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Unlocking the Secrets of Effective Stretching: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated: Feb 6

Effective stretching


Many find flexibility training frustrating, especially when it seems effortless for some. If you've struggled with flexibility and often feel too stiff to stretch, it can be disheartening. It's doubly frustrating when resources only showcase flexible individuals, making it challenging to relate. Regardless of your tightness, everyone can benefit from stretching. While some individuals may naturally be more flexible, most people need to put in effort. Achieving flexibility can be a challenging journey, especially if following unsuitable advice. Flexibility, above all, enables you to move through the necessary ranges for your activities. Regardless of past challenges, improvement is possible, often requiring tailored adjustments and consistent practice. The principles shared in this article are applicable to any stretch. I know there are literally thousands of stretches you can find on the web, and it can be confusing to know how to do them safely, especially since most stretching instruction on the market is poor, at best. The good news is, once you understand some basic principles of safe stretching, you can apply those to any stretch–yes, any stretch. And even better news: no matter how “tight” you may be, you can follow these tips and get benefit from the stretch.

1. Focus on proper spinal position and pelvic tilt

For most stretches, you’ll want to focus on the position of your spine and pelvis first and foremost, as this will maximize the value of any stretch you are performing.

There are exceptions, of course, but in most cases, the spine should be straight or slightly extended. The pelvic positioning will be tilted forward or backward (anteriorly or posteriorly) depending on the particular stretch. You may find that you need to bend your knees or elbows, or change your shoulder positioning, in order to get your spine and pelvis where you want them and that’s totally fine. Don’t worry about straightening out the extremities. Get your spine and pelvis right first and you’ll improve faster. This is how to move your pelvis.

2. Aim for Stability

If you don’t feel secure and stable in a stretch, your body will naturally guard to protect you, making it much more difficult to let go and get what you want out of the stretch.

It stands to reason, then, that trying to force your body into a position it can’t get into will likely do more harm than good. That’s why it’s important to adjust your exercises so that the positioning feels safe and secure to you and your body. Don’t worry about mimicking what the model is demonstrating. Rather, follow the positioning for the spine and pelvis, and adjust yourself so that you feel stable.

3. Leave Yourself Somewhere to Go

If you start in a position that is too intense of a stretch, and you can’t move at all without discomfort, you’re setting yourself up for a bad situation. When people can't get into the initial position for a stretch, change your starting position to wherever you need it to be. If you don’t leave yourself any room to move, you won’t get what you need out of the stretch. So, you’ll want to always back off and give yourself enough room to move toward the feeling of stretch.

Effective Stretching: How to Adjust Any Stretch to Work for You

The three principles we just went over will help you do any stretch safely and effectively. Here are some adjustments that will help you achieve those principles. Rather than trying to mimic a stretch as a more flexible person might show it, you can follow specific concepts in positioning, making adjustments as needed to work around your own capabilities.

Fill in the Spaces:

  • Use towels, pillows, or any available supports to bridge gaps if flexibility limits contact with the ground or between body parts.

  • Props shown in the video are just examples; use whatever you have.

Support Yourself:

  • Prioritize stability; if feeling unstable, utilize supports, even if it means using a chair during the stretch.

Bend Extremities as Needed:

  • Maintain a neutral or slightly extended spine and proper pelvis positioning.

  • Adjust extremities as required to uphold core alignment.

  • Regardless of flexibility struggles, applying these principles and adjustments will enhance the benefits of any stretch.

Three Steps to Help Improve Flexibility:

  1. Work with, Not Against, Gravity:

People often struggle with stretches, feeling they "can't get into it" and may resort to forcing or giving up. Take hamstring stretches, for instance. If sitting on the ground proves challenging, sitting with your butt higher than your feet, as shown in the video, utilizes gravity to aid the stretch. The crucial aspect is adapting stretches to leverage gravity effectively. Modify as needed to let gravity guide you, promoting relaxation and expanding your range of motion. This approach works in various stretches, enhancing your flexibility training.

2. Consistently stretch the tightest areas.

Stretching progress can be slow, leading to discouragement, as noticeable improvements may take weeks or even months. Achieving high flexibility, whether overall or in specific positions, requires years of consistent effort. Remember, progress won't follow a linear path; some weeks bring significant improvements, while others may show less. Consistency is key—stick to your practice, and results will eventually manifest. To expedite progress, focus on your tightest areas, even if your entire body feels tense. If hamstrings, shoulders, and hips are tight, prioritize these areas.

3. Explore New Ranges of Motion:

Embrace variety in your stretching sessions by experimenting with different ranges of motion.

While dedicating 10 minutes daily to hamstring stretches is beneficial, it's crucial to address the remaining 23 hours and 50 minutes. Sustain flexibility gains by actively engaging in your new range of motion. Implementing these tips is straightforward with this effective session, tailored for hamstrings but adaptable to any area. Incorporate this routine at the conclusion of your regular training program:

Use It or Lose It? Don't Neglect Movement:

  • Flexibility diminishes without regular use.

  • Incorporate diverse movements regularly to maintain and enhance flexibility.

Incorporate stretching exercises with movement, as demonstrated in the sample program, for reliable flexibility gains.

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