3 Stretches That Saved My Strength Training Career

In honor of Wrestlemania Weekend being hosted in my hood, and since I trained and toured for a few years as a pro wrestler, I felt it my duty to post up something. But instead of talking about those old glory days like Al Bundy, I thought I would tell you about some strategies I’ve used to help my body heal up and recover from those crazy days. Although the matches and shows are scripted, the impact is damn real, and the body sure does take a beating over time.

By the time I was 25, I had the body of a broken down old athlete — aches, pains, prescriptions, and complaints.  But maybe that was a blessing in disguise. I believe that forced me to take a more informed approach to bodybuilding and physique-style training right from the beginning.

Part of that is pre-habilitation strategies, including targeted stretching. Focused Flexibility is what a few of my good friends and colleagues call it.

Stretching Misconceptions

Now I know there are a few studies floating around that say stretching is ineffective for preventing injuries. Well:

1. When you look at the subjects of these studies, most of the time they are young, healthy, and active college athletes. These young bucks already have optimum range of motion, muscle function, and strength. So of course stretching is going to have a minimal impact on injury risk for this demographic.

But what about the older (actually, lets just say wiser) dude or diva who has lost optimum range of motion and movement about his joints from injuries, scar tissue formation, impingement from muscle imbalances, inflammation from joint grinding, accumulative wear and tear, too many phases just training the mirror muscles, or just generally being flexed forward like a goblin after sitting in front of a computer screen for 10, 20, or 30 years?

Sometimes you have to rely on common sense and specificity, not just study headlines.

And trust me, Neo would have had to do some flexibility and mobility training before moving like he did in the Matrix. If you want to go from computer programmer to Kung Fu master (or in our cases beach physique icon), I don’t care how many blue pills you pop. You still have to go through some proper training progressions.

Neo Kung Fu Moves

2. At least in this post, I’m not talking about preventing traumatic injuries like a linebacker flying into your knee at odd angles. There’s only so much you can do about that. Nor am I really talking about acute training injuries that happen out of stupidity (ripping your shoulder out of socket because you are using weight that is way too heavy for you and/or shitty technique in order to impress your ego).

I’m talking about nagging injuries and chronic pain that build up over time after years of training, even if you are training properly with good programs, or again, after years of developing the dreaded “computer posture”.

These initially start out as minor nuisances, but ultimately inhibit what you can do with your training protocol. For some, the pain and the limitations make you begin to doubt whether you will ever, e-e-e-e-ever (think Chris Jericho) be able to train normally again.

Unfortunately, I know both of these situations better than I would like to.

The Ghosts of Old Training Injuries Past

I’ve been lucky enough to learn from some great coaches, so I’ve never really experienced a major injury from weight training.

Almost every one of my major injuries came from that 4-year stint training in street acrobatics, stunts, and performing as a pro wrestler – 3 broken bones in my foot, 2 MCL tears, torn labrum in the shoulder, low back nerve entrapment (thanks for that one Dalip, better known as The Great Khali, and your frickin’ powerbombs), and by far the scariest one — a sprained neck (kids, a back flip looks cool enough, don’t try a double back flip off a high surface).

My Kamikaze Kid Days with All Pro Wrestling & Pro Wrestling Iron
My Kamikaze Kid Days with All Pro Wrestling & Pro Wrestling Iron

From head-to-toe scar tissue, movement limitations, and muscle imbalances developed over time from these past injuries. As Papa Roach once sang, “our scars remind us that the past is real.” These started to become more than just a pain in my ass. They became a pain in my knees, back, and shoulders.

The Computer Posture Catch-Up

There has been one thing that has been worse for my overall joint health, mobility, and ability to train pain-free than those pro wrestling years — computer posture. Yep, as my career has developed as a writer, one of the drawbacks is that I now sit in front of a computer screen typing for 20+ hours a week.

Add in a couple of extra hours of adult entertainment time, and we have ourselves a recipe for creating a human-hobbit hybrid.

