Our July 2019 blog addressed the topic of stretching and how it can decrease muscle tightness and stress, reduce the risk of repetitive injuries, as well as improve your mobility and productivity. But did you know that you can improve your mobility and flexibility while simultaneously improving your strength by incorporating exercises using loaded mobility?
The limitation with stretching, including static and dynamic stretching, is that the experienced mobility changes are temporary. Stretching sends inputs to the nervous system signaling muscle relaxation that facilitates a decrease in muscle tone that in turn allows one to go deeper into the muscle range. Stretching also decreases sensitivity to the end range position rather than facilitating actual structural changes to the muscle. For injury prevention, strength is more protective than mobility. There are definite benefits to static stretching, but the key to positively transforming your flexibility is muscle strength by means of moving into current muscle range restrictions.
When you lack muscle flexibility and range of motion around joints, muscle memory is deficient and muscles remain in a shortened state. If the goal is to gain long-lasting changes in mobility, one should incorporate exercises that places the muscles of interest on stretch while activating the muscles under load (weight). When achieving that objective, that is, stretch under load, contract the muscles hard and with each additional repetition, slowly go deeper into the stretch and again contract your muscles in that new range. This training strategy not only increases flexibility but also increases strength by means of physiological effects that increase protein synthesis, a process that builds muscle. Individuals lose 20-40% of muscle mass due to the ageing process, more specifically by failing to engage in activities that maximize range of motion and strength training.
With appropriate loading and when correctly performed, the following exercises will improve and maintain flexibility and strength in the identified muscle groups as well as improve and maintain joint health.
The following exercises may be performed using a load option of your choosing.
- Split Squat – Strengthens the quadriceps in the lead leg and stretches the back leg hip flexor.
Begin in a staggered stance position, up on the back toes, while shifting weight to the front leg. Descend to the depth your stability and strength allow before returning to starting position by pushing the front foot through the floor. 2 sets on each leg, 10 reps.
- Rear foot elevated split squat – Deeper stretch to rear leg hip flexor and quadriceps. Place one foot on a sturdy platform or chair while keeping your standing foot in line with your body. Drop your back knee towards the floor while maintaining an upright posture and keeping your core engaged. Your leading leg should be about a foot in front of your rear leg. 2 sets on each leg, 10 reps.
- Lateral Lunge – Strengthens quadriceps and stretches opposite groin (adductors).Standing with your feet hip-width apart, take a step to the side and bend that knee into a lunge position. As the knee bends, lower your bottom down towards the floor. Return to standing. 2 sets on each leg, 10 reps.
- Curtsey lunge – Strengthens glutes, improves hip mobility in the backside of hip.Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Reach one leg behind you and across your body and gently bend both knees. Return to the start position and repeat. 2 sets on each leg, 10 reps.
- Romanian Deadlift (RDL) – Strengthens hamstring while improving hamstring flexibility. While holding your kettlebell or weighted object, start with feet a little wider than hip distance apart. Maintain a neutral spine position as you push your buttocks backwards while letting your knees and trunk bend slightly. You should feel this in your hamstrings and buttocks. 2 sets of 10 reps.
- Dumbbell/kettlebell Pull-over – Begin by lying on the floor with arms outstretched in front of you. Keeping your stomach tight and your back flat on the floor, raise both arms back and overhead. Slowly, return arms to starting position. 2 sets of 10 reps
- Plantigrade Deficit Push-ups – Lengthens and strengthens pecs. Perform a push up as shown while leaning on an anchored table. 2 sets of 10 reps.
- Progression of plantigrade deficit push-ups on dumbbells or yoga blocks – Perform a push up on yoga blocks or dumbbells allowing your body to go past the dumbbell or yoga block. 2 sets of 10 reps.
As the saying goes, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” If one can move proficiently with a load placed on one’s body, one will move more easily without the added load. Gradual, focused exercises with loaded functional movement can slow down the ageing process by increasing and maintaining muscle mass and effectively improving mobility. These transformations will lead to improved physical functioning, athletic performance, and quality of life.
In Good Health,
Alvin Dike, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
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