Flexibility:  A Core Fitness Component in Obstacle Racing

by Jason Jaksetic


The bamboo which bends in stronger than the oak which resists.

—Japanese Proverb


The 49ers are going to the Super Bowl and their flexibility may be the reason why.

Athletes at Spartan HQ weren’t surprised by the revelations found in a recent Wall Street Journal article (this one), that tells of the off-the-radar stretching program of the San Francisco 49ers, a regiment that possibly has enabled their two year charge into NFL dominance.

The piece joked about 300 lbs linemen being more mum about their stretching routines than their squat and bench press records out of machismo.   But the author also hinted that the truth for this reticence might have to do with keeping a competitive advantage.

It seems the flexible, the limber, and the loose have a competitive advantage in football.

I’m not an expert of football, but I know this makes sense from the obstacle racing perspective.  And it also holds true for other endurance sports like running and cycling as well.


Obstacle Racing is not a linear sport, and in this aspect, it has much in common with football.  There are complex movements happening when you scale an 8-foot wall or navigate an endless uphill barbed wire crawl.

Did you see Tiki Barber, former New York Giant great at our NY Times Square event?


Obstacle racing is a sport engineered for those who can get from point A to point B fast.  There is irregular terrain, walls, mud pits, agility obstacles, and myriad other ways to send your body flying in every possible direction.  This is not road running or cycling where efficiency dictates one (or a few) optimal motions repeated over and over.  In obstacle racing you are racing on some of the most gnarly trails going – often something that just has the semblance of a trail.

To be successful in obstacle racing you want to have a good range of motion for agility.  You also want to avoid injury.  Both agility gains and injury reductions are related to flexibility, and flexibility is related to stretching.


Why You Must Stretch

At Spartan HQ, daily training might incorporate Bikram Yoga at Bikram Yoga Pittsfield.  Liz Cotter, head Bikram Yogi there, recounts how she used to train many of the 49ers when she lived in San Francisco.

“They were just so huge.  Extremely muscular. And this was a problem.”  she said, “Range of motion was an obstacle for them.”

Stretching before a workout is more controversial then stretching after. Many studies (here is one, and another) caution about decreased performance.

An ideal warm-up would include some dynamic stretching first to warm the body up, says Dr. Jeff Godin of Spartan Coaching.

“The majority of stretching should be done after exercise, when the muscles are warm and limber.”  Dr Godin say, “That is when people will see the most improvement. Or to conduct stretching entirely separate from other exercise like in a yoga class.”

Don’t know how to stretch?  Don’t worry.  We recently recorded these two short videos to help you out.

In these two videos Jenny Wilson, a Bikram yogi, demonstrates the stretching routines we use in training for Spartan Races.  If you are new to stretching, start slow!  Incorporate it bit by bit into your training routine and into your life in general.

Warming up – Pre Workout Stretching Routine

Cooling Down – Post Workout Stretching Routine

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8 Responses

  1. avatar

    As an older (early 60s) person I’m interested in seeing older athletes demonstrate some of the routines. I can’t come close to the range of motion in most videos.

    • avatar

      Jim, Don’t stress. Most people can’t. In these videos we want to show the extreme so everyone understands the concept of the stretch fully, and then ask to ease into each stretch to the best of their abilities.

      We want to show perfect form, so that everyone has the clearest idea of what to do, we hope.

      Just making the time to attempt the stretching, is stretching in a way. Relax, breath, and try to enjoy it!

    • avatar


      I’m 30 years old and I can’t come close to the range of motion demonstrated here…yet. I am improving every week, but it is slow.

      Do just as Jason says, you’ll get there.

  2. avatar

    I was in Jr. High when one of the 49ers trainers graduated from my school. This is really great that they’re working so much for flexibility.

    My friends are finally starting to realize the importance of stretching before and after our workouts. One is a huge 49ers fan, and this was the tipping point for him.

  3. avatar

    I had the same problem when I saw those stretches, I felt utterly out of shape and in my attempt to follow, it was leaving me feeling crappy, the comment that you want to show how it perfectly should be done, great! but I should love to see how you GET there, nobody can do it perfectly overnight. I went and googled till I found stretches that helped me for the time being. I would still love to see some stretches an average Spartan beginner, medium could do. Thanks.

  4. avatar

    I am one of those 300 lb nfl lineman types. I spent my college days as a shot-putter and power lifter. At 50 I just did my first Spartan race at Killington. Since then I have pulled my calf muscle 3 times. I used to do leg presses and toe raises with over a thousand pounds of weight. My calves are now my worst enemy. Would a yoga program be able to stretch them and stop this cycle of injury? I am not far way fro Bikram.

  5. avatar

    Seriously most really good stretches are designed for and around gymnast. If you run a lot, train hard, stretches need to be part of routine. Crossfit showed my how flexible I wasn’t, and I always stretch. If you can do them you may be a gymnast! I’m 35 and we just need to focus on quality time spent stretching, to keep agile it does help in the long run. When done correctly it helps you get up the next day and get back to the gym.

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