By Brian Diaz
When describing their exercise regimen most men would include strength and several cardiovascular exercises, which is correct. However, there is one big piece that men usually overlook, mobility. Why men seem to push mobility to the back burner is a mystery. Is it because activities such as yoga and Pilates are usually dominated by females giving it a more feminine feel? It’s true, most yoga and Pilates classes have more women than men, but mobility by no means is something that only women need.
Heavy strength training and rigorous endurance training strains the joints and muscles leading to inflexibility and restricted motion. Over time these mobility restrictions lead to pain and injury. The best way to prevent these injuries is to incorporate mobility work into your daily routine. This is especially important if you have a predominantly sedentary job.
When you think of men and flexibility you probably think of one thing: tight hamstrings. While this muscle group should be included in a mobility routine, it should not be the only focus. Hip flexors and glutes need attention as they are prone tightness following exercises such as squats and cycling. Start incorporating 2 stretches in your warm up or cool down to help with mobility in these areas.
The pigeon stretch is a great stretch for the joint capsule in addition to the glutes. Start in a downward dog position. Bring the right ankle toward the left hand, placing the outside of the shin on the ground with the knee at a 90-degree angle. If your right hip is unable to reach the ground, place a rolled up towel or firm pillow under it. Keep your left leg extended backwards. To increase the stretch, place your elbows on the ground and lean forward. Repeat on the left leg.
To stretch the hip flexors, start in a lunge position with the right leg forward and the left leg extended behind. Keeping your left hand flat to the ground, reach backward with your right hand and grab your left ankle. Pull your ankle toward your hips to increase the stretch felt in the front of the left hip and thigh. If you are unable to get into the position, modify the position by placing your left hand on a box and a towel around your left ankle so you can grab onto the towel instead of your ankle. Keep your lower back neutral as arching the low back will decrease the effectiveness. Repeat this stretch on the right side.
For both of these stretches start by holding for 45-60 seconds.
Don’t neglect the upper body; the biggest areas of upper body tightness in men are the lats and pecs. One of the easiest ways to stretch the lats is with child’s pose. Start by sitting your hips onto your heels with the arms extended in front of you. Walk your hands to the right and reach as far in front of you as you can. Feel the stretch throughout the right side of your body. Hold for 60 seconds and then walk your hands to the left.
To stretch the pecs, find a doorway and place both hands on the doorframe while stepping one foot forward. Slowly lunge onto the front leg until a stretch is felt through the front of the chest. Hold for 60 seconds.
The above stretches are the most basic way to add mobility into your daily routine; attending a weekly yoga or Pilates class is another great way to add mobility. Don’t be intimidated! A good instructor will modify and adjust to your own needs despite being in a group. Attending a class can show where you may be lacking mobility and provide you with additional stretches to improve this deficit.
Remember, you won’t be able to reap the full benefit of strength and endurance training if you are unable to move through the full range of motion. Mobility work should always be included in any training regimen to prevent injury and provide a solid foundation for proper movement.
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Brian Diaz is the head physical therapist and sports specialist at ActivEdge Fitness & Sports Performance. He is a Level II Certified TRX Suspension Trainer and a USA Triathlon Certified Coach. Follow him on Twitter (@JediTriathlete) or go to his website at ExperienceTheEdge.com for more exercise ideas.