Brad Walker gives us his expert advice on the benefits of stretching, the right way to stretch and how it can benefit you to achieve a new personal best.
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Rod: Welcome everyone! Rod from Sports Adventure here. And today I’d like to continue our fantastic interview series where I interview inspirational people from around the world to share their expert insights on good nutrition, mountain biking, and men’s health. My guest today has been involved in the field of stretching, flexibility, and sports injury management since the early 1990’s. He’s been featured in dozens of magazines and hundreds of websites. He’s a coach, speaker, and stretching expert. He’s also an Amazon bestselling author with books titled “The Anatomy of Stretching”, “The Anatomy of Sports Injuries”, and “The Stretching Handbook”. I’d like to welcome the man also known as the stretching guru, Brad Walker. Welcome Brad.
Brad: Thanks, Rod I appreciate you reaching out to me, and I’ve been looking forward to chatting with you for a while, so thank you very much.
Rod: Yeah mate, not a problem at all. Your history, your knowledge, your experience, and as I mentioned it touched many many people. You’ve got a lot of experience there, and certainly came here to chat and share some of your knowledge with our listeners.
Brad: Yeah, it’s gonna be good.
Rod: Fantastic. Mate, we’ll kick it off then. For you, what’s so good about being a stretch coach, mate?
Brad: Well, I suppose it’s the opportunity to work with different people and most of the people I see have a problem of some sort of whether it’s an injury or something that’s stopping them from performing at their best. And so I get an opportunity to work, work with a lot of people, and help them overcome those sorts of things, overcome injuries, overcome road blocks, or stumbling blocks to where they want to be. So obviously as you mentioned most of my work focuses on stretching and sports injury. So, yeah just being able to work with people and seeing them get past those injuries and road block is a great thing.
Rod: Yea, I know, I couldn’t agree more mate. It’s fantastic. How did you get involved, how did you get started in being a stretch coach? It’s quite a unique highly specific area. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Brad: Yeah, it is a specific area, and it’s probably one of the most common questions I get: Why stretching? Because it’s such a small or unique part of you know health and fitness in general. Yeah, I got interested in fitness, geez, way back in the late 80’s. I took up triathlon. I think I did my first triathlon in about 87 back when most people didn’t even know what a triathlon was and I had to explain to them – what you were actually doing.
And from there I just moved into some coaching. I actually moved up to the Gold Coast to train with one of the coaches up here, and started giving him a hand with his coaching and working with his athletes. And yeah he was probably the first coach that I came across who incorporated specific stretching into his athletes’ programs and I really just took to the idea of how flexibility could help an athlete. I help them from the point of view of, you know, of staying injury free; help them from the point of view of actually improving their performance. And yeah so I actually, part of my job was to work with the athletes on their flexibility. So we used to do a circuit training session a couple of times a week, and a lot of that, well not a lot of it, but a part of that involved some stretching, and we always used to finish the session with a good half an hour of just sitting on the floor and having a good stretch. And yeah so that’s where the interest came from.
When I started doing some coaching myself I thought it would be a great idea to have like a reference handbook that I could use to you know if I wanted to stretch for the back or something, you know I could just flip to a reference and choose from 20 or 30 different stretches. And when I started looking around, I couldn’t really find anything. At the time, I think there was only one book on the market that was specifically dedicated to stretching. I think that was Bob Anderson’s book called Stretching. Yeah and it just had sort of hand drawn figures that were sort of one step up from stick figures, but they were still just those hand drawn pictures which you know they didn’t really show you the stretch in as much detail as I was looking for. So I just figured well I’ll put something together myself which sort of turned into a book. And I thought, well I’ll get 1000 copies of them done up and if I can sell them I can sell them, if I can’t, I can’t, and I ended up giving away half of them, and selling the other half. And I sort of made just enough money out of it to be able to print another 1000 copies, so it just went from there. And that was back in 1995, I think that was. So, yea that’s how it all started and it’s just sort of snowballed from there, and you know, I’ve just stuck with that niche or niche, whatever you want to call it. And yeah it’s been good to me, and I’ve enjoyed it, and I’ve got to, you know, I’ve actually got to travel the world and talk to different people on stretching and flexibility, and it’s been fantastic. So I’m very lucky that way.
Rod: Yeah, mate that’s a fantastic story. Well done. And it’s such an important part of any exercise routine, a good stretching program, and probably something that’s overlooked by a lot of people. What’s something that someone should do, if they’re new to stretching, to get the most out of a good stretching routine?
Brad: I think one of the challenges people have with stretching is that they sort of attack it like the rest of their training. So if you’re into mountain biking, for example, you know, it’s, you go out on the mountain bike, you know you’re out with your mates and you typically go pretty hard at it or you know if you’re at the gym or whatever it’s all about pushing the weight and pushing it as hard as you can.
