This is part three of an educational series about active and passive connective tissues and their ability to move: your flexibility. In Part I we addressed WHY flexibility was important, and the two factors limiting your flexibility. In Part II, we discussed neurological restriction and a few basics ways to keep it at bay. Today we will discuss WHEN to address neurological tension.
What do I stretch for an overhead squat? I get this question more than “how much does this bar weigh?” Here’s my answer: Whatever is tight.
Your body is an interconnected system that gives you options for certain movements. Some of those options are better and less damaging than others. An overhead squat requires the greatest range of motion of both hips and shoulders of any movement we have. You’ve got to be strong, mobile, and co-ordinated. So what do you stretch?
You stretch what’s tight. Some of you have your problem areas and you MUST work those. Others have an American range of motion… shoulders tied down, tight hips, and a stiff ribcage. When you no longer have a “problem area” you then a “training area” and have to deal with training stiffness. This is the increased muscular tension after a tough workout, defined as one aspect of neurological tension from the previous post.
Sometimes, it’s more beneficial to stretch what’s been worked, not what’s ABOUT to work. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a phenomenon of the immune and nervous systems that causes tension and tenderness of a worked muscle. When we work out, we damage muscle tissue. The immune system sends in an inflammatory response to repair the damage. This inflammation creates the tenderness we notice. With the small damage, there is a small decrease in the strength of the muscle, thus your nervous system shortens the muscles to protect them from being damaged again. Commonly, DOMS is most significant in the 24-72 hour range with a peak at 48 hours.
Tuesday had a load of deadlifts and kettlebell swings. Both are POTENT exercises to strengthen the hips/hamstrings/low back (aka posterior chain). As a result, that area will likely have the greatest DOMS today (two days later). Increased tension in the hip/hamstring/low back region will limit hip flexion and thus limit depth of the squat. As well, the lats cross the low back and tie into the gluteus maximus (butt muscle) on the opposite side (aka posterior functional sling). When the gluteus gets DOMS from some deadlifts it can pull on the latissimus as you enter the squat and pull the shoulders down resulting in a drop of the bar forward.
This video explains the posterior functional sling, it’s ability to limit the overhead squat, and some foam rolling work to help mobilize this area.
*Disclaimer: Flexion and rotation are acceptable movements for foam rolling in a healthy spine. You should feel more free and mobile after a brief foam rolling session like this. If you feel tighter or more uncomfortable after foam rolling, you may have an unhealthy or symptomatic spine and need some professional assistance. Be sure to let your coach know.
In conclusion, mobilize what is tight. When you have problem areas, work them. When you’re generally fit and healthy, you’re going to have training areas that are undergoing DOMS from earlier workouts in the week. Focus your mobilization on your DOMS areas with some foam rolling/lax ball work. It’ll be a little uncomfortable, but you’ll survive.