To stretch, or not to stretch, that is the question of the hour these days. Honestly, having been in the industry for over 25 years I have seen a ton of research on this topic, and the information has changed regarding how, when, and even IF you should stretch! The general rule of thumb, however, goes something like this: if it’s weak, “strengthen” it; if its sore, “rub” it; if it’s locked, “unlock” it; and if it’s tight, ”stretch” it! This is fine in theory, but the reality is that most of us don’t have clue about what’s going on in our muscle tissue; but what we do know is that we want to move more freely and feel less pain. The state of our muscles remains a mystery without a screen to determine muscle tightness and a need for stretching, or if in fact the muscle is in sub-clinical spasm (muscle loses the ability to shut off for various reasons outside the scope of this piece).
For the purposes of this article, however, we will work under the assumption that we need greater mobility around the shoulder girdle, torso, pelvis and hips. These mobility and stretching techniques are great for everyone! Some are dynamic (with slow controlled motion) and some are static (no motion and held for a minimum of 30 seconds).
Tips for mobility and stretching techniques
Always maintain normal breathing. Steady breathing helps reassure the brain that what we are doing is okay, which will allow the body to relax and achieve better results.
Each mobility technique should be performed slowly and smoothly 12x each side, 2 sets, 2 times per day (unless needed more often due to tightness or discomfort)
Each static stretching technique should be performed slowly with no bouncing, and held for 30 seconds or more 1 time per day or as needed.
Prior to working out, the current wisdom is to perform mobility techniques but NOT static stretching techniques. Static stretching prior to strength or cardio exercise can actually hinder performance. Static stretching should be done after an exercise session.
Feel the weight of the world on your shoulders?
Three-point Neck Stretch
Step 1. Step 2. Step 3.
How To: Seated with a straight back, take your arm and grasp onto the bottom of a chair or bench. This allows the shoulder to drop and is a good “traction” for the upper neck muscles. Step 1- Lean the head to the opposite side and place the opposite hand on the side of the head to intensify the stretch. Step 2- Draw the chin down toward the side of the opposite chest and place the hand on the back of the head to intensify this part of the stretch. Step 3: Rotate the head upward and look up at the ceiling (You may not need any further intensity for this part, if you do, place the hand along the side of the head to encourage rotation.)
No one puts Baby in the Corner
Chest and Back Stretch
How To: Find a corner in your home and begin by placing your forearms up against the wall, keeping elbows below the shoulders. Gently lunge forward until you feel a stretch. Extend the arms up the wall and assume the same lunge forward, continue to lean until you find a stretch.
Moments of shoulder brilliance
How to loosen up the upper back: Shoulder Rolls
How To: Lying on your back with feet shoulder width apart, extend and lock out the arms at the elbow joint, as if you are swinging a baseball bat. Maintain this position slowly move arms side to side keeping the hips on the ground.
Your spine will move like a string of pearls
How To: Lying on your back with your arms outstretched, bend the knees and stack knee and ankle joints so they are in line with each other. (Tip: Imagine you have zip ties around both the knees and ankles for this mobility technique; this will assure you get the best stretch.) Move your “zip tied” legs from side to side making sure to keep both shoulders in contact with the floor to gain optimal mobility.
Improve your Zumba dancing skills and alleviate lower back discomfort
How To: Standing about 12 inches away from a wall, lean against the wall making sure to keep upper arm in contact with the wall and the torso up against the upper arm. Maintain this connection whilst allowing the hips to gently glide toward the wall. Return back to the starting position and repeat.
Don’t get caught like Bambi
Sitting on the floor, a stool or a low chair/bench, extend both legs and draw them apart to achieve a “V” sitting position. Legs should be far enough apart that you feel a mild to moderate stretch. To increase the intensity of the stretch, lean over toward one leg and lean forward. Repeat through the middle and other side.
Just call me Stretch!
Front of the thigh and hip: Lunge Hip Flexor Stretch
How To: Kneeling down on the floor or on a softer surface such as a mat or bed, bring one leg forward and bend the knee to a 90-degree angle, allow the other leg to extend at the hip. Keeping the body upright and supporting your body weight by placing hands on your front-facing bent knee, slowly lunge forward until the optimal stretch is felt.
Your back will write you love letters.
Back of the hip, leg and knee: Standing Hamstring Stretch
How to: Standing, extend one leg out in front with the ankle flexed. Supporting your body weight by the back leg with back straight, lean forward slowly until the optimal stretch is felt.
By: Becky Langton, MA
Becky Langton ACSM, NSCA, ACE, is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Health Fitness Specialist certification committee. Langton studied Health Promotion and Wellness at the University of Wisconsin, and received her master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Pedagogy at Western Michigan University. As owner and founder of Intrinsic Motion Inc., she has merged her experience and knowledge to form a team of international experts in the fields of exercise physiology, behavior change and education.