Of course, you have straightened your leg and bent forward at some stage of your athletic life – and the searing pain that exploded from behind your knee quickly encouraged you to stand up or bend the leg. You were probably trying to stretch your hamstrings, as you believed that you needed to be more flexible to succeed in your chosen sporting discipline. Pain caused you to stop that journey towards greater athleticism. Let’s better understand the science behind that pain and give you some tips to confront it.
A sheath of connective tissue surrounds your muscles. Extending from the belly of the muscle, this sheath extends into the tendons; these tendons attach to the skeleton and allow movement to occur. Buried deep within the tendon is the Golgi Tendon Organ. It is one of the proprioceptors of the human body and its job is to communicate the stretch of tendons to the central nervous system. Should the tendon experience more stretch than it is accustomed to, the central nervous system will send a signal to stop the cause of that stretch. That signal comes in the form of pain.
Day-to-day activity can also be improved with attention to stretching and mobility. Remember that basic human movement needs to be improved before you can dream of glory. If you work in an office environment, you need to counter the seated position you find yourself in for hours each day. Sitting encourages the hip flexors to shorten and your bum muscles to lengthen. You need the opposite to occur in order to perform at the Box, gym, or field – and to lead a healthy life.
Stretching and mobility seem to get grouped together often. While this is not exactly wrong, they have different meanings. Stretching refers to making our muscles longer and mobility refers to the ability to achieve functional range of movement for different activities. Functional range of movement is very subjective. Rhythmic gymnasts need more range of movement than a soccer player. So before you embark on a stretching/mobility programme be clear about what you hope to achieve from the programme.
Within the body your muscles, ligaments and tendons overlap. Fibers of all these structures cross over each other at the joints. Your skin also covers your body. During movement these structures become glued down. By just releasing them you can improve your functional range of motion. Foam-rolling and the use of hard rubber balls allows you to unstick these surfaces, allowing them to glide freely over each other.
Here is where the COURAGE comes in. For most of your life you have left the stretching/mobility part of your conditioning out or you have paid minimal attention to it. This has resulted in many internal structures sticking together. Now slamming a rubber ball into your back muscles while lying on the ground is gonna hurt, moving your arm overhead and back to your hips will hurt even more. It’s going to take COURAGE to face down the mobility dragon and slay it.
Do not read this article and then embark on an unrealistic mobility programme. Get yourself a massage/lacrosse ball and take it one technique at a time. While it will be uncomfortable all the techniques available allow you to manage that pain. Scale it down! You need to teach your body what you want from it. On a side note,
Till next time – care about your performance!
How often do you do mobility work? If you practice it, what sort of mobility work?