Extreme Computer Posture!
Extreme Computer Posture from either too much program hacking or private part whacking

Combine that with the fact that as we age, we just naturally become less limber and mobile, like a car whose parts start to get rusty and wheels get squeaky. Inch by inch, degree by degree, our ability to move through natural ranges of motions decreases. Maybe you are one of the lucky few that have avoided this type of deterioration. You can swing your hips and raise the roof on the dance floor with the best of them.

Unfortunately, the rest of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Fighting Back With Flexibility Training

These days, I train relatively pain free with no chronic joint pain. Honestly, at 36, my body feels much better than it did a decade ago.

As I said, I believe I reached this much better place for my body by leaving both my ego and meathead mentality behind, and taking a more informed approach to physique-based training.  This included appropriate exercise selection plus pre-habilitation strategies including targeted stretches and mobility drills.

I’m going to go more into the technical issues of this stuff in future posts, but for now, I wanted to share with you three key stretches that have helped me, and might help you as well — one for the muscles that get tight around the hip, one for the muscles that get tight around the shoulder, and one for the muscles that get tight around the knee.

Keep in mind I’m not a physical therapist or movement specialist (I’m going to introduce you to a friend and colleague of mine who actually is, the next time we catch up). So this time around, I am just an athlete sharing what he knows, and stuff that has helped him vs. the expert. Actually, that’s my preferred style regardless.

So if you are suffering from joint pain, you should see a medical professional to get a proper assessment and diagnosis, and rule out more serious traumatic or degenerative conditions.

But beyond that, there is a good chance that muscle tightness, muscle imbalances, and natural movement inhibition play a significant part in your conditions. If that’s the case, as it was for me, these might help.

*More blatant legal liability note – the following is just advice from one friend to another, and the videos and cues are for demonstration purposes only. Follow at your own will without holding Your People’s Fitness Champion liable (sorry, such is the times these days).

#1 Standing Hip Flexor Stretch

This is a good one for the muscles around the hip that get tight from sitting, can rotate the pelvis forward, and can cause compression forces/pain in the low back.

  • Start in a staggered stance
  • Posteriorly tilt your pelvis (geek speak for pulling the front part of your hip bone up towards your belly button)
  • Squeezing the glute in your back leg may help you get that hip movement right
  • From this position, lean/lunge forward
  • Keep your torso upright
  • Do not arch back – this shifts the stretch to different muscles

#2 Cross Body External Rotation Stretch

This is a good one for the muscles that get tight from typing, and in turn, flex and internally rotate our shoulders forward. This can lead to tightness and/or pain in the neck, traps, and shoulders. It can also cause a lot of joint grinding during strength training movements. Can you train with pain-free shoulders? No? Give this one a go.

  • Lie on one side with your knees bent at 90°
  • Bring your upper arm across your body
  • Raise it up to a 135° angle with your torso, or arm out diagonal from shoulder
  • This angle is important, as its not just about stretching the chest.
  • This angle hits some of the deeper muscles that pull the shoulder forward (pec minor, internal rotators)
  • Let gravity open you up and stretch you out

#3 Lying Calf & Hamstring Stretch

This is a good one for the muscles behind the knee (calves near their origin and hamstrings near their insertion) that get tight from sitting. This can lead to improper tracking and movement patterns, and places sheering forces on the knee.

  • Lie on your back
  • Wrap a belt around the ball of your foot
  • Bring your leg up towards your torso
  • Keep your knee straight
  • Do not bend the knee to increase the range of motion – this shifts the stretch to different muscles that don’t need it
  • Keep your other leg extended out straight

Stay tuned for a more in-depth discussion of this topic in future posts. I know just enough about this stuff to know I don’t really know shit.  So I want to introduce you to a few friends and colleagues of mine who I am currently learning a ton from, and whose experience and depth of knowledge is unmatched. Until then…

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