Posts tagged flexibility
Does Foam Rolling Need to Be Painful To Be Effective?

Foam rolling has become a popular exercise intervention used to improve sports performance, accelerate recovery from workouts and training, and decrease muscle pain and tightness. Previous research has utilized 2-3 bouts of 60 seconds along major muscle groups in the lower body including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. One component of the exercise prescription which has not been studied included intensity of the foam rolling. Is more better? Does it have to hurt to work? A new study asked these questions.

Grabow and colleagues in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research studied the effects of foam rolling intensity on range of motion, strength, and performance (2018). 16 healthy participants completed 3 different foam rolling prescriptions (low intensity (3/10 pain scale), moderate intensity (6/10 pain scale), and high intensity (8/10 pain scale)) with each exercise condition was performed 3 times for 60 seconds. Authors found significant increased of active and passive range of motion after each exercise condition, but these changes were independent of the intensity utilized. Thus, foam rolling does not need to be painful to be effective.

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Foam Rolling and Circulation Changes
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We have previously written on the effectiveness of foam rolling as a warm up or cool down technique, as well as, a treatment for muscle pain and soreness.  Utilizing a foam roller for 1-2 minutes on major muscle groups can lead to immediate changes in range of motion and flexibility likely due to improvements in our tolerance to stretch.  New research on foam rolling is investigating the interventions impact on our circulation.

Researchers in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research recently conducted a trial to investigate the effects of foam rolling on arterial circulation (Hotfiel et al. 2017).  The authors recruited 21 healthy participants whose circulation was assessed using doppler ultrasound both before and after foam rolling their thigh.  As expected, participants demonstrated improved tissue blow flow and circulation after foam rolling compared to their baseline testing.  These changes were noted immediately and 30 minutes after the foam rolling session.  In addition to the stretch tolerance theory linked above, this study adds further evidence on the physiological benefits of foam rolling.  

Strength Training and Flexibility Gains in Professional Athletes
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In our previous posts we discussed how patients and athletes can utilize strength training to both improve strength as well as their flexibility.  Recent research continues to show strength training a muscle through its' full range of motion is more effective than static stretching for flexibility gains.  This research has refuted a commonly held belief that strength training causes stiffness or impairs flexibility especially among athletes.  

A recent article in the Journal of Human Kinetics examined the effects of upper and lower body strength training on the flexibility of professional judo athletes (Saralva et al. 2014).  The athletes' flexibility was assessed both before and after they underwent a whole body strength training regimen 3 days a week for 12 weeks.  The authors reported increased flexibility across all joints at the completion of the strength training program.  

Stretching One Joint Improves Whole Body Flexibility
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Most of us perform stretching and mobility as a complement to our endurance and strength training.  Mobility work clearly has a role in our programs to reduce stiffness, soreness, and improve our ability to move more comfortably through a functional range of motion.  Our previous blog posts have described the debates around the roles of stretching and the evolving mechanisms behind its effectiveness.   

Recent research has demonstrated that improvements in flexibility testing take place without an appreciable improvement in muscle length.  The lack of observable tissue changes after a stretching program highlights an individual's improvement to stretch tolerance, how far they can move before stopping the stretch.  More trained or experienced individuals who stretch daily have a higher tolerance for the movement allowing them to move more freely through the range of motion.  A new article highlights this change in stretch tolerance not only in the stretched muscle but across the whole body.

Behm and colleagues placed individuals through a static and dynamic hip and shoulder stretching session and then assessed its' impact on whole body flexibility.  Individuals were given static or dynamic stretching exercises to the shoulder or hip consisting of 10 stretches x 30 seconds with 15 seconds rest between reps.  All individuals flexibility was assessed at the shoulder or hip regardless of performing the stretch at either the shoulder or hip.  Interestingly, lower body dynamic and static stretching increased upper body flexibility and upper body stretching improved lower body flexibility.  For example, individuals who were given shoulder stretches improved their short term hip flexibility testing.  It appears, the stretching exercises created a whole body increase in stretch tolerance. 

Eccentric Exercise and Tissue Changes

Eccentric exericise, where our muscles contract and lengthen, is an essential part of any exercise program.  Its benefits of strength, flexibility, and injury prevention are well known in the literature and have been discussed on our prior blog posts.  Eccentric exercise as pictured above has a unique stimulus on the structure of the muscle and the nervous system's ability to communicate with the muscles not found in other exercise types.  Individuals are often too focused on the lift or shortening of the muscle and move too quickly through the eccentric portion of the lift.  This lowering is also associated with unique structural changes in the muscle likely responsible for the benefits listed above.

An article in the journal Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise examined the impact of hamstring concentric and eccentric exercise on the muscle at both the tissue and functional level (Timmins et al. 2015).  The authors studied 28 individuals and randomized them to either concentric (shortening) or eccentric (lengthening) knee flexion (hamstring) strengthening.  The authors then examined the hamstring functionally and with an ultrasound during the 6 week training program and after 28 days of detraining.  The results showed improved hamstring length in the eccentric group, but no change in the concentric group.  As expected, the hamstring flexibility was lost after 28 days of detraining.

boulder physical therapy, flexibility, hamstring, eccentric exercise

Athletes should consider utilizing eccentric movements to restore strength, flexibility, and reduce injury risk.