Wish you were more limber and flexible? Hey, us, too, which is why we’re sharing this guest post on how to really become more flexible from Rachael Schultz of Elev8d Fitness. According to her research, it’s not about stretching more … it’s all about alignment. And it’s so interesting.
Forget Stretching: Alignment Is the Key, By Rachael Schultz
After a long day at work or an extra hard workout, you probably stand up at some point to realize your legs, your back, your shoulders have become quite stiff. The solution you’ve been hearing for years? You need to stretch more. After all, it will help alleviate sore muscles, prevent injury during a workout, and help you move better, right?
Actually, you’re much better off re-aligning your body than stretching, says Pete Egoscue, Co-Founder of Elev8d Fitness.
But there’s more to it than just putting your shoulders back and sitting up straight. We’re talking about a daily practice of micro-movements and mini workouts that activate the key muscles, set your body into alignment, and, most importantly, increase your range of motion.
Why Range of Motion Is Key
“If your hamstrings are tight, that’s your body trying to tell you that the joints above and below this muscle — your pelvis, knee, and lower leg — aren’t able to run through their full range of motion,” Egoscue explains.
“Instead of stretching a tight muscle, we’d rather ask why is the muscle tight,” agrees Brian Bradley, fitness director of Elev8d. Sure, stretching may help relieve that tightness temporarily. But needing to stretch is actually a sign you have limited range of motion.
It works like this: We have four sets of load-bearing joints — the shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles — and the function of each one is dependent on the function of the other three. “Our muscles are all connected. Everything talks to one another,” Egoscue explains.
When your core is activated, it tells your lower back to relax. When your hip flexors are engaged, it lets your glutes and hamstrings off the hook. But if your hips are out of alignment, it leaves your core and hip flexors sleeping, initiating a chain reaction: other muscles pick up the slack and peripheral muscles tighten. “Tight muscles are essentially doing what the non-activated muscle group should be doing,” Bradley says.
“If you stretch today, you come back tomorrow and you have to stretch again. But if you set your body into alignment and allow the range of motion in your body to come back — like magic, your hamstring tightness disappears — forever,” Egoscue says.
Why Alignment Is the Best Workout Warm-up
Skip the typical pre-run quad stretch or the lunge-and-hold when you’re at the gym. Static stretching does nothing before a workout, says Egoscue. In fact, a meta-analysis in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found stretching before a workout hasn’t been shown to reduce likelihood of injury, while other studies suggest static stretching before a workout may actually hurt performance, making you slightly slower and weaker temporarily after the workout.
If you go into a run with your load-bearing joints off-kilter and your major muscle groups asleep, you’re asking for trouble. “Many people don’t realize that tightness or contracture [shortening and hardening of the muscles] is usually secondary to a core weakness or muscle imbalance,” agrees Theodore Shybut, MD, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Baylor College of Medicine.
Take Iliotibial band friction syndrome (IT band syndrome). Your IT band is indeed sore because it’s tight, but the muscle stiffens up because you have deficiencies in the core or hip muscular endurance, says Shybut. These weaknesses result in poor running form, causing you to drop your pelvis which puts an abnormal strain on the IT band at the knee. “The treatment is not simply to stretch the IT band out — stretching alone will generally not be successful. A program of core strengthening that addresses the underlying deficiency and corrects running posture and mechanics will be much more successful,” he says.
Enter Elev8d Fitness
“If you have full range of motion, these joints are talking to each other and we have full muscle activation as we go through the day — we walk with symmetry, our feet point straight ahead, we have symmetrical arm swing,” Egoscue says.
And that’s the basis of Elev8d exercises.
One of the best go-tos after a long day or before a good sweat session is the GLAM sequence, which focuses on engaging your glutes and hamstrings. “The GLAM sequence is great because it helps activate your balancing mechanism by using your big leg muscles so your hip flexors can turn back on and your lower back and glutes won’t be firing all day or all workout,” Bradley says.
Give it a try and see what you think!