We all know that the only things people do in the gym are the newest of the new, and the sexiest of the sexy. Which is why nobody ever sprints, or does pullups, or pushups, or lifts heavy weights with proper rest. All of that isn't cool enough. And neither is stretching.
[UPDATE: Finally got a chance to film some half way decent videos for this post, check them out below.]
How many times have you fist pumped and then gave your bro the highest of high fives when it was time to stretch your hamstrings?
Never. But, this stuff is still important. Sacrificing one aspect (pure strength or speed) for another (flexibility) isn't something you want to do. More importantly, working on your flexibility will make you more able to lift with proper form and move your limbs through a full range of motion.
If you do an assessment on yourself, I can almost guarantee a some or all of these areas will be tight...
These bad boys sit directly on the front of your hip (surprising huh?) and mainly serve to reduce the angle between your thigh and your torso. Situps, leg raises, and running are just a few of the most common movements that involve your hip flexors.
Why are they tight? Because we sit so fucking much!
They're main purpose is to close the distance between your thigh and torso right? Well, when we stand these two body parts are almost as far away as they can be (without any outside force being applied). So if we were to stand as much as our bodies were meant to, we wouldn't be in this pickle.
But, whoever decided to invent the chair is a dick and he screwed us all over. Now we sit more than we stand, which means instead of our bodies spending most of the time in a straight line it's contorted into a series of 90 degree angles.
This 90 degree angle at the hips means that the hip flexors aren't stretched as much naturally (through walking and standing) as they should be.
The theory/concept/law of specificity goes like this...the body will adapt to the strain or lack of strain that is placed on it. That's why lifting heavy weights makes you better able to lift heavy weights and why running fast makes you able to run faster.
Since the strain of standing has been replaced with the ease of sitting, our hip flexors begin to shorten and stiffen due to the lack of stress being put on them.
How to Fix it...stretching of course.
Step out like you're doing a lunge and lower your rear knee to the ground. Now, if your left knee is on the ground you'll take your left hand and reach for the sky while simultaneously pushing your hips forward. Hold it for 30 seconds then switch to the right side (right knee on the ground, right hand in the air). You can (and SHOULD) be doing this multiple times a day, as in 4-6 sets of 30s stretches 2-3 times per day.
Some people that I've talked to aren't exactly convinced that sitting is the reason their hamstrings are so tight. It makes sense if you think about it. The hamstring is meant to pull your leg backwards (as in sprinting) and pull your lower leg closer to your upper leg (leg curl).
If we look at the way we sit, with our back and upper leg forming a 90 degree angle, you'd think that position would stretch our hamstrings and we wouldn't have to worry about it. Wrong.
Now, I can't explain why this happens, but I have a hunch. And so you do...
How many of us sit like a perfect little pianist, able to balance 4 phone books on our heads? Nada, at least not the majority. This hunch in our backs takes away the hamstrings need to stretch while sitting. Toss in the 90 degree angle between upper and lower legs, and the need to stretch is less present.
Like I said, I don't know if that's really the mechanics behind it, but it makes sense and 99% of the people I see have hamstrings that are tight as fuck anyways.
Here's how you fix it. Grab two towels, one needs to be long enough to reach from your foot to your hip when folded in half.
Sit on the ground. Roll up the shorter towel and put it underneath your ankle, so your foot is slightly raised. It only has to be 2-3 inches. Hold both ends of the longer towel and wrap it around your foot.
Know, keeping your back flat (shoulders back and shoulder blades pinched) and bending at the waist, pull your upper body towards your foot. With your foot raised and your back flat you should only be able to make it a little ways before you feel the tension in your hamstrings.
Hold for 3-5s and repeat 10-20 times on each leg. These can be done multiple times a day too.
Tight ankles are mostly caused by one of two things...wearing high heels all the damn time or not squatting properly enough. Simple enough.
Take this test. If you can't point your toes to the point that it's a straight line from your knee to your toes, you're ankle might be tight. Next, stand with your toes about 4 inches from a wall. Try to tap your knee to the wall without lifting your heel from the ground. If your heel pops up, then your ankle is tight.
Those were overly simplified tests, but they get the point across and effectively show you if you're a little tight around the ankles. Most people have no serious issues with the first one (fancy term for that one is plantar-flexion) so I'm not going to cover it.
The second one though (fancy term = dorsiflexion) is a huge pain in the ass for the two reasons I mentioned above. Not being able to dorsiflex your ankle properly will mess with your squatting, deadlifting, and sprinting...among other things.
To fix this we're going to do two things...stretch the soleus and stretch the gastrocnemius. These are your calf muscles, for those who prefer non-anatomical terms.
The setup for both is the same. Find something you can stand on with just your toes while letting your heel hang off the edge. To stretch the soleus, you'll bend your knee and let your bodyweight push your heel down. You should feel the stretch in the lower part of your calf.
To stretch the gastrocnemius, use the same set up as above, just don't bend your knee. You'll feel this in the upper part of your calf (the meatier part)
Again, hold for 30s and repeat 3-4 times on each leg.
**You can't always find something around to do it like a laid it out above. When that's the situation you find yourself in just use the method in the video below.**
I've already mentioned the hunch you have when sitting all the damn time. Guess what else that shortens?
YUP! You're chest. How'd you know that...?
When you're sitting down to type out your latest status update on facebook, holding your phone in front of you to tweet you're most recent insight into the world, or when you're driving all over the place your arms are pulled in enough to cause your chest muscles to shorten.
It's the law of specificity again. Your muscles see it like this...if you're going to keep your arms in a position that requires them you be flexed constantly, it makes more sense to just shorten and stiffen the muscle. This way you arms is in the position that you've deemed the most appropriate (though it's really not) and the muscles aren't wasting precious energy to constantly flex.
So, to fix this...the first thing you can do is take breaks from holding your arms out in front of you. Do some band pull-aparts or shoulder dislocates.
When it comes to stretching just find a wall, put your hand on it, and turn your body into the wall until you feel the stretch. Hold for 30s and repeat 3-4 times on both sides. Make sure your arm is locked out and you actually feel the stretch in your chest.