Pre- and Post-Workout Mobility

We got a question last night about stretching, and why some people say stretch for only 10-15 seconds, while our model seems to say you should hold a stretch for 2 minutes at least. Let’s dig into this a bit.

There’s a difference between pre-workout and post-workout stretching/mobility. Studies have shown that static stretching before a workout doesn’t do much, if anything, to prevent injury. Other studies have shown that athletes who go into a workout very flexible (after spending some time static stretching) produce less power and are less efficient. So no gains, and decreased performance. What IS beneficial before a workout is to warm up your muscles and get them ready for the work ahead. We do this by dynamic warm-ups and range of motion work. Warming up the muscles and getting them prepared for the work they’re about to do will help prevent injury by allowing you to get into the right position under load. Yes, we’re “loosening up” with dynamic work, but we’re not pulling or tearing the muscle fibers apart – we’re getting blood flowing into the right areas and correcting position before adding load.

Post-workout is where you really see benefits of static stretching for decreased muscle soreness, increased range of motion, and injury prevention. Most of the post-workout mobility work we do is static stretching, held for at least 2 minutes. There are ways to increase the productivity of the stretch, such as the contract-relax method, banded joint distraction, etc. The main goal with post-workout mobility is to lengthen the muscles we just hammered on in the workout, break up the “clumped” tissue, and achieve new range of motion.

If you come in early and want to work on mobility, here’s what we recommend: row, work on your single- or double-unders, run around, pull out the agility ladder – something that will get you “warm”. Then spend some time on dynamic stretching, like many of the things we do in our basic group warm-ups: PVC shoulder pass-thrus, air squats, inchworms, etc. – movements where you feel a stretch, but can move through it safely and easily.

If you stay after a workout to work on additional injury prevention mobility, take it slow. Couch stretch, lax ball work, banded distractions, etc. Contract/relax to get more out of these static stretches. And hold them – for a while.

Foam rolling can be used for warm-up or cool-down work. Use with the same methodology: for pre-workout, use the roller on every part of your body, rolling several times along the length of the muscle and then moving on. After a workout, use the foam roller to target muscles you know you beat up during the WOD. Roll slowly, and stay on an area for a while. If you find a knot/painful section, breathe through it, roll through it slowly and methodically until the knot disperses. Focus on rolling across tissues rather than along the length of the tissue for added benefit post-workout.

Karen Southwick