the parts in bold again.  This stretch is surprisingly effective.  

Medium complexity hamstring stretch:  Stand up facing a bench, a table, a reverse hyper, a bar in a low rack, whatever.  Put your heel on the bench.  Dorsiflex your ankle (pull your toes toward your body).  Straighten your leg out.  BUT:  make sure you keep your BACK ARCHED and your hips square.  Don't give into the trap of putting your hips sideways and claiming flexibility you don't actually have.  SQUARE HIPS, DORSIFLEXED FOOT, STRAIGHT LEG.  The bench your foot is on should only be as high as you can do this effectively.  Don't go for some crazy high bench, just stretch and get better.

Really Complex Hamstring Stretch:  You can do this one with a partner or with a stretching strap or band.  This is PNF stretching, and is awesome.  I show this at the USAW Level 1 courses and my own clinics, and after my back injury in college, this helped me more than any other stretch (Thanks Joan Couch! http://www.bluehens.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=29100&ATCLID=209249464 ).

Lay on your back with your legs extended.  Keep one leg on the ground and lift your other leg straight up into the air.  Have your partner help you, or use the strap or band to help.  Dorsiflex your toe on the leg being stretched, keep your hips down, and keep the leg on the ground straight down on the ground.  Bring the straight leg up as high as you can until you feel a stretch in your hamstring.  Don't cheat, remember the keys to good hamstring stretching:  square hips, dorsiflexed toe, flat and straight legs.  Once you've held the stretch for 30 seconds, take a deep breath and squeeze just a little more out of the stretch using the band, your partner or your strap.  Do this two more times, holding each stretch for another 30 seconds after the deep breath.  Then, pull your heel to the ground in a big arc and resist the pulling using your strap or band, or have your partner resist you on the way down.  Do this with both legs, three reps each leg.  


Butt/ piriformis:  Sit on hands and knees, cross one ankle over the other.  Whatever ankle you've crossed, put that hand under the shoulder on the other side of the body (so, if you sit down and have your left leg crossed over the right leg, put your left hand under your right shoulder) and move your outside hand out about a foot or so.  Sit back and out with your butt until you feel a stretch.  Repeat to the other side.


If you don't feel this stretch, you need to get up, cross one leg over the other at the knee, then sit down with a back arch.  You'll feel this one in your butt.  Repeat to the other side.


Lats: Use a bench for this one.  Kneel in front of the bench with your elbows on the bench, the rest of your body unsupported.  Put your head between your elbows and put your elbows as close together as possible.  Pull back with your hips until you feel your lats stretch.  Strive to one day have your elbows and forearms in constant contact.  Watch to make sure you don't sag with your low back; you can angle from your hips to the shoulders, but you must keep your lower back engaged. 


Shoulders: I need this one and have found it more effective for my needs than any other single shoulder stretch.  I also like the doorway stretch, but this is my go to.  


Grab a strap, band, or broomstick with one hand.  Put it behind your back, reaching down.  Grab the strap with your other hand, while keeping both palms facing outward.  Keep your shoulder square and in line with the body (no extreme internal or external rotation) and work your hands toward each other.  Ideally, you should touch your fingers in the middle of your back or more.  If you can do achieve this goal, you should probably do a different shoulder stretch.  


Hips: The couch stretch.  Emily Socolinsky explains this really well (fivex3.com).  Emily is awesome, by the way.  Go visit her gym and take a class or two with her.  Tell her I sent you.  To do the couch stretch, kneel down on one knee and put your other foot in front of you, bending 90 degrees at the hip and 90 degrees at the knee.  Then put your hand on your butt, just like you were putting something into your back pocket.  Use the hand that is on the side of the knee which is on the ground.  Then, squeeze your butt.  Once you butt is squeezed tight, gently push forward with your hip bone until you feel a hip stretch.  This is not a gross, large movement.  If you can get too far forward, you sacrifice the hip stretch for some BS self-aggrandizing stretch.  You probably think you should get a medal for showing up if you stretch like that.  Once you feel the stretch in your hip flexor (hips in good position) take the away hand and reach to the ceiling.  To increase the difficulty of this stretch, raise the back foot onto a block, or bench, or couch.  


Forearms: Put a hand on the bench or table or floor.  Turn your fingers around to face backwards.  Keeping your arm in a straight line hanging down from your shoulder, lean back and keep the palm entirely on the bench.  You should feel a stretch in your forearm.  Repeat to the other side.  


Those are the basic stretches I recommend on a daily basis.  Doing more mobility based stuff, etc. is needed, but how much depends on your individual needs.  I recommend a full hour-long session 1-2 times a week as a separate workout.  I'll post about that another time.  

Michael McKennaComment