Dr. Quinn Henoch Interview: Stretching, Foam Rolling, Developing a Mobility Routine, and More!

 

 

Hey Quinn! First off, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us! To start, could you tell our readers a bit about yourself and what it is you do?

 

Of course. First, I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to do this interview.  I'm a 28 year old physical therapist, and am based out of Orange County, CA.  I received a Bachelor's degree in Exercise Science from Valparaiso University in 2009.  I worked as a strength and conditioning coach for a year, before returning to school to earn a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Indianapolis in 2013.  I loved my job as an S&C coach, but simply craved more knowledge of the human body.  PT school helped to fill that void.   

I have recently moved to Southern California to open a clinic in conjunction with Juggernaut Training Systems, for which I am both a contributing author and traveling seminar coach. I also head an educational entity called Darkside Strength along with my business partner Ryan Brown.  

My passion is movement analysis, and I spend most of my clinical hours helping my patients and clients figure out a more effective way to move their bodies - to reduce pain and/or improve performance.  

As far as athletic history, American football was my passion, and I played through the Div I-AA level as a defensive back.  I have competed in track & field, Crossfit, & powerlifting.  However, for the past 4 years, I have trained exclusively for the sport of weightlifting and am a national qualifier in both the 77kg and 85kg class. 

 

 

It seems stretching has become exponentially more popular in the fitness community within the last 2 years. How high do you think stretching (whether static or dynamic) ranks on a scale of 1-10 for those looking to optimize their gym performance? And is there a point of diminishing returns with stretching? To provide more context, lets assume we’re talking about individuals who include Squat/Bench/Deadlift in their routine, and train with the primary goal being muscle hypertrophy.

It's hard to put a number to the effectiveness of stretching, because there are many variables in play. It depends on the individual's body and the chosen activity. 

Obviously a person's joint systems must possess adequate range of motion to attain the positions of their chosen sport. If performing the splits is required for your chosen activity, then it will be necessary to lengthen soft tissue to the point of being able to do the splits. Stretching can be an effective means to achieve this.  However, for activities such as the squat, bench, or deadlift, EXTREME ranges of motion are not necessary.  In fact, trying to achieve an excess of range of motion can be detrimental, if the athlete is not also working to stabilize that newly acquired range of motion.  You see this with individuals who can palm the floor during a standing toe touch or nearly do the splits, yet his or her squatting pattern makes them appear very immobile/inflexible. This is a case of someone who has movement potential based on joint mobility and soft tissue flexibility, but does not possess the adequate stability to demonstrate it. I find that, for most people, working to improve motor control and stability will allow them to unlock joint mobility and soft tissue flexibility that they never thought they had.  

Static and dynamic stretching is largely a neurological input rather than a structural one. Very rarely are you actually altering the physical structure of your tissues when you perform a stretch. In fact, you must stretch a SINGLE muscle group for about 20 minutes per day to add structural length.  Very few people do this, or more importantly, NEED to do this. Shorter bouts of stretching send an input to the nervous system, and in many cases the nervous system responds by decreasing the neural drive, or tone, to that area. You then have a TRANSIENT improvement in range of motion that will likely be gone quickly if you do not perform some type of exercise that requires you to use that range and stabilize it. This makes it very likely that there is an abrupt point of diminishing return. If one minute of stretching improves your movement, it does not mean that 10 minutes is 10x better. Because you are likely not making a structural change either way, you should find the shortest time interval that gives you desirable return. If you spend 20 minutes stretching before a workout, you have likely lost the gains in range of motion of the first stretch you performed. The research is all over the board as far as time domains. Experiment.  

So, if performing a static or dynamic stretch gives you that transient increase in range of motion and translates to an improved ability to perform your chosen activity, then stretch away. If it's going to work, it should happen quickly. If you have been performing the same stretches for months with little return, then it's the wrong intervention. On the flip side, if stretching helps you move better, but your need for those stretches has not decreased over the course of months, then we are missing a piece of the puzzle, in regards to making lasting changes.  

For those who have muscles that always "feel tight", you are likely dealing with neurological tone versus structural shortness. Think of it this way - if you were put under anesthesia, those "tight" muscles would probably turn into spaghetti noodles; because you decreased the neural drive.  In these cases, stretching is just playing tug-of-war with your nervous system, which usually never translates to lasting change. 

 

 

Our audience ranges from avid fitness enthusiasts to professional level bodybuilders, what advice can you give them for designing and implementing their own mobility routine regardless of their level of experience? Are there areas that should be more emphasized than others?

