Have