Filed under: Flexibility
Increasing your flexibility with a regular stretching routine can help improve your performance by allowing your joints to move with greater range of motion (ROM) with each step, swing, or turn. Stretching also is a great way to increase the blood flow to your muscles, so it can be helpful prior to PT or sporting events. You can start increasing your flexibility with simple stretching and foam rolling exercises; check out our Performance Strategies for tips on how to begin.
Injuries affect more than 800,000 individual service members every year. Common injuries include shoulder sprains, separations, and dislocations, as well as issues with the rotator cuff—a group of muscles key to shoulder movement. The rotator cuff affects, for example, the ability to perform overhead activities; for those who are preparing for the CFT this includes performing the Ammo Lift.
Warning signs of a shoulder injury can include not only pain and abnormal sounds during shoulder movement but also a decrease in strength and mobility/motion. What can you do about it? First, check with your healthcare provider to make sure that your injury does not require medical treatment. Then:
- Rest your injured shoulder! It is important to allow adequate time for healing.
- Use the RICE and ISE methods.
- Strengthen the muscles that control shoulder movement.
- Make sure that you have adequate flexibility of the rotator cuff muscles.
Of course, it’s always better to prevent injury in the first place. Develop the strength and flexibility of your rotator cuff muscles, and you might just avoid getting hurt, or at least minimize damage and be able to recover faster. For specific information on rotator cuff exercises and self-care, check out these suggestions from MedLine Plus (a service of the National Institutes of Health) and this conditioning program from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Preparation for the PFT/PRT takes time and discipline. Training for the test should not be something you start the week prior, and the habits you begin leading up to the test should be ones you continue after the test. Weekend warriors and procrastinators are at greater risk for injury, and it’s likely that performance will be less than optimal when it comes time for PFT/PRT. If you’re just getting back into shape, be sure to do it gradually. Once you’ve resumed a regular exercise routine you may notice aches and pains associated with getting back in shape. Listen to your body. Be vigilant for symptoms of overuse injuries and knee pain, which are common athletic injuries. It’s important to address these issues early to minimize any damage and get you back in action as soon as possible. Maintaining your exercise routine after the PFT/PRT and challenging yourself along the way will keep you in soldier-athlete shape year round, and prevent deconditioning. Check back to past articles on cardiovascular, muscular and mobility fitness for guidelines and tips.
Your body is a segmented, or jointed, system designed for potentially powerful and efficient movement. Coordinated and efficient movements require a give and take between mobility and stability of the involved joints, as well as the surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These components, together with muscular fitness, are necessary to achieve functional movement, which is integral in performance and sport related skills.
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), joint mobility—also known as range of motion (ROM)—is the degree to which a joint is able to move before it is restricted by surrounding ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Joint stability is the ability to control or restrict joint movement through the coupled actions of surrounding tissues. Preventing injuries requires, among other things, both mobility and stability of your musculoskeletal system. Deficiencies in one or the other, due to improper or imbalanced training, may lead to injuries during movement patterns, such as walking, running, and repetitive lifting.
One example of an elite training program is the Army Ranger RAW functional fitness program. It is unique in that it focuses on whole-body mobility and stability. Exercises are typically performed using your own body weight against fixed surfaces (i.e. the floor or wall), instead of using free weights or machine weights.
For joint stability and balance, the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) recommends performing one to three sets of 12-20 repetitions at a slow, controlled pace. According to American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), there is not enough research to make definitive recommendations on the frequency and duration for this type of training. However some research has shown improvements using training frequencies of 2-3 days per week, with sessions lasting ≥20-30 minutes, for a total of ≥60 minutes per week.
The amount of joint mobility is partially determined by the flexibility of the surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments. For example, decreased shoulder flexibility might impact your ability to complete a full pushup. Refer to these FITT guidelines for flexibility training.
Frequency: According to ACSM, short-term improvements in flexibility may be seen after each bout of stretching. More long-term changes, however, are seen after three to four weeks of regular stretching. Flexibility exercises should be performed at least two to three days per week, but daily exercise will improve range of motion.
Intensity: ACSM also recommends that flexibility exercises should involve major muscle groups (neck shoulders, upper and lower body), stretching to the point of slight discomfort within the range of motion, but no further. You should feel slight tension in the muscle, but it should not be painful.
Type: There are several different types of stretches:
• Static stretching slowly elongates a muscle by holding the position for a period of time.
• Dynamic stretching is usually sport specific. It requires a joint to be stretched through its full range of motion, to lengthen and increase the muscles temperature.
• Ballistic stretching is a type of dynamic stretch where the muscle is forcefully elongated through a bouncing motion. There’s no evidence that ballistic stretching results in injury, but there is still question and ongoing research as to whether this technique affects muscular performance.
• Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation or PNF stretching may produce greater gains in ROM, however, it may be less practical since an experienced partner is needed to perform this type of exercise.
Time: Your stretching routine should take about ten minutes or so to complete. Static stretches should be held for 15-20 seconds, while PNF stretches should involve a six-second contraction followed by a 10- to 30-second assisted stretch.
Use caution when working on mobility and stability exercises. Done properly, these exercises should not cause pain in the joint or muscle. Never push through your threshold, have patience, and treat your joints with care.
In order to reach your optimal performance level and minimize injury, you should incorporate aerobic, anaerobic, and strength training into your training program, and also give your body time to adapt as you work towards your fitness goals. Just last month, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) published its new guidelines for exercise professionals, the first update since 1998. (Warning: ACSM publications tend to be a bit technical, but they have great information for the motivated reader.) Among other things, it emphasizes the need for diversity.
Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart muscles and improves your heart’s ability to pump blood as needed when you are active. Some examples of aerobic exercise are walking, running, cycling, fitness classes, and any other type of activity that requires movement of your large, lower body muscles. This type of exercise can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases, lower your resting heart rate, and improve your breathing, and your tolerance to more vigorous exercise.
With anaerobic training, you will see significant increases in your muscular strength and speed. Basically, anaerobic exercise involves exercising at such a rate that your bloodstream can’t get enough oxygen to your muscles to meet the demands. It can be achieved with any activity that produces brief spurts of high-intensity activity, including sprinting and sports such as football, basketball, and soccer. Weight lifting and interval training can also provide anaerobic exercise. This type of exercise helps your body become better at higher levels of exercise with less fatigue.
The third key component to a complete exercise program is strength training, such as using weights or resistance equipment. Not only can it enable you to increase your strength and muscle size, it can help you build stronger muscles that will enable you to lift heavier loads. However, you need to plan your strength exercises so that they maintain the mobility and stability of your muscles as well as build size and strength. Your muscles need to maintain or increase their range of motion to help prevent injury. The ACSM also has recommendations on how to ramp up your strength training.
The final link in the fitness chain is flexibility. Long debated by the exercise community, flexibility exercises have earned new respect by way of a “Position Stand” just released this year by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). It summarizes the value of flexibility exercises as improving range of motion and stable posture (the ability to keep your body in a stable, balanced position). The report covers the various methods of stretching that can be incorporated into a complete training program. The ACSM’s June 2011 press release includes an excellent summary of these new guidelines—which cover all aspects of exercise—as well as a link to the complete document.
If you incorporate all four of these types of exercise into your training program, you will have a healthy heart and lungs and more endurance (aerobic exercise), speed and power (anaerobic), and range of motion (flexibility training). And by diversifying your exercise regimen, you will feel fresher and be less likely to become bored. Best of all, you will be on your way to Human Performance Optimization!