by Dave Thomas
CPT-NSCA, USAW, RKC
In my opinion, stretching and mobility are a lot like training. Each athlete has different needs and should focus on different areas and at the end of the day, simple is best.
Most of us likely do not need anything super advanced when it comes to basic stretching and mobility. It’s typically the large muscle groups that need basic attention, and unless your range of motion is inhibited because of an old injury or chronic immobility, you can greatly improve with rudimentary attention a few minutes a day.
Here are three of my personal favorite stretches to maintain mobility.
Side Lying T-Spine Rotation
What it works: IT band, glutes and t-spine muscles
This is a favorite of mine in that it’s a three-for-one, but particularly the muscles of the t-spine get a lot of needed rotation attention. T-spine muscles are those in the thoracic region of the back, the middle to upper 12 vertebrae that basically align with the rib cage. These muscles are incredibly difficult to stretch and are very finicky in nature, easily tweaked and pulled on fast twitch movements.
Poor thoracic mobility can inhibit everything a variety of positions including:
- front rack
- overhead squats
- overhead kettlebell swings
- getting your head through on overhead pressing
Further, this stretch puts the t-spine in rotation, a transverse plane it is not normally placed in when training. The intervertebral discs between in the T-spine are shorter, thicker and stiffer than the discs in the cervical and lumbar regions of the spine, making them better at stability than mobility. Adding rotation into the mix is a great way to maintain and improve upon the inherent mobility limits of that region of our body.
There is also the benefit of stretching the IT band and glutes. We will address the glutes below but as far as the IT band goes, this is perhaps the best and most basic stretch you can perform that only requires a band or towel.
When your IT band becomes chronically tight (worsened if it reaches IT Band Syndrome from the constant rubbing of the band over the top of the knee), you will see poor mechanics in squats, lunges and other movements, as well as knee, back and possibly ankle pain.
Make this stretch a part of your daily routine.
What it works: front shoulders, chest, combats Upper Cross Syndrome
Type on the computer all day? Sit at a desk? Perform too much pressing and not enough pulling? Have a genetic tendencies for larger chest muscles as a male? Have a huge rack as a female?
These are all postural challenges that will likely cause your shoulders to roll forward, known as Upper Cross Syndrome and is the likely result of a perfect storm of a few imbalances such as tight traps, levator scapulae (the muscle that connects your shoulder blade to your neck), and pecs combined with weak sub scap muscles. The result is the forward rolling, protracted shoulders.
Unaddressed Upper Cross Syndrome will quickly sap your overhead mobility, and once that goes, injury to the rotator cuff is eminent.
The Prisoner Stretch helps combat and reverse it. Perform it by locking your hands behind your hips and puffing your chest tall and forward while keeping extended elbows.
Also, stand at your work desk more.
Folded Glute Stretch
What it works: glutes
This may look a bit similar to the above t-spine rotation but in reality it is a highly targeted glute stretch and a step of from this standard version.
Another damaging effect of sitting all day is glutes that tighten and ultimately pull on the pelvis, causing low back pain and chronic dulling sensation down the leg. If your glutes are tight, your entire movement can be thrown off and you will likely have pain every time you squat or deadlift.
The glutes are the performance muscles of the lower body. Take care of them at all costs.
Dave Thomas is an owner and coach at Performance360.