Strength & Mobility - why they should be friends
I get it - stretching is boring, foam rolling hurts and who in their right mind would ever choose to inflict pain on themselves by releasing their trigger points with a hard tennis ball?
However the truth is, all those things will actually improve your capability to move through your workouts. Having the mobility to sit deeper in your squats, lunges and deadlifts creates better potential for hypertrophy because the eccentric (stretch) contraction will be greater with a bigger range of joint motion.
You would think that I (being a yogi) would just say - Yo, go do some more yoga. However that would be oversimplifying this blog and advice.
To increase your flexibility there are a number of things I believe you need to do, including the practice of a very specific type of yoga - Yin Yoga.
Yin Yoga, is probably one of my favourite styles of yoga, yet it’s one of the hardest to get people to appreciate (initially anyway). Particularly in fast paced London.
Yin Yoga is a style of yoga that was founded by a martial artist named Paulie Zink in the 1970’s. He incorporated his extensive knowledge of Taoist teachings into the practice of Yoga as a means to stimulate the meridien lines within the body. He also applied the principles of Martial Arts stretching into the formation of Yin Yoga which asserts that a muscle (in order to properly stretch) can not be under load.
Yin Yoga is difficult because it requires that you hold the postures for anywhere up to 5 minutes. Remember, they are not active postures, you won’t be sweating and gripping to hold some kind of warrior posture. Instead, you will be relaxing into the stretch supported by the floor or a cushion or your body in some other way.
Pigeon, pictured above is a good example of a posture we would use in a Yin Yoga practice.
The variation that I am doing is active, however if you fold forward onto your forearms it is much more relaxing.
In addition to Yin Yoga, self myofascial release and trigger point release are going to do wonders for those hips (and anywhere else you decide to practice the self-loving torture). Foam Rolling and Tennis Ball trigger point rolling are an absolute must in my opinion.
The reason that I believe in these two practices in addition to stretching is that you can’t stretch tension. You can stretch tightness or stiffness, but tension is different, trigger points are different. There is much debate in the industry (I mean, is there ever not debate in this industry) about what they actually are and how they should be treated. However they are described as hyper-irritable points in the fascia surrounding skeletal muscle. When these nodules are pressed, they radiate pain. The pain can be both local and also referred (felt elsewhere within the body). If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, ask your friend to squeeze the top of your trapezius or put an elbow in your glute med (A true friend will always be willing to get close to your butt like that) You may feel a strong pain in the butt, but it may also refer downwards into the leg, or into your back.
You can not outstretch tension. Even the most flexible person you know will have these trigger points and around the body.
I wanted to share a quick routine to help you get your hips nice and open so you can deepen that squat and push that PB a little further.
Here it is:
Using a firm tennis ball or a specific trigger point release ball, you’re going to roll over and around these points that I have listed here. They can be awkward AF to get into, hence why you may want to do them at home, rather than on the gym floor. I have no shame and practice these in airports and cafes if I have to. Pain sucks and I am willing to release it at the cost of my dignity.
Trigger Point release:
Lay or sit placing the ball in the pictured areas, use your arms to determine how much weight you’re going to put onto the ball. Begin to roll around the areas searching for that intense sensation. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you hit it.
Glute Med and Piriformis: These areas, if left tight and with unreleased trigger points can start to radiate pain into the back and legs. Before you take panadol to mute the pain, try getting to the cause of it.
Abs & Obliques: Sometimes this one requires a larger ball or just simply the firm edge of a sofa. I know this is weird, but people underestimate the tension that the abdominals carry and maybe practitioners believe (including myself) that it can lead to digestive disruption.
Hip Stretches - Hold each stretch for 3-5 minutes. Support yourself with whatever you need (cushions, chairs etc) to ensure that you are not using any muscular contraction to hold you in the posture.
90/90 stretch: this stretches the glutes and sometimes hip flexors really well. Try to extend through your lower back to facilitate a greater stretch through the hips, rather than the lower back.
Quad Stretch - this is a tough one. A lot of people can't get all the way to the floor and that's ok. Keep yourself propped up on your hands, or with a few pillows underneath your back and shoulders. Your knees should be on the floor.
Pigeon Stretch - pictured in the heading of this blog, is one of my absolute favourites and probably one of the most commonly practiced, even off the yoga mat. If you have knee issues, this pose may not be for you and it's best that you stick to the 90/90 stretch instead. Keeping your hips square will be the best option, I highly recommend that you place a block or cushion under the hip of the bent knee to lift you up slightly. This will help you to maintain pelvic alignment while still relaxing the surrounding muscles.
Each pose/trigger point release should take between 3-5 minutes so have your timer nearby so that you don't cheat.
Breathe deeply in each posture to facilitate better relaxation of the nervous system and ultimately better relaxation within the body.
I understand you want abs, you want to be shredded, you want to look like the fitness boys and girls on instagram - but what will really make you happy, really really happy, is a body that moves freely and functionally.
Don’t neglect these types of routines. They will enhance your life for the better.
Let me know how you go!