Stretching, flexibility, and mobility for the Fit Dad
Early on in my fitness career, I paid little attention to stretching, to maintaining flexibility, or to mobility.
A lot of guys are this way. It's not the fun or "beastly" thing to do in the gym. Most guys have the mindset that they just want to lift weights, get bigger and stronger, and generally don't give much thought to being flexible or to stretching. Not all, but most.
Some probably even see these things as un-masculine.
It's interesting, because previous to finding my way into the gym, I was a long-distance runner, and the importance of stretching, flexibility, and mobility was top of mind for me during those days. For whatever reason, it didn't carry over to my weight-lifting lifestyle.
When you're young, chances are you can get away with not paying a whole lot of attention to this type of body work. Our bodies just tend to bounce back easier and more quickly when we're young and spry.
Think about how flexible a baby or a young child is — it's amazing the ways they can contort their bodies. Ever seen a kid sit in a deep squat for 5 minutes while playing with their toys? There are a lot of adults that wouldn't even be able to get down into the squat position, let along stay there and then get up.
But I noticed after crossing the 30-year-old mark a few years ago that I wasn't quite as loose and limber as I used to be, and that certain muscles were tight and sore more often.
Indeed, unless we do something about it, our range of motion and flexibility decreases with age as our ligaments and joints thicken and tighten.
For us Fit Dads, being mobile and flexible is critical to being able to play and be active with our children. Playing sports with your kids in the back yard or wrestling on the floor of your family room all require some mobility and flexibility.
I highly recommend implementing stretching, mobility and flexibility work into your daily routine, whether you're at the gym or at home watching TV after the kids have gone to bed.
And don't discount activities like yoga. You can do it from just about anywhere, and there are many great resources to help guide you through practicing flexibility and yoga at home.
Here are three things you absolutely should be doing, no matter your workout style:
Dynamic warm ups
There are varying degrees of warming up, but in the simplest of terms, dynamic warm-ups involve movement that primes your muscles for the activities they are about to perform. These movements help to stretch your muscles in a full range of motion to get ready for the more taxing work that follows.
I like to do dynamic warm-up movements that are bodyweight movements of the weighted movements I'm about to do, making sure to complete the move in a full range of motion to fully elongate the muscles. For instance, single-leg squats and bodyweight squats to prepare for barbell squats.
There is some debate as to whether you should stretch before a workout or after, but I say both work well.
One thing is for sure: stretching absolutely helps to increase your range of motion (In case you haven't noticed, full ROM is incredibly important).
A lot of mobility work falls into this category as well, where you're position your body and moving in such a way that your muscles are stretched and elongated to optimal muscle-tension length.
At the least, try to get in a good 10-15 minutes of stretching each night before bed to help relief some stress in your body.
Foam rolling — or self-myofascial release — is a staple of my muscle-recovery routine.
Using a foam roller to work out adhesions can help your muscles in the growth and repair process and help stave off muscle soreness.
The investment in a foam roller, which can be as little as $25, is so worth it. The key to foam rolling: don't just roll back and forth over a muscle. Instead, once you find a sore spot, stay there for at least 30 seconds. As painful as it might be at first, this process helps release the tension built up from the wear and tear of exercise.
For you traveling Fit Dads, I'm a big fan of the Morph collapsable foam roller from Brazyn Life.