5 Muscles to Stretch to Help Your Lifts

Love to Eat? Introducing

Are you passionate about food, nutrition and recipes? Unleash your inner foodie and check out our brand-new site - share your favorite recipes at Nutrition-WOD today!

Print
by Nick Porterfield, D.C.

overhead squat

We all work on strength, speed, power, and endurance to improve our CrossFit abilities.  We hit new PR’s on our lifts, WOD’s seem to be a little easier, and we Rx more often.  It’s so much fun!

But are we doing all that we can to improve our abilities?  To be truly well rounded, shouldn’t we be focusing on our flexibility too?

Uggh.  You mean, like, stretching?

Yeah, like stretching.  But not just some aimless leg swings and PVC pass throughs, though those are good stretches.  I’m talking about focusing on specific muscles for specific reasons.  Stretching in order to produce better lifts.  Here are 5 important muscles whose improved flexibility can lead to better technique and results.

squat

1. Gastrocs

If your calves are tight, your power lifts will suffer.  Many people have difficulty squatting all the way down while keeping their heels on the ground.  Try to catch a max clean or snatch with your weight on your toes.  It ain’t happenin’.  You can spend a couple hundred bucks on weightlifting shoes with a platform under the heels.  This ensures that you keep your weight on your heels even if your calves are too tight to allow your heels to remain in contact with the ground.  You might want to buy a pair anyway because they do help.  Regardless if you have a pair or not, it is still important to produce as much flexibility in the calves as possible.  Tight calves will limit your ankles natural ability to dorsiflex.  When this happens, your knee often is forced to thrust over the foot to put the ankle in a dorsiflexed-like position.  Whether it’s lifting or running, having your knees over your toes isn’t a good thing for the knee.

Calf-Stretch-Picture-Wall

The Stretch: It’s as simple as putting your toes and ball of your foot against a wall or curb with your heel on the ground.  Lean forward and feel the stretch in the calf.  You can also get a lacrosse ball for pressure point work on the calf.  While sitting on the ground, put the ball on a block and put your calf on top of the ball.  It’s good to use a block in order to elevate the ball off the ground or else your heel will hit the ground and prevent you from getting good pressure on the ball.

2. Quads

I don’t hear too many people complain about tight quads, but they often contribute to common aches and pains.  When lowering towards the ground during a squat or lunge, the quadricep muscles are lengthening.  If they are tight you might feel tightness or discomfort in the front of the knee.  This can affect your ability to get low enough for Rx squats, thrusters, wall balls, etc.  It could also cause you to alter your motion in an effort to compensate for the tightness or discomfort that you might be feeling in the knee.  In the long run, the compensatory movements can cause injuries to other body parts due to the improper biomechanics.

pelvic tilt

One of the quadriceps, rectus femoris, attaches to the front of your pelvic bone.  Tightness in the rectus femoris can cause a forward tilt of the pelvis to occur.  This increases the arch in the low back.  If the pelvis is tilted forward, then everything above it (ie. your entire upper body) will also have a slight forward lean when you squat.  How many people have difficulty keeping their weight back and chest up when doing squats?

The Stretch:  The simple way is to stand up while holding onto something for balance, then pull the heel of one foot to your butt cheek.  We’ve all done this at some point in our lives.  The better way to attack the quads is to roll them on a foam roller or if you really don’t mind pain, a lacrosse ball.  You will be surprised at some of the spots that you find.  Work through them.

3. Iliopsoas (hip flexors)

Tight hip flexors can create a slew of issues in the body.  Check out my last article, The 4 Culprits That May Be Hurting Your Hamstring, in order to see how reciprocal inhibition can turn a tight hip flexor into a weak glute and injured hamstring.  The iliopsoas is actually two muscles (iliacus and psoas) that come together as one and attach to the top of the femur, the inside of the pelvis, and to the vertebrae in the lower mid-back region.  The muscle is shortened when the hip is in a flexed position, which can be anything from doing toes to bar or just sitting in a chair.  Ever feel low back pain or tightness while standing up after sitting for a period of time?  Might want to stretch the hip flexors.

