We have made significant progress in exercise, sport, and rehabilitation science. We are slowly finding out many interesting things. But, it still seems we are missing the big picture with exercise training. If you look at a basic book on exercise training, multiple components of fitness are mentioned. Cardio-respiratory capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition are common components of fitness. Often, we are instructed to make sure you do some cardio, do some weights, and don't forget that all-important stretching at the end of your workout. Oh, and balance training and some fat-loss training, too. We have such a myopic view of exercise it is laughable.
Though, have you ever seen your dog stretch before or after he runs? Does he ever do any strength training? Yet, he can, at the sight of a squirrel, sprint, cut, leap, stop, reaccelerate, pee on a plant (my dog at least) then jog for many minutes. How does he do that? He doesn't follow any of our modern fitness principles, but can easily outperform us. I don't know about you, but this is eye-opening. Are we missing the big picture?
I think we are. It is often said that you find what you are looking for. Is that what is happening here? When we look through the lens of specific fitness components that is what we find. We need to take a step back and see the big picture. Exercise is all movement. Movement is very complex. We need to appreciate that basic neuromuscular patterns are the basis for everything that we do. The ability to move is only partially conscious. How we actually move is modulated by our nervous system, which is constantly receiving internal and external feedback, and adjusting muscular contraction. Our expression of strength, stability, flexibiltiy, even endurance is predicated by how our nervous system functions. I know this seems so weird, but it is only hard to fathom because we can't perceive its sophistication from our vantage point, like we can the components of fitness. Once we appreciate that motor control patterning is the basis of our movement, and the components of fitness are simply manifestations of that, we have a more powerful understanding of rehab and exercise training. Training movement patterns, properly, enhances the efficiency of that movement (like a golf swing). As a consequence of those patterns (swinging a golf club) , flexibility and strength change. In the case of the golf swing, flexibility and strength increase in the golf swing pattern, but not in others. Swinging the club the oppoisite way is not just awkward, but physically hard to do. You are working against muscles whose lengths have been set by the patterning of swinging a club one way. Stretching the muscles that we perceive as tight temporarily increases flexibiltiy, but it resets back to its 'patterned' length rather quickly. Similarly, sprinters who statically stretch before sprinting are actually slower than if they didn't stretch. You are interfering with the rapid contraction of the muscles with long, slow stretches. Alternatively, core training on a ball or the ground doesn't improve torso stability in other positions because it is motor pattern-specific.
I guess a dog never stretches his hamstrings because there is no reason. If he is running and sprinting regularly, his motor patterns allow him to lengthen and shorten his muscles appropriately in that pattern. We could learn a lot from a dog.