I would build the mobility routine using a "ground-up" approach.  This is how infants learn to move.  They explore developmental positions such as supine, sidelying, quadruped, half kneeling, and tall kneeling for months before they have gained the motor control to stand, squat, walk, etc.  These positions provide ground contact that is wildly effective for building proprioceptive awareness - while simultaneously developing the adequate mobility and stability for one to attain desired positions.  Use the Darkside Strength YouTube and Quinn Henoch YouTube channels for references.  Pick 1-2 exercises in each developmental position and build yourself up to standing everyday.  This should take no longer than 10-15 minutes.  These are the drills that I referenced before in regards to unlocking your mobility potential.  Movement is a skill, and if it is to be improved, should be practiced under low load/low stress conditions. 

 

 

If someone came to you having never back squatted before, what progressions would you take them through to ensure that they develop sufficient squat form?

This would be a great time to incorporate the developmental positions described above to build the squatting pattern from the ground up. The goals of these movements will be for the individual to learn how to reflexively stabilize the trunk and pelvis, while flexing at the hips, knees, and ankles. I'll outline a sample progression.  

 

Supine:

- 90/90 Hip Lift, 3 sets of 4 breaths

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2OFz37JHug

- 3-month banded pullover, 3 sets of 4 breaths

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRA6iCOOSAc

 

Sidelying:

- Clamshell holds, 2 sets of 5 breaths

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5eLWde1IMA

 

Quadruped:

- Rocking, 1-2 sets of 10 with various knee and feet widths

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CgJKPAyw5Q

 - Rockback with arm lifts, 1-2 sets of 5 reps

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6szvM3PsuE

- Bear to squat, 1-2 sets of 5 reps

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QB6Pjsr06VE

 

Half Kneeling:

- Front Foot elevated split squat, 1-2 sets of 5 reps

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rARzAiG6-qc

 

Standing:

- Counterbalance goblet squat, 1-2 sets of 5

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssAEKwJW4iw

Hopefully, at this point, the individual has grooved the squat pattern such that the transition to a barbell front or back squat comes more naturally; as opposed to if they were simply put under that bar as the first exposure to the squatting pattern. Going to such a movement prep routine does not take long because the positions flow into one another. Over time, an individual will figure out which drills provide them with the most return, and they can narrow down even more. Also, remember that these are just examples. It's the concept of position that is important; the specific exercise selection is almost limitless.

 

 

In regard to training programming, what role do you think corrective exercise has? I'm speaking in terms of using exercise to correct functional imbalances.

Well it depends on what you consider correct exercise; but in general, any exercise or drill that improves an individual's movement quality has a huge role in programming. I consider every exercise that I mentioned above to be a "corrective exercise". Any exercise or drill that I prescribe in the clinic is a corrective exercise. They are teaching tools. They are meant to improve one's ability to attain the positions for their desired activity. They are not typically stimulating enough to build top-end strength or hypertrophy by themselves. That's what barbells, dumbbells, and other implements are for. This is where people make the mistake.  

A hundred band pull-aparts for a 400lb bencher is not going to add any more appreciable strength or hypertrophy for that individual. I would, instead, prescribe a band pull apart for such an individual to teach them how to retract the shoulder blades and extend the thoracic spine, without hyper extending the lumbar spine; but after that pattern is established, the need for the corrective exercises should diminish. The same goes for things like, Y's, T's, W's, and various "activation drills". For hypertrophy purposes, these things can be used as a super-set between strength movements to add a bit of metabolic stress; but again, you are going to get more bang for the buck if they are used as motor pattern-teaching tools. Use lower reps, if need be, and really focus on quality of movement.  If it's a shoulder drill, makes sure your ribcage is stable.  If it's a hip exercise, make sure your pelvis is stable. It's not a corrective exercise if it's not done correctly. 

 

 

You utilize breathing techniques to correct issues like muscle hypertonicity and realignment of joints. Could you talk a bit about how and why this works so effectively?

I will do my best, as this is a loaded topic.  I'll keep it brief; but if people want to know more, they can check out the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) or Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS).  

I consider the breathing drills that we implement as "corrective exercise", based on how I defined that term above. The idea behind them is to decrease (inhibit) muscular tone in certain areas and increase neural drive (facilitate) to other areas. This is done by positioning the body is a certain way, so we give leverage to the muscles we are trying to facilitate and take leverage away from the muscles we are inhibiting.  This, in turn, facilitates or inhibits global movement patterns. For example, the 90-90 Hip Lift drill that I referenced in the squat movement prep sequence, is designed to inhibit excessive tone in the spinal erectors and hip flexors, and to facilitate the hamstrings, abdominals, and pelvic floor. It's fantastic for individuals who tend to hyperextend the lower back during training, to help them regain some pelvic control.  Another example is quadruped or rockback breathing drills, in which we try to drive air into the upper back. These are effective at inhibiting lat and thoracic erector tone while increasing posterior expansion of the ribcage.  All of which will improve shoulder function, especially in the overhead ranges.  

