Stretching is the pariah of the fitness industry.
A lot of people consider it a relic of the ‘80s, when jogging, aerobics, and stretching were all considered the Best Thing For Your Body until Science disproved it. Now, coaches seem split as to whether or not stretching is worth doing at all.
There’s room for a middle ground in the battle between Always and Never Stretchers.
The first thing that comes to mind about stretching is people in the gym who spend their entire time contorting themselves into strange positions and go nowhere near the weights.
(You know who I’m talking about.)
However, there is a type of stretch that all lifters should do before they squat, deadlift or press and it helps improve flexibility, mobility and strength. It’s called an active stretch.
An active stretch is when you hold a position with no help other than using the strength of your agonist muscle. For example, squeezing your glutes (agonist) in a half kneeling position to stretch your hip flexors (antagonists).
The muscular tension of the agonists helps to relax the muscles being stretched by a process called reciprocal inhibition, which is the muscles on one side of a joint relaxing to accommodate contraction on the other side of the joint.
This kind of stretching increases flexibility and strengthens the agonistic muscles.(1) It’s a win-win.
Consider adding these three stretches by Kathy Ekdahl, Robbie Bagby and Travis Pollen for better performance in and out of the gym.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
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One of the most commonly forgotten areas to stretch is the hip flexor muscle group. If you sit for any extended period of time or drive a lot , I can guarantee you that these areas have gotten tight. My tight hip flexors were a huge contributor to my back pain. Check it out…
Half Kneeling Hip Flexor
Kathy Ekdahl, Personal Trainer, CSCS
Tight hip flexors can cause the pelvis to tilt anteriorly, inhibit hip extension — the primary action of the glutes — create a painful and tight low back, and cause knee pain, to name a few of its effects. Shutting off the glutes is big problem as weak glutes then increase the likelihood of chronic back issues.
My go to stretch for this issue is the half kneeling hip flexor stretch. When performing this stretch, it’s essential that you have a neutral hip. This happens by curling the back foot under, squeezing the glutes and bracing the abs.
Place a pad under the knee if kneeling bothers the knee. You will feel a stretch at the front of the hip of the kneeling leg, where the hip flexor muscle group is located.
The half kneeling position is not only great stretch, but great position for many other core and leg exercises. Getting there while maintaining neutral hip and core control, gives great practice for many other important movement patterns.”
Spider-man With Reach
Robbie Bagby, Personal Trainer, CSCS
The Spider-man With Reach is one of my favorite drills because it allows us to hit the hips and thoracic spine in one little combo. Sitting all day can take its toll on our posture so you have to do your best to counter this before you train.
Here are some quick tips to use so you can get the most of the Spider-man With Reach:
- Get some good separation with your feet. Be sure that the front foot is flat on the ground directly below the knee.
- Keep your back knee down on a pad for level 1; straighten the back leg and elevate the knee for level 2.
- Keep your chest tall. You want to avoid looking like Quasimodo.
- Breathe in deeply. A 3-4 second inhale with a 6-8 second exhale works well.
- If adding in the reach, follow the hand with the eyes; do 6-8 on each side.
[Related: 5 Drills Every Athlete Should Do Every Day]
Quadruped Overhead Shoulder Stretch
Travis Pollen, Personal Trainer and PhD Candidate in Rehabilitation Sciences
Many exercisers lack full overhead shoulder motion (that’s bringing upper arm parallel with the ear). This means when performing exercises that require going overhead, this leads to contorting your body elsewhere (usually through the lower back) to get there.
Stretching is the perfect solution to your overhead woes, and quadruped is a comfortable position to do it in. All you need is an exercise bench and a mat for your knees if you’re on a hard surface.
- Set up on all fours, then put one hand on the bench. The first phase of the stretch is to breathe and relax into the position for about 30 seconds.
- The second step is to push down into the bench vigorously for about 10 seconds.
- The third step is to actively pull the hand up and hover it above the bench for about 10 seconds. Steps 2 and 3 should feel difficult.
- Finally, repeat Steps 1 to 3 all over again, getting into an even deeper range of motion this time around. End with one final 30-second passive stretch.
The pushing and pulling take advantage of principles of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) to signal the nervous system to grant access to more range of motion.
Active stretching will improve your flexibility, mobility and act as a great warm-up exercise before you hit the barbell. Because there’s no need to avoid all types of stretching.
Just the ones that make you look like a pretzel.
- Riley DA, et al. The effects of active and passive stretching on muscle length. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2012 Feb;23(1):51-7