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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Photo Credit: Tobyotter on Flickr

by Khaled Allen

When I was running cross country in high school, we always began each practice session by stretching to avoid injury, and after we were done, we’d stretch again. We did this presumably to prevent injury, but despite the fact that I was the most flexible person on the team, I was injured most of my senior year. Nevertheless, I continued to stretch because I felt knotted and stiff when I didn’t.

A few years later, a number of studies came out suggesting that stretching wasn’t helpful to distance runners at all. According to some researchers, distance runners actually don’t need to be flexible. Some cite studies that prove stretching doesn’t prevent injury, and may actually make it more likely. Some say stretch only if you need to get more flexible.

The points against stretching are pretty harsh. According to a study published on the Gatorade Sports Science Institute website, stretching before exercise may cause temporary strength deficits, doesn’t prevent injury, and doesn’t improve exercise performance. The study did find that passive stretching, done away from the exercise environment, may improve flexibility, but the study also claimed that increased flexibility was detrimental to runners.

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