Common Dryland Mistake: Stretching

Dr. GJohn Mullen Blog, Dr. John Mullen, Dryland, Latest&Greatest 1 Comment

We’ve discussed low back instability in swimmers before, but the flaws and ecclesiastic teachings surrounding stretching and mobility are immense.
First of all, let’s break down some terminology.
Stretching is a mode to improve mobility.
Mobility and flexibility are closer in terminology but slightly different.
By definition:

  • Flexibility is the property of being flexible; easily bent or shaped.
  • Mobility is the ability to move or be moved freely and easily.

By strict definition, mobility implies less aggressive within a larger scope.

Kelly Starrett (Physical Therapist and Strength Coach) defined mobility as
“a movement-based integrated full-body approach that addresses all the elements that limit movement and performance including short and tight muscles, soft tissue restriction, joint capsule restriction, motor control problems, joint range of motion dysfunction, and neural dynamic issues. In short, a mobilization is a tool to globally address movement and performance problems.”

I prefer the broad, proactive terminology of mobility and will use it during this series.
Now, let’s break down mobility!

Mobility is a diverse topic and recent research suggests statically stretching a muscle for 30 seconds daily is optimal (Davis 2005; Brandy 1997).

I always felt this was inadequate and tried various other means to enhance my immobile body.  I have done elongated stretching routines, mixing contract/relax (PNF), resisted, and passive stretching. I have done this by myself, with partners, and even in a 100-degree yoga room.

Mobility is a subject I’m constantly researching and exploring new means, as I’m not satisfied with the results I’ve seen, read and observed. Moreover, there is a discrepancy between the research and anecdotal evidence.

Prior to my research, I tried all these various modes in an attempt to be more mobile, simply put, because I’ve seen elite athletes stretch and do acrobatic measures on television and in real life my whole life! If Michael Phelps, David Beckham, and LeBron James stretch, then isn’t it beneficial?

However, within my doctoral program and since, I’ve truly become obsessed with research. This is mostly driven for rehabilitative purposes, but I’m still interested in the differences between elite athletes and regular folks.

I started living on PubMed and the CoachSci forum attempting to find answers.

I’ll admit, research doesn’t hold all the answers, but for stretching I found numerous articles.
This series will discuss what I’ve learned, how to implement mobility into your training program.

Known and Unknowns
Many basics on mobility are unknown 1) how much do the tissues change in length 2) what is the optimal duration, 3) what structures influence mobility?

Think of all the factors influencing mobility:
  • Muscle structures: muscle with proper extensibility is generally associated with an optimal usable range of motion
  • Ligaments and joint structures: ligaments can limit the range of motion due to their role as joint stabilizers. On the other hand, ligaments that are too loose can be problematic causing joint instability
  • Nervous system: sometimes there will be a lack of usable range of motion despite adequate extensibility of the muscles and ligaments. In this case, the nervous system can send sensation limiting the range of motion.
  • Other factors: elasticity of skin, adhesion between the muscle fibers and adhesions between the muscle and fascia
Some of these basics are unanswerable due to individual variation. But even broader more important subjects are not commonly known: Does stretching prevent injuries? Does it improve strength? Does it warm up the body? When should each type of stretching be used?
The rest of this series tackles the pros and cons of stretching, be ready for a wild ride!

Written By:

Dr. GJohn Mullen


Dr. GJohn Mullen, DPT, CSCS is a World renowned expert and speaker in sports training and rehabilitation. He received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy at USC, as well as the Josette Antonelli Division Service Scholarship, Order of the Golden Cane, and the Order of Areté. At USC, he also performed research on swimming biomechanics and lung adaptations in swimming training. Dr. GJohn has worked with multiple professional and Olympic athletes, helping them earn Olympic medals.

His dedication to research and individualization spurred him to open COR in 2011. Since 2011, Dr. GJohn has been featured in Gizmodo, Motherboard, Stack Magazine, Swimming World Magazine, Swimmer Magazine, USA Swimming, USA Triathlon, Swimming Science, and much more.

He has worked with the numerous colleges and teams regarding rehab and performance. Before his Doctoral program, Dr. GJohn swam on an athletic scholarship at Purdue University.

At Purdue, Dr. GJohn was an Academic Honorable Mention All-American and was awarded the Red Mackey Award and R. O. Papenguh Award. He also won the Purdue Undergraduate business plan and elevator pitch competition, as well as 1st prize with the Indiana Soy Bean Alliance.

Dr. GJohn was born in Centerville, Ohio and was a 24-time high school All-American Swimmer. Dr. GJohn is still a swimmer and holds a Masters Swimming World and Pacific Swimming Record.

Originally written on 05/17/2012.

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