Stretching the hip flexors will benefit your power lifts and Olympic lifts.  When you clean, deadlift, or snatch your hips are starting in a totally flexed position.  Then you need to quickly, especially in the case of the clean and snatch, extend the low back and hips in order to generate momentum while lifting the bar off the ground.  You already have enough working against you in the weight on the bar and gravity.  You don’t need tightness in the hip flexors slowing down your ability to extend the hips as fast as possible.  Neurologically speaking, stretching the hip flexors may be even more important than just the shear anatomical effect.  Before I’m about to attempt a max load on deadlifts, cleans, or even squats, I briefly stretch the hip flexors.  I mean before each attempt.  Going back to reciprocal inhibition, if I stretch the hip flexors, then I’m better enabling the hip extensors to do their job.  I’m making sure that my glutes are ready to work as efficiently as they can for this one heavy rep.

The Stretch: Place one knee on the ground, place the opposite foot pretty far in front of you with that knee bent.  Have something next to you to hold onto for balance.  If you have to use your muscles to balance, then you won’t be able to get the best stretch possible.  This isn’t meant to be a yoga pose.  Lean your weight forward onto your front leg.  KEEP YOUR CHEST UP!  Don’t bend forward.  You’re trying to stretch the hip flexor so bending forward will not allow full extension of the hip flexor.  You should feel the stretch in the front of the hip of the leg that is on the ground.  When all else fails, grab the trusty lacrosse ball.  Lay on your stomach with the ball under you, just inside the pelvic bone.  Move around a little until you find the spot.

4. Hamstrings

Tight hamstrings can really affect hip mobility.  Lack of hip mobility can prevent you from successfully completing your lifts.  Pretty simple, right?  Tight hamstrings can also make it difficult to do other exercises like toes to bar, as well as affect your running.  Hamstrings are also important when it comes to hip extension so you might as well have them working optimally when trying to use them with the deadlift, snatch, and clean.

The Stretch:  Hmmm, I’m pretty sure you know how to stretch your hamstrings.  You can do it sitting or standing.  One leg at a time or both.  You can even lay on your back.  When laying on your back, I like to use a band to help get the most out of it.  Wrap a band around the ball of the foot and pull your leg up with the band.  However you decide to stretch the hamstrings, just make sure to keep the knee straight.  That will make sure that the hamstring is fully lengthened.  Don’t bend the knee just so you can move the leg further.  That’s cheating.  Keep the knee straight and with time the range will improve.

5. Pecs

Is that overhead squat killing you?  Having trouble keeping your chest up when doing any kind of squat?  When the pecs are tight, the shoulders can round forward, the mid back can have difficulty extending, and the upper back muscles can be weakened.  All of this leads to it being almost impossible to do an overhead or even a decent front squat.

bad-overhead-squat

The Stretch:  1. Lacrosse ball of course.  Lay on the stomach, arm out to your side, ball under the pec, and enjoy.

2. Stretch on the wall or with a band.  Here’s the mistake that I see with this, don’t have your arm going straight back, parallel to the ground.  It’s not the best angle for the shoulder joint.  Instead, raise the arm at a 45 degree angle.  Place your hand against the wall or grab the band and then turn away.  The more you turn or the closer you stand to the wall, the better the stretch.  A 45 degree angle also allows the muscle fibers of the pec to travel in one continuous path as they go from the sternum up to the humerus, rather than making a last second turn.  Just try both and you’ll see what I mean.

pec stretch

3. This is a stretch and an exercise.  Sit in a butterfly position with your butt, upper back, and head against the wall.  Have your upper arms out to your side with your forearms going up, like a referee signaling a touchdown, except your palms are facing forward.  From here, slide your arms up the wall while trying to keep your arms, hands, head, upper back, and butt against the wall.  You should be able to raise your arms all the way up and back down without anything coming off the wall.  Repeat for a set of 10.  If you can’t raise your arms all the way without something leaving the wall, then you have to keep working on your flexibility through your chest and upper back.

Be on the lookout for a follow up article soon about how your sleeping position can have a negative impact on each of these muscles more so than any WOD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Printable Version

We Are Scouting Top Writers

Are you passionate about fitness and have something to say? Reach a huge online community and get the discussion going - start writing for Tabata Times today!

Share this post
@TabataTimes on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook 
Advertise Here

Most Popular of All Time

CrossFit Los Gatos posted an article
mindcoach published the post Confidence and High Intensity Performance on Tabata Times
I know we just moved out of ski season, but skiing has so much to teach us about mental strength...
Morgan Hill CrossFit shared a link on Facebook

week5 wod4 http://wp.me/p3Bc8L-jj

CrossFit Dark Element shared a link on Facebook

http://cfdarkelement.com/whiteboard/

CrossFit Dark Element shared a link on Facebook

http://cfdarkelement.com/daily-wod/

CrossFit Sweatshop posted an article
CrossFit Oakdale shared a link on Facebook

http://cfoakdale.com/2014/07/03/kevins-climb-completed/

Concord CrossFit shared an image on Facebook

Welcome some new faces :-) great job tonight Courtney, John and Megan!!!

