Which of these doesn't doesn't belong: big arms; wide back; good flexibility; thick legs; big, round delts? If your answer is flexibility, you're right--in line with most other bodybuilders, that is. Not to stereotype, but asking a gym rat to focus on flexibility is like asking Republicans to join Democrats in a national "Kumbaya" sing-along.
But keep reading, because we're not here to tell you that stretching will help improve your everyday activities, but rather that good flexibility will help you in the gym. If you have trouble going deep in the squat or reaching deep enough in bent-over rows, chances are you could use some flexibility and core training. And not just for performance--poor flexibility coupled with a weak core is a precursor to injury.
Stretching helps circulate blood and oxygen to the joints, keeping them supple and healthy. The blood itself carries nutrients and vitamins to muscles so they can heal and rebuild. Stretching also flushes the body of toxins and lactic acid that create trigger points (knots) that bind muscle fibers together, preventing the muscle from functioning at its maximum potential. And if you don't have sufficient flexibility in your back, hips and glutes, you might resort to poor form, compensating elsewhere for that inadequacy, which can lead to injury.
A strong core will help you maintain intra-abdominal pressure during bent-over moves and squats, thus protecting your spine. It also helps everything from posture to performance.
With all that in mind, why not start strengthening your low back and core while also working on your flexibility? Here are a few simple exercises to incorporate into your weekly routine; do them at the end of a workout after you've trained your major bodyparts.
Core & Strength Routine
EXERCISE SETS DURATION Plank 3 30-sec. hold Swimmer 3 30 sec. Supine Low-Back Stretch 3 10-sec. hold
* Plank: Get into a modified push-up position with your forearms and hands on the floor. To start, lower your hips to the floor (the resting position); when you're ready, lift your hips so your body forms a straight line from toes to head. Drop your hips and rest 15 seconds between holds.
* Swimmer: Lie facedown on the floor with your legs straight and arms above your head. Raise your arms and feet gently off the floor. This stretches your low back while strengthening your core and lower-back muscles.
* Supine Low-Back Stretch: Lie faceup on the floor and bring your knees to your chest slowly, hold, then repeat three times. Next, put your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent. Allow your knees to fall to each side. This opens up your back, allowing blood to flow and nourish weak muscles.
* Do these exercises at least once a week after a bodypart workout.
Loretta Lynn is a Los Angeles-based personal trainer and professional assisted stretcher. For more tips on stretching, visit fitnessstretching.com