Probably the best advice I can give people with stretching is that stretching is sort of the opposite to all that, it’s almost like the easier you do it or the more relaxed you do it the better the benefits you’ll get.
So, my first bit of advice is: always just don’t attack your stretching. A lot of people are under the impression that to get the most out of it they need to almost be in pain while they’re stretching, and that’s actually counter-productive.
So, if you can chill out, relax, and just sort of ease into your stretching, you’ll get a lot more benefits from it.
Rod: Good advice. What’s the best way to get started to kick it off from day 1?
Brad: Yeah look, obviously carrying on from what I just started with as far as you know someone getting started. Yeah, first and foremost, just nice, gentle, easy stretching. With someone who’s just starting, I always recommend static stretching, long hold static stretching, so that’s the type of stretching where you just get into the stretch position and you hold it for 30-40 even up to 60 seconds, and the idea is just to relax as much as possible, and almost don’t force the stretch, just let it come naturally. You’ll find after about 30 or 40 seconds, your muscles will just naturally relax, and you’ll start to ease into the stretch.
Most people don’t give stretching enough time, they don’t hold the stretch for long enough, and it takes a while for those muscles to relax and start to lengthen out. So always the long hold static stretching is the place to start.
And I’m very much of the opinion that it’s not about stretching everything. A common question I get, or a common request I get is always for a full body stretch routine. And I always sort of steer away from giving that to people; because, what that actually does is that if you’re tight in one area and not tight in another and you stretch both areas, well, you’re still gonna be you know, tight in one and not tight in the other. So, my next piece of advice is just to take notice of those tight spots. If you come back from a mountain bike ride and your backsides are bit tight or your hamstring is a bit tight, then that’s probably the first place you should start. So yea, just start to take notice of where you’re getting those little tight spots, if you’re getting any discomfort or pain anywhere. And yeah that’s a good place to start instead of trying to stretch everything because that’s what a lot of people think they need to do. And that’s probably the biggest objection I get to stretching is that I just don’t have time to stretch, and 9 times out of 10 it’s because they think they have to stretch everything. But if you just start with one or two muscle groups or one or two tight spots, and just pick a few stretches for those, yea, that’s probably the best way to start.
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Rod: Terrific. Mate, a couple of different schools of thought on stretching. One to stretch before a workout or before exercise and after. And I know just a moment ago you mentioned a stretch as a cool down if you like, what are your thoughts or comments on either of those?
Brad: I think what people need to understand is that just like strength training, for example, there’s many different ways you can strength train, and there’s many different ways that you can stretch. And some of those ways are more beneficial for somethings, and others are more beneficial for others. So, for example, the question about stretching before exercise or stretching after exercise, it’s not so much should you or shouldn’t you stretch. It”s more the particular type of stretching that you should be doing.
So, before a workout the best type of stretching to do is those dynamic type stretches. So, things like arm-swings and leg swings, that sort of stuff. So, you’re actually stretching the muscle group through motion.
So, as you swing your arms or swing your legs or rotate your body, or you trunk and your core those are dynamic stretches – so the stretch that you’re getting is done with movement. And that’s definitely the better way to go for warming up and for before exercise.
Then, after exercise, you’re much better off with those long hold static type stretches. So they give you… you know after a workout your muscles are usually tight, they’re contracting during your workout, so it’s common for the muscles to tighten up while you’re exercising. So those long hold static stretching just allows your muscles to relax and lengthen out again.
Rod: Yea, terrific. Right, and this question is a piece of string type question but, for someone to get the benefit out of a stretching program, a regular stretching program, obviously most of us are sitting at that chair and desk for most of their day and might have incorrect posture and that can cause all sorts of muscle alignment problems and all that sort of stuff. How long would you say you can start to see some benefit out of a good stretching routine?
Brad: Well, in a lot of ways stretching is similar to you know any other form of training like that. So, how long before you see the improvements of going to the gym? Or how long is it before you see the improvements of riding your bike or so forth? As an example, if you ride your bike a couple of times a week for six months, you’re gonna be a much better rider at the end of those six months than you were at the start of them, and it’s pretty much the same with stretching. If you do a couple of 10 minute stretching sessions a couple of times a week, well within six months you’re gonna be a lot flexible then you were six months ago. So, yeah it is that how long is a piece of string? If you dedicate more time to it, you’re gonna see results faster. And most people will start to feel the benefits of stretching for 10 or 15 minutes a couple of times a week. They’ll start to feel those benefits within the first few weeks. And hopefully tight spots or target areas that they wanna work on, they’ll feel some benefit there as far as those tight spots starting to relax and loosen up, and hopefully, while they’re exercising, those spots won’t be a problem. So yeah that’s quite common for people to see some results pretty quickly.