The breathing component is the key, obviously.  Breathing is a vital function, so if it is incorporated properly, the brain will be much more welcoming to the drill or position. We are looking for an inhale through the nose, in which we expand the torso 360 degrees for proper ribcage mobility and gas exchange. We then want a FULL exhale through the mouth (like your are blowing up a balloon), in which the ribcage fully depresses and the abdominals are reflexively activated. This will give the diaphragm mechanical leverage for the next inhale.  This type of breathing pattern will trigger the nervous system to cause change in the muscular tone. Just with any corrective exercise, if done improperly, will not yield the benefits desired. Hold you breath or hyperventilate, and you will probably increase global tone (threat response) and attain the opposite effect.  

After performing these types of drills correctly, individuals tend to feel more "tied together" and reports of feeling "looser" are very common. These are probably the most powerful "mobility" drills that I have come across. Instead of fighting with the nervous system, as stretching can sometimes be, we are working with the nervous system to allow for movement patterns to be unlocked. Think of it as a reset. A neurological reset. 

 

 

How do you feel about foam rolling, and do you believe it serves an important role in proper warm up/cool down/recovery?

Do I believe it serves an important role?  No. Do I believe it can serve a role?  Sure. There is definitely literature stating that foam rolling can increase range of motion in the short term and decrease feelings of tightness. In our discussion on stretching above, you can substitute foam rolling in there, and my thoughts are the same. The foam roller and lacrosse ball do not break up adhesion or scar tissue. Thank goodness we are not that fragile. It is, again, a neural input. If one struggles with a movement pattern such as the squat, it is very unlikely that foam rolling alone will give them the motor control needed to improve movement in the long term. Use it for a couple minutes to warm up and feel looser, then move on.  Personally, I use the roller or lacrosse ball to target specific areas at specific moments. For example, if I am experiencing an erector pump from a high volume of pulls, I will roll my erectors for 20 seconds to get me through the next set of pulls.  If I am experiencing  a little hip impingement, I will roll my TFL with a lacrosse ball for 20 seconds in between squat sets. Rolling the bottom's of my feet for 30 seconds or so, seems to slightly improve my ankle range of motion, so I may do that before I put my shoes on, if I'm going to be snatching or cleaning. They are short term tools, so I use them for short term solutions. Otherwise, those implements are not a regular part of my routine or what I prescribe for others. 

 

 

What are your thoughts on the notion that sitting should be avoided at all costs because of the supposed negative implications it has on exercise performance? Is this a rational fear, or is it mislead?

I don't think it's misled, but I do think the fear can be taken to irrational levels.  Standing for prolonged periods of time can be just as problematic as sitting; as we tend to just "hang" on our ligaments - usually into excessive extension when standing still.  Having said that, your body will never actually be "stuck" in one position after being in it for only a few hours.  The tightness that one feels after prolonged sitting or standing is just neural tone. So again, the trick is move around every so often and undo the position that you have been in. Breathing drills, rotation drills, cross/crawl drills, glute facilitation drill, etc. Take two minutes and knock a couple out in order to reset your position. This will mitigate any permanent adaptive changes to your tissues. 

 

 

Have you discovered any tactics to help increase adherence to movement prep/mobility protocols? Is this simply a matter of not attacking too many things at once?

I definitely think focusing on quality over quantity is key. The warm-up I prescribed above is a general template, but if someone is addressing a specific problem area, I think focused work on 2-3 things is best. I see a decrease in compliance with my patients/clients if I am giving them too many things to do at home.  

I also think that if you pick the right things, you should see some sort of positive change pretty quickly. That will build rapport and trust, and the person is more apt to be compliant with additions to the program; because they have already felt immediate benefit.

There are also little tricks to show how position and stability can dictate mobility. For example, have someone lie supine and perform an active straight leg raise, while hyperextending the low back and popping the ribs up. Then have them exhale fully to pull the ribs down and set the abs, and have them perform the test again. Many times, they will feel a substantial improvement in range of motion. Little demonstrations like that can help the person better understand the importance of what you are teaching them.

 

 

Thank you again for taking the time to do this interview Quinn, we greatly appreciate it, and I’m sure the readers have found great value in your answers. One final question, do you read any books that are unrelated to fitness? If so, what are your top 1-3 books?

I'm still a little too geeky to get into fiction books just yet.  I'm sure that phase will come at some point though.  I'm very interested in the brain and how it controls our perceptions.  A couple great books in this subject are The Body Has A Mind of Its Own and The Brain That Changes Itself.  Along the same lines, I think a very important book for many people is one called, Explain Pain. This book dives into the biopsychosocial aspect of pain science, and can be eye opening for anyone dealing chronic issues. 

Thank you again for allowing me to do this interview. You posed great questions, and I hope the content is helpful.

 

 

 

See more of Quinn's work here:

Darkside Strength Website

Articles Written by Quinn

Darkside Strength YouTube Channel