CrossFit Mill Valley shared an image on Facebook

Worlds colliding to save lives. Juggling for Jude #poweredbymammoth

CrossFit 209 Sport shared a link on Facebook

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=735577119822185&id=163071317072771

CrossFit 209 Sport posted on Facebook

What will you be making for your 4th of July BBQ??? Let's hear it!! https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=410308475776149&substory_index=0&id=271313329675665

CrossFit 209 Sport shared an image on Facebook

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=284606848385040&id=148284738683919 More info on knee pain!!

CrossFit Oakdale posted on Facebook

http://www.playbuzz.com/erikw/what-crossfit-exercise-are-you

CrossFit Los Gatos shared an image on Facebook

Noon class finishing strong today! Kb's, push jerks and C2b pull ups! Oh ya ;)

CrossFit Envy shared a link on Facebook

Oops, forgot to mention, use the link to sign up and help a brother out :-P.

CrossFit Envy shared a link on Facebook

Hey everyone! Inov-8's, along with Skins and CEP compression gear, and other great gear for CrossFit.

CrossFit Modesto posted on Facebook

Just a little FYI guys, Friday July 4th. Coach Chris will be in at 5:30am for a workout and Coach Billy will be in at 9am as well! These are the only two classes for Friday, so prepare for some fun!

CrossFit Davis shared a link on Facebook

Make Coach Elliot happy and sign up for the Tommy Kono Meet coming up in August! There are sign up sheets at the gym! Talk to Elliot or any other coach for more info!

Tamalpais CrossFit posted on Facebook

July Happenings: Friday July 4th- 8 & 9am Classes only! Sunday July 6th- 9am Swim WOD at COM Kentfield Pool Sunday July 6th- Oly Strong moves to 10:15am on Sundays Tuesday July 8th- 11-11:45am CrossFit Kids starts, 2 spots left, register today! Parents WOD while your kid plays! Saturday July 12th- Crosstown Throwdown TCF vs Santa Rosa Strength and Conditioning – 11:45-2 pm at TCF, sign up on competition board located in SRB- all levels welcome! July 21st- Clarke Holland attends and dominates the CrossFit Games 2014

FTF Fitness posted an article
CrossFit Petaluma posted on Facebook

Schedule for the week of July 4th: Friday, July 4th: 10am class @ CSC only Saturday, July 5th: 10am class @ CSC only Make your way up to CrossFit Sonoma County to pick a Hero workout to complete in honor of Independence Day! The gym will be open from 10am-11:30am. Come in and throw down before a day filled with food, family, and fireworks!

CrossFit 209 Sport posted on Facebook

4th of July hours 8 and 9 AM only!!

bevchildress published the post Do You Struggle With Chronic Disease? on
I live with Rheumatoid Arthritis Disease. I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping it at bay and...
mlsweezey published the post Baby Got Back: My New CrossFit Ass and Other Image Crushing Muscles on
Random Person: “um, do you workout?” Me: “No. This totally happens by accident. Strangest...
Morgan Hill CrossFit shared an image on Facebook

My awesome 7pm Metcon class workin' hard!

CrossFit Modesto shared an image on Facebook

Last nights Pull Up Skill,Clinic was full as can be! We had people get their first Kipping Pull Up, we had others improve their technique, and started others on their way to getting pullups! It was great time yesterday, good work to all those who attended!

CrossFit HEALDSBURG posted on Facebook

Schedule for 4th of July weekend Thursday, July 3rd 6:00am 8:30am 9:30am 12:00pm 5:00pm Friday, July 4th 8:30am 9:30am 12:00pm Saturday, July 5th 9:00am Have a safe and happy 4th!!

South Sacramento CrossFit shared an image on Facebook

24:17 top time for the ladies for Shakira!

South Sacramento CrossFit shared an image on Facebook

Mr. Sub 20 Michael! 19:40 score to beat.