Rod: Yeah. Certainly. I myself try to do a bit of a stretching routine every day, and if I ever go through a period – where I’m not doing that – I feel so much different in my body, in myself. Everything starts to just get a little bit tighter and a little bit more uncomfortable. As I get a bit older I am in mid 40’s, so I find mostly it’s so important to keep that going. That’s a lot of my motivation just to make sure that I do it; because, I just feel so much better and I keep doing it.
Brad: Yeah. Yeah. I know exactly what you’re saying. For me, I usually spend a little bit of time stretching each night by the time you’ve put the kids to bed and cleaned the house and everything. I’ll sit down on the lounge room floor and maybe watch a bit of TV and just stretch for might be half an hour while you’re watching TV. And I know, as you just said, if I go for a few days without doing that, I know I can start to feel myself missing the benefit of that. So, yeah it’s good.
Rod: Yea, and your example you’ve just given to sit on the floor and do a stretch while you’re watching telly, it’s not taking extra time, it’s a bit of downtime, and you’d be sitting there doing that anyway. So it’s a good suggestion we can all take advantage of that one.
Brad: Yea, and I mean let’s be honest no one’s got an extra half hour, hour to sort of set aside to do a session specifically on stretching. We’re lucky if we get out on the bike a couple of times a week and enjoy a bit of exercise on the weekend. So, if you can incorporate some stretching into what you’re already doing then you’re getting the benefit out of it without having to take time out of something else. So, even if you can just incorporate two or three minutes of stretching before you exercise maybe another couple of minutes at the end of your session, and then 15 or 20 minutes on the floor a couple nights a week having a bit of a stretch, you’ll find that that is enough to get rid of those tight spots. Give yourself a little bit more freedom of movement and just make it easier for you to get up and move around and not so much feel the effects of those years as they fly on by.
Rod: You’ve given great advice there. Can you give us some real life examples of people that have followed your training? You’ve coached people all around the world and you have swag of testimonials and good news stories, I’d imagine.
Brad: Yeah, I’ve had quite a few people that I’ve worked with. I’ve worked with a few runners. I know one guy I worked with quite early on in my coaching. He was a 10K runner, and he had incredibly tight hamstrings and glutes and lower back and everything. And you know he was obviously working towards a personal best, and he was finding that he sort of got to the point where he couldn’t move and also had a few little niggling injuries, a few little sort of hip and knee problems that he was dealing with and he had never done any sort of stretching. So, yeah I actually met the guy at a fun run and you know we put together a bit of a program for him where again we targeted the muscles that were causing the problem rather than just doing a full body workout. Yeah and he saw huge improvements in this time. I mean he was already running something like 33 or 34 minutes for 10k so he was moving along right. But from a memory I think he got that down under 32 minutes with pretty much just the improved flexibility that at through his hamstrings and lower back, and got over those little niggling problems that then causing him a lot of grief for a long time. So yeah that was quite exciting working with him and seeing those improvements.
I worked with a lot of people with injuries, for example. So you know a common one I see is people with upper back pains – again from sitting down at a desk, spending a lot of time sitting all the time. So I have worked with plenty of people to help them there. There was one lady I worked with. She had actually broken a shoulder and she was a client of mine before that. And yeah she broke her shoulder and she rung me up and said… she has shattered it actually. It had to actually pin it all back together. And she said, “You know the shoulder healed but I still got a lot of restriction in the shoulder and neck and all that area there.” So, worked with her for a good 3 or 4 months until the point where the injured shoulder was as good as a non-injured shoulder. So they are all examples, different examples, of people I have worked with and being able to help which has always been very rewarding to see that.
Rod: No, it is certainly. Really that’s a pretty short timeframe for that lady with such a major injury to get that sort of movement back equivalent to her good shoulder and that’s sensational.
Brad: Yeah, she was very good client, you know? She did everything she was told which is not always the case. But yeah there was a lot of other treatment as well. She was having a lot of massage and other therapies as well. So, yeah it certainly makes a difference when the client is committed to getting it right as you are.
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Rod: Yeah. Terrific. Well done. If you had one secret about stretching what would it be? You have given some good advice up to this point, have you got anything up in your sleeve?
Brad: Yeah another point I would probably make is that a lot of people are looking for the one stretch or the magic stretch that’s gonna fix everything. And you know 9 times out of 10, it is more like 10 times out of 10, there is not gonna be one stretch that’s gonna fix everything.
