*Originally written for the Boulder Triathlon Club as part of their monthly newsletter
Over the past few years, research has shown the adverse effects of static stretching prior to working out. We grew up thinking and being told flexibility was a good thing, and the best way to attain that was by putting our bodies through a stretching routine before we exercised. However, flexibility is relative to your biomechanics and activity preference. If you were a gymnast or kung fu master, you would rely heavily on having flexible and pliable tissue to torque your body in a wide variety of positions. However, as endurance athletes, we need to have some tension through our tissue to create joint stability, as well as elastic momentum to propel us forward (like the recoil of a stretched rubberband). Too much or imbalanced tension is obviously an issue that can create strain on the muscle/tendon/ligament, but too little tension or too much flexibility can create instability of the joint.
Now, where does static stretching fall into the realm of proper joint mobility and right amount of flexibility without compromising the stability? Personally, I think in most situations you can do without static stretching as it tends to fatigue the tissue. But, if you feel the need to incorporate some aspect of this component into your training program, the best time would be after your easy sessions. The problem with static stretching (meaning holding a stretch for a period of 30seconds to a minute) is that it can reduce eccentric (lengthening) strength and peak force of the muscles for up to 60 minutes following the stretch; you need some tension in your muscles to optimize the elastic component of the tissue during the workout, and by placing a static stretch on tissue that is not already engaged or prepared for that component, the body’s muscle spindles will reflexively activate to resist the stretch. So, the body can actually become tighter as a protective mechanism when static stretching is performed. Therefore easier effort days would be, in my opinion, the only time to do some sort of static stretching, following your workout, as these days recovery and flexibility should be the goal, not muscle tension for performance optimization. Prior to workouts (regardless of intensity and duration) and before/after harder and longer effort days, a dynamic routine should be implemented to properly engage and activate the tissue while minimizing the effect the stretch reflex can have.
What do I mean by a dynamic warm-up? I typically recommend a series of lunges called the lunge matrix (from Coach Jay Johnson, developed by physical therapist Gary Gray) followed by a series of leg swings prior to any exercise. A lunge, although inherently a strength exercise, is a terrific stimulus to activate all the muscle of the leg prior to working out. Additionally, drills such as skipping, bounding, body squats, side walking, backwards walking/running, mountain climbers, and karaokes are all examples of dynamic exercises to get the legs prepared for the demands of your workouts.
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Posted in Biomechanics on March 22, 2010 |
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Any pain that occurs while training hard and racing well can create concern or worry. But, identifying the problem and properly managing the issue can make the difference between a successful season and an ongoing frustrating or nagging injury. I had a patient this past weekend that ran a fantastic race to open up their season. However, the day following, they could barely walk without significant pain on the top outside edge of their foot, especially when pushing off. After checking their lateral ankle/foot muscles, especially the peroneals (which were fairly tight and tender), and the relative bones/joints (the calcaneocuboid and talonavicular had restrictions, with significant pain over the cuboid bone), it was evident that the patient was experiencing Cuboid Syndrome. So what is the cuboid and why does this type of pain pattern occur? The cuboid is the outer most bone in the foot that gives the lateral portion of the arch its stability. The cuboid is fascinating in that it has articulations with 3 different joints of the foot, is secured in place by 7 different ligaments, and its position is determined by the relative position of the peroneus longus, an extrinsic foot muscle (which means it has attachments outside of the foot complex) whose tendon passes through a groove on the outer edge of the bone. Normally, this bone glides acting as a pulley to increase the mechanical advantage of the peroneus longus, which contracts to increase the stability of the forefoot from midstance to toe-off as the foot pronates. However, often times (especially when fatigued) the foot overpronates creating hypermobility in the arch. This gives an additional advantage to the overworking peroneus longus, allowing it to pull with more force, enough of which can pull the cuboid out of position. Cuboid Syndrome refers to pain over the cuboid as a result of this mechanism. Sometimes it can occur as a result of a traumatic injury, such as an inversion sprain, and sometimes it can occur following overuse, such as what my patient experienced. But, the symptom pattern is very similar. Pain is typically directly over the cuboid and can refer to the medial arch and 4th metatarsal. Pain usually occurs during toe-off that can result in weakness with propulsion. It is typically very painful when weight-bearing, but can also be painful with non-weight-bearing ankle motion. If you suspect your cuboid might be the issue, the next question is probably: what can I do for it? Cuboid Syndrome responds particularly well to cuboid manipulation. Patients typically notice a significant decrease in pain following the adjustment. But, the adjustment is only one part to the resolution. The tight soft tissue structures must also be addressed (namely, the peroneals, toe extensors, and tricep surae group). Additionally, the foot intrinsics should be strengthened and appropriate proprioceptive training to the foot and ankle should be implemented to properly re-educate the normal bio-mechanical function and response time. Cuboid syndrome can be a very painful and frustrating injury, but fortunately it is a condition that responds well to conservative treatment (chiropractic, soft tissue manipulation, and rehabilitation).
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The transverse abdominis and the abdominal obliques make up the abdominal wall musculature that work together in creating a “hoop” stress. This increases stability of the lumbar spine when moving to minimize loads. I was asked the other day, “How important is it to train the transverse abdominis in isolation?” The question was asked because an athlete was witnessed performing a strength routine and was told they weren’t activating their transverse abdominis (TA) by an observer. The observer also suggested that he could train endurance athletes to use this muscle while running to enhance stability. I was amazed and a bit skeptical when I heard this for a number of reasons. How could he tell she wasn’t using her TA? Was he looking for the drawing in or abdominal hollowing motion? If so, then that doesn’t seem like a reliable determinant in observing if this muscle is activating. Also, how does he train athletes to consciously activate their TA when running? If he does employ the hollowing technique, then I would love to see him hold that position when trying to race a 5k. TA training became a fad a few years back when it was found that low back pain patients had a correlation with motor control deficits in this muscle. Therapists and strength professionals began recommending TA isolation exercises using the “drawing in technique” to strengthen and better recruit this muscle thinking that it would enhance stability to prevent the incidence of low back pain. Problem is that it becomes increasingly difficult to hold the drawing in motion when performing multi-planar tasks (like running) and as the abdominal wall stiffens to maintain stability, the abdominal wall muscles bind together. So why perform isolation training for a muscle that acts in accordance with its abdominal brethren? Stuart McGill, probably the world’s foremost expert and researcher on low back and abdominal mechanics, found that the abdominal bracing technique is much more effective than the abdominal hollowing technique as it recruits the obliques in addition to the TA as opposed to the TA by itself. Bracing is performed by creating a co-contraction tightening of the TA and obliques without drawing in or pushing out the abdominals. Try it for yourself: Stand on one foot and have someone push you lightly from behind, using both the hollowing and bracing techniques. Do you have more stability when bracing or when hollowing? It is also important to remember that when referring to stability (and which muscle is most important for this task), it is always relative to a specific moment in time. So when training the transverse abdominis for sports performance stability, it is better to train the abdominal wall as a group utilizing planks, side bridges, and leg extensions from a quadruped position, than trying to train each muscle in isolation.
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