American River Crossfit shared a link on Facebook

07/02/2014 http://wp.me/sGeX1-07022014

CrossFit East Sacramento shared a link on Facebook

Today's blog post is up on the CFES Blog - [4th of July Outta The Box WOD @ Guy West]

CrossFit Envy posted on Facebook

Prehab/activation: SMR - low back / erectors 2 min Banded hamstring mobilization 2x10 glute bridges 2x10 supermans -then- 10x2 Banded Speed deadlifts Take a few minutes to find a reasonable work weight for Banded deadlifts. It will be in the 50-70% range of your best Deadlift... But use a weight that allows you to PULL FAST off the floor, and lockout fast, even with the band. Hold each lockout for a 3 count, and deload the bar between reps. Guys use the blue or red band, and girls use red. -then- 4 rounds for time: 400m run 500m row 60 double unders

CrossFit Envy posted on Facebook

Competitors Program Week 6, Day 3: 6x3 Power Cleans from the blocks @ 70-75% (at the knee or slightly above) -then- AMRAP in 10 minutes: (4,8,12...) toes to bar *unbroken 25' handstand walk after each round *if you complete the round of 24, then stop and mark the time -then- 4 rounds for time: 400m run 500m row 60 double unders

mindcoach published the post The Importance of Performance Goals on
I’ve written several posts and articles on the mental strength skill of goal setting, so this...
CrossFit West Petaluma shared a link on Facebook

Red, White, and Blue! http://blog.genesispetaluma.com/?p=2664

CrossFit Folsom Lake shared a link on Facebook

It's a new month! What are you going to do with it? These folks are making it happen! http://t.co/AJV8iYk8OR

CrossFit Davis shared an image on Facebook

June! Another great month at CFD!

Corey's Gym posted an article
CrossFit Petaluma shared a link on Facebook

CrossFit Sacramento posted on Facebook

Attention All Members.....The gym will be open on the 4th of July from 8-10am. There will be 1 class at 8 and open gym at 9. The gym will be closed on Saturday July 5th. Have a great Holiday weekend!

CrossFit Davis shared a link on Facebook

New On Ramp starts tonight! We are running a new schedule now that allows you to start on any Tuesday and attend classes for 4 weeks! For more info visit www.crossfitdavis.com or send an email to info@crossfitdavis.com

CrossFit Echelon posted an article
CrossFit Anywhere shared an image on Facebook

Who hit today's Swim WOD? If you missed it, have no fear. 5:30 and 6:30 classes are heading out soon. Get there!

Good Times CrossFit posted an article
CrossFit Anywhere shared an image on Facebook

There's still time to sign up for the Rowing Clinic with Scott Frandsen on July 12th at 10am. Learn how to row with Power and Efficiency from the Olympian and Rowing Coach. $60 per person. Sign up at the gym.

CrossFit Genesis shared an image on Facebook

paleobutter published the post Paleo Chocolate & Amaretto Macaroons on Nutrition WOD
  Macaroons The legend of how amaretto liquor was first created is (oh man), so Italian...
Jefferson State CrossFit shared an image on Facebook

Get your teams together now!

CrossFit Anywhere shared a link on Facebook

Let's Go USA!

North State CrossFit shared an image on Facebook

This Friday for Independence Day! we will be having a 10am Class ONLY with childcare. Wear your red, white, and blue and lets start the day off right!!!

CrossFit Redding posted on Facebook

4th of July CrossFit Redding Schedule: We will be running 3 WOD times 8a, 930a, 11a.

Another Level CrossFit posted on Facebook

For anyone who was wondering if the gym was going to be open on Friday the 4th of July..... We will be holding one 9AM class for anyone who wants to come get there WOD in before all the parties and family time start. =)

CrossFit Anywhere shared an image on Facebook

Swim WOD fun with all the kids this morning!

Another Level CrossFit shared an image on Facebook

Make a change in your life today!! Step outside of your normal box and explore something new.

CrossFit Genesis shared a link on Facebook

July 1, 2014 Workout of the Day #workout #crossfit #roseville

Dan Klug published the post Quick and Easy (5-Ingredient) BBQ Sauce on
Finding a relatively “clean” BBQ sauce can often be a more daunting task than the actual...
CrossFit Determination posted on Facebook

Strength: 1a) 4x:40 FLR 1b) 4x 8 pendlay rows WOD: 10-1 reps of Pull ups Power cleans

American River Crossfit posted on Facebook

CORRECTION: Special Hours on Friday, July 4th. 8am Group Class 9am Open Gym

CrossFit Campbell shared a link on Facebook

My fitbit #Fitstats for 6/30/2014: 25,136 steps and 11.2 miles traveled. http://t.co/lGgXoqQWii

CrossFit Campbell shared a link on Facebook

If you're always racing to the next moment, what happens to the one you're in? #crossfitcampbell http://t.co/kxFRncZPR7

@TabataTimes on Twitter

Watch the latest episode of GPTV