Imagine you’re trying to sling a rubber band across the room.
How much are you going to stretch that rubber band to get the band the furthest possible distance?
Are you going to stretch it only a little bit and hope for the best? Maybe your answer was to stretch it as far back as possible…but what if the rubber band over stretches and breaks?
The best way to sling that band is to pull it back about halfway or slightly beyond halfway to get the most power and furthest distance.
The same holds true when we think about the body and maximizing our strength and power.
Imagine trying to jump as high as possible. We can ask the same questions? How far down will you squat to jump your highest?
Are you going to do a mini squat and then try to explode? Nope.
Are you going to go into a crouched position and have your butt touching your heels before trying to jump? No way. Even the best athletes can’t be explosive from this position.
When you jump, you likely squat to an average depth squat and push back up with force.
This has to do with something known as the length-tension (L-T) relationship.
We can look at this at a macro level like the example above. Or we can examine this principle at a microlevel within the muscle itself.
Have you ever noticed when you’re doing biceps curls it’s much harder to lift the weight at the beginning of the motion and toward the end of your range than it is in the middle where the elbow is at about 90 degrees? This is because of the L-T relationship.
Without getting too scientific and boring, basically the contractile unit of a muscle fiber known as a sarcomere, can produce its greatest force when at 80%-120% of its full length (stretched position of a muscle). Therefore, the greater the flexibility of a muscle, the greater potential for power production if trained properly in the weight room. What I mean by “trained properly” is that a very flexible muscle not trained for strength at its end range is weak and ineffective or producing forces as well. It’s all about happy mediums and balance between strength and flexibility. Therefore, we need adequate flexibility and mobility to produce increase power and have better strength gains in the gym. And we also must train the full range of a muscle for it to be as effective as possible in the mid-range.
Now I dislike stretching just as much as the next guy. Maybe more.
It’s uncomfortable. It’s boring. It’s hard to keep track if I’m improving overtime.
But muscle flexibility has just as great of an impact as strength and power on sports performance and maintaining a healthy musculoskeletal system.
Look out for future blog posts where we discuss the most common flexibility issues we see in our patients and how to address them effectively.
We’ll also discuss the difference between flexibility and mobility and how both need to be addressed as part of a well-rounded training program.
Until then, start with the video below. The Bent Knee Hamstring Stretch. This is one of my favorites that I rarely see athlete's doing.
The hamstring tends to be one of those commonly tight muscles in athletes, and it drastically impacts performance negatively when not stretched appropriately. Do this routinely and you’ll notice a deeper, stronger squat in the gym!