Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Stretching: It's all changing again.

I'm supposed to be writing about the Endless Ascent, and will get back to that, but I keep getting off on tangents. One thing I'm very interested in is stretching, and how to stretch effectively. Many of the same questions that plague/make "fitness" interesting are also in the mix for "stretching" and flexibility.

What is our goal with our stretching? Do we want to be more "flexible?" Have a better range of useful motion (meaning the athlete can move his or her body through the range, not just sag with gravity as is commonly done)? Prevent injury? Be able to do the splits like Jean Claude Van Damm (Bloodsport: if you haven't seen it and are an athlete you have to watch this movie, Van Damm was rad back in the day!). What does it mean to be adequately flexible? These are all good questions that I don't think I've asked myself enough.

I alway start with my personal experience when evaluating any protocol. I've done static stretching (hold a position for some time between five seconds and minutes), yoga (interesting), and some dynamic stretching.

My personal results can be summed up like this: Dynamic stretching seems to result in increased useful range of motion. Very long (two or more minutes) static stretches seem to result in increased range of motion, but not as clearly ROM that I can control. My current version of speed yoga seems to result in feeling better and more conscious of my body, but without huge increases in ROM. I hurt myself too quickly in ashtanga Yoga classes to judge how well that worked, but it was fun playing until I got hurt repeatedly. Bikram didn't put me in a position where I injured myself, but I don't have regular access to Bikram.

We were all told not to "Bounce" (dynamic stretch), that long static stretches were the way to warm up and be stronger come game time, and that static stretching reduces injures. Just in: All of this is likely bullshit. More on this here.

The most flexible people I watch, at least in terms of ROM that I'd like to have, are dancers (ballet, break and modern), gymnasts and various martial artists. All do a lot of dynamic stretching (and also have a lot of injuries, but I suspect those injuries have more to do with massive over-use than stretching). Yoga people are often flexible and some are very strong (doing L-sit to handstand or various plange maneuvers), but often as a group that I've seen relatively weak at holding a limb up or in a stressed position. Not all, and all you Yogis are going to get your matts in a bunch, but compare Bruce Lee to any sort of Yoga type--who would you want to be? I thought so, but peace, let's do a few sun salutations, I'm into to it too.

After watching a lot of climbers, kayakers, and other athletes I'm starting to think that "flexibility" (ROM in a non-muscle activated position) has little to do with either one's skill at most mountain sports or direct injury avoidance if done shortly before the game/event. I'm starting to think that training useful range of motion dynamically may be the way forward based on the two articles above and a bunch more research I've done. And this is a huge departure from how I've been looking at stretching over the years...

What this means for me personally is that I've got to learn some new information on stretching, really think about it, and modify my habits to be more effective. I am holding my range of motion as I age, but it's sure not increasing. I also think some of my injures of late (adductor groin pull, leg flexor pull) have been due to poor range of motion, and muscle imbalances brought on by weight/gym training to fix muscle imbalances...

The more I train and act on goals the more I learn about what doesn't work, but the more I also learn to trust what I see works, and what I see the best athletes in a given sport doing to succeed. I know of no better principle than "Specific Adaption to Imposed Demand." Even for stretching.... Makes sense: if you want to increase the range of motion in movement then do the movement to the point where it stops, repeat. Interesting idea, it just goes against 20+ years of training. I love it when I think I understand something and then it changes. This is the moment when faith gives way to searching for a deeper understanding of a problem. I've got a problem with stretching, time to figure out how to do better.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mountain Movement

In the last 25 years I've spent a lot of time formally and informally teaching climbing, kayaking, paragliding and a few other sports. I've taught some very diverse groups, ranging from the very unfit to the uber-fit. I also do some sports performance coaching, and enjoy the hell out of that. I really love seeing and helping people with both the mental and physical gymnastics of sports on a competitive or recreational level.

Out of all this I've come to realize that fast and safe non-technical movement in the mountains is not all that basic, nor instinctive for most people. Relatively few people can move well across a chossy hillside, over talus, across a rounded and slippery river bed, or feel secure on a short step of higher-angle loose terrain. But the acquisition of these skills can be sped up immensely with a little coaching. I'm now working (slowly) on a book about mountain movement that covers pretty much everything from running talus to staying warm in winter. I want to test some of my theories and ideas this spring, and this is where you may come in...

Want to spend five days in the Canadian Rockies in early July having a lot of fun, falling down, getting wet, suffering and generally being outside a lot? I'm going to run a five-day mountain movement course, open to anyone but aimed mostly at the relatively new outdoor sports enthusiast. No more than five people, five days, either bare-bones or you arrive at the Calgary Airport and stop thinking about anything but movement. I'm working up a syllabus based on my book right now, drop me an email and I'll send it out if you're interested.

Also, if you have good tricks for helping people move in the mountains (non-technical movement) I'd love to hear them, thanks!