How to stretch like a pro!
Muscular balance, better movement control and improved flexibility – it’s all within reach when you take a smart approach to stretching. So, what do the experts recommend? And which moves do the professionals favour?
Like everything in life, people often seek the silver bullet or “magic” stretch to ease tension or musculoskeletal pain. Unfortunately for us, there usually isn’t one, says Bryce Hastings, Les Mills Head of Research. Having spent 20 years as a rehabilitative physiotherapist, Hastings has seen a wealth of stretching trends come and go – so we sought his expert advice on which tips will stand the test of time.
What are the best types of stretches for your body?
Choosing the best way to stretch comes down to the purpose of the stretch. If your aim is to mobilize before exercise or sport, then dynamic stretches (like backward stepping lunges with a trunk twist or arm swings) are often best. If your aim is to address postural imbalances, then long, static stretching is more appropriate.
If you're adding a stretch routine into your week, or stretching after class to assist recovery, a general approach is fine. However, if you’re stretching an area due to ongoing pain or tension, it starts to become a little tricky to identify the best target. Working out what muscles to stretch is not always clear cut.
Bryce Hastings’ all-time favourite stretch
Stretching the psoas (a hip flexor) is often extremely beneficial. We only have 10-15 degrees of extension available at the hip (where the thigh moves behind the body) and we use all this mobility every time we take a step. Compare this to the hamstrings, which normally allow 90 degrees of hip flexion, of which we only use around 30 degrees when we walk or run.
To stretch your psoas, kneel on one leg and stretch the other leg out in-front of you with the foot flat on the floor. Keeping your back straight, slowly push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the upper thigh of your back leg and hip. Hold this position for around 20-30 seconds.
Is it best to stretch pre or post-workout?
Stretching before exercise is vital as you prepare your body for the impact of a workout. Pre-workout stretching allows your muscles to loosen and become more resistant to impact injuries.
Stretching after a workout is also beneficial because the muscles are warm, which can allow you to push a little deeper into the stretch. A post-workout stretch is also a good opportunity to cool down and bring your tissues back to resting level. A dedicated stretch session is a great way to really focus on postural release and joint awareness.
Is becoming more flexible and bendy the main reason to stretch?
Bryce Hastings believes the main benefit of stretching is improving movement control and muscle balance. Flexibility is part of this, as is muscle strength and proprioception. For most of us, supreme flexibility is not necessary. In fact, sometimes people who are very flexible or hypermobile have just as many (if not more) injuries than those who lack flexibility.
How can stretching improve your athletic performance?
Resistance training is key to improving athletic performance – and safe and effective resistance training requires movement precision to ensure the load is isolated to the target muscles. If there are imbalances from excessive muscle shortening or training some muscle groups more than others, it can disrupt movement control. A regular muscle balance routine, including stretches targeting the shortened groups, can greatly improve the effectiveness and sustainability of a resistance training program.