Brad: So, yeah another bit of advice is to… let’s say for example you do have some hip pain… So people who come to me and say “I have got this hit pain. What stretch can I do for it?” And I say, “Well, it is not about doing just one stretch. You really need to stretch your hip, your low back, your back side, your hamstring, adductors.” So maybe yeah stop looking for that magic stretch. Try to incorporate as many difference stretches as you can for a problem area, for example. Or if you find that so your hamstrings are a little bit tight instead of just doing the same hamstring stretch over and over again. Try to incorporate as many different types of hamstring stretches as you can; because, a lot of time doing the same stretches over and over again you can actually lead to an imbalance where… The hamstring is a good example of this because the hamstring is made up of 3 different muscles. So what happens a lot of time, if you do the same hamstring stretch all the time, you are emphasizing one of those muscles more than the other two. So over time it does lead to an imbalance sort of within the hamstrings. So by incorporating as many different stretches for the hamstrings as you can think of, you are getting a nice even balance of flexibility through the whole hamstring muscles instead of just one particular part of it.
Rod: No. That’s a good advice there. I think a lot of people would be guilty of that. They do this at the same routine, if they got a routine at all back it up again again and again and as you said you could be creating another problem which you are not even aware of.
Brad: Yeah. Yeah. That’s right.
Rod: Mate, are there any common problems that you see with stretching? People come to you, you have mentioned time. We all are at time poor these days. Any problems that you see people coming to you and they are unable to stretch or they might have, as you have mentioned before some injuries and things?
Brad: Yeah. Obviously. I mean like all form of exercise there is times when it can be beneficial and there is times when it can be actually dangerous if you are doing it… A lot of times, when people have a relatively a new injury, I suggest that they don’t stretch for a while, especially, if the injury is in that sort of inflammation phase where they have still got a lot of swelling and inflammation there. So, yeah there is a time to stretch and a time not to stretch so that’s very important.
And talking about injuries again there is particular types of stretching that are more beneficial for injuries than other types. So obviously when you do start to incorporate stretching into an injury rehabilitation program you avoid those dynamic type stretches which can put a lot of sudden strain on the muscles airing towards those long hold static stretches and then there is other different types of stretching that’s more beneficial for injury rehabilitation and this particular type of stretching that will actually not only stretch but also strengthen the muscle while its being stretched which is very beneficial obviously for injury rehab; because, the muscle has usually lost some strength while it’s been injured. So, yeah just incorporating the right type of stretching at the right time which is again it’s very much like strength training. There is different types of strength training that are beneficial for certain people and beneficial for certain situations or beneficial for the goal you are actually trying to achieve. So a lot of time it is about matching that right type of stretching so the goal that you want to achieve whether that’s a sports performance goal or an injury rehab goal. Yeah nothing beats doing the right type of stretching at the right time.
Rod: Mate that’s terrific. And where could people find some more information about stretching? As I have mentioned you have been published online in many many magazines – some information out there that people could pull out a bit more of what else they could do?
Brad: Yeah look certainly my website www.stretchcoach.com. I think there is nearly 200 articles on there that I have written over the last 15-20 years. They are all free so you can go there and if you wanna do a search on hamstring stretches or maybe you have got an injury or something, you might have a rotator cuff injury, just use the search feature there and type that in and there will be… like I said there is nearly couple of hundred articles. There is a few hundred blog posts and there is free videos there. So if you stuck for ideas but you have done your 2 or 3 hamstring stretches that you can think of and you can’t think of any others to do, well you go there and there is dozens of videos of different hamstring stretches you can do and that’s the same for just about any other muscle group in the body. Yeah so that’s a great place to starts. There is heaps of free stuff.
If you wanna go a bit deeper than you I have got products for sale; books and DVDs, posters and that sort of stuff. Most people are pretty happy to start off with the free stuff and there is plenty there to get you started and get you off on the right foot. And like I said if you wanna go deeper then there is always some products with extra information there.
Rod: Terrific. Mate, that’s great. I will include a link to your site at the end of the post. And we might wrap it up there. Mate I have used a bit of your time this afternoon really liked to thank you for your time and it’s been great having a chat and I will catch up again sometime.
Brad: Yeah. I have really enjoyed it. Rod, it’s been great. It’s always good to be to share few tips and, hopefully, if people just get a few little points out of there or make their stretching a whole a lot more effective and they will realize that maybe they can sort of wave it into what they are already doing and yeah get benefits of it.
Rod: Terrific. Mate, that’s great. Thanks again and we will talk soon.
Brad: Excellent. Thanks Rod.
For more information about Brad and his stretching programs visit www.stretchcoach.com
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About The Author
Rod Bucton, mountain bike fanatic from Mid North Coast, New South Wales Australia… helping middle aged men improve their lives with exercise, good nutrition and good health and while you’re at it follow Rod on Facebook or Instagram.
Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury.