As I'm writing this, I'm looking outside and it's raining. I hate the rain. I hate riding my bike -my primary method of transportation- in the rain.
The other unfortunate thing about when it rains is that my muscles seem to automatically tighten up. So on a day like today, when I'm scheduled to deadlift, row and do some VO2 Max conditioning, I've got to make sure that I'm primed and ready to go by following a very thorough warm-up.
There's been some controversy over the years about whether or not to static stretch your muscles prior to your workout by including it in your warm-up. Static stretching is basically "traditional" stretching where you create length in a muscle by holding a position at the muscle's end range of motion – think: touching your toes as an example.
The controversy was that muscles "shut down" or were inhibited when they were stretched statically and therefore proved to be dysfunctional (or not fire) when they were called upon to do something.
Not a good thing if you're an athlete or even an average exerciser who goes out for a "run"
So instead of static stretching, strength coaches opted for dynamic stretching where you take your muscles through the full range of motion dynamically which better resembles activity.
Recent research has shown that if you static stretch a muscle, it will "turn itself back on" either a) automatically after about 10 to 15 minutes or b) if you perform a specific dynamic warm-up that activates the muscle that was just statically stretched.
BUT, are there muscles that we NEED to stretch prior to kettlebell training that if they are not stretched, will inhibit our performance?
I think there are.
Living in a western society where manual labor has pretty much gone out the window for the majority of the population, I think there are specific muscle groups that are inherently tight in the average desk jockey/9-5 office worker…which most of us are.
Since we spend most of our time on our butts sitting in front of a computer and typing on a keyboard, the likelihood of our anterior muscles being VERY tight is pretty high – even if you get up and "stretch" every hour.
So if we're trying to train properly with a kettlebell, and our anterior muscles are tight because we stay in a seated position (flexed hips) while hunched over on our keyboards (internally rotated shoulders), it's very likely that both our hip flexor group of muscles and our pecs are very tight.
Why is this a big deal for kettlebell training?
Well first, if you think about our hip flexors, their function is to "flex our hips" (my apologies if I am insulting your intelligence – I am going somewhere with this). If we have tight hips because they stay in a flexed position for most of the work day, it would be extremely difficult – and potentially dangerous – to perform any ballistic kettlebell exercise because the primary movement is an explosive hip extension.
Therefore, creating length in those muscles prior to training can potentially help us by allowing us to fully extend our hips and use our glutes.
To combat this, I like to use a standard hip flexor stretch before every training session (after my dynamic warm-up, but before I warm up with light swings & get-ups). I hold each side of the stretch for anywhere from 30s to 1 minute.
In the case of our pecs, we need consider the optimal position to press a kettlebell overhead – how your body is positioned in the rack.
Shoulders are down and back, chest is out, upper back is squeezed together and lats are fired. It would be very hard to get into this position comfortably if your pecs were tight.
I've had a experience with many clients where they think they're in optimal postion, but their pecs were so tight that they had excessively arch their lower backs just to get the kettlebell in the right place.
As a result, I've started to "pec stretch" my clients prior to their kettlebell lifting session.
I've found that this helps in 2 ways…
1) It allows them to retract their scapulae when they're trying to get into the rack position by loosening up the antagonist (opposite) muscle to their upper back muscles, in this case the pecs.
2) It has really improved their performance and function when we do exercises like rows and chin-ups that involve a lot of scapular retraction (the squeezing of the shoulder blades).
Same as the hip flexor stretch, I would hold the pec stretch for anywhere from 30s to 1 minute per side.
Adding these 2 simple static stretches to your routine can save you a lot of pain from potential injuries, especially if you sit at a desk all day.
Give them a shot before your next workout and let me know what you think.
Chris Lopez, RKC
p.s. Don't forget to check out the essential warm-up and pre-hab routine that I've got in the TT Kettlebell Revolution. With the Warm-up, Pre-hab and static stretches you've got a great preparation recipe for all the great high-intensity fat loss programs that are in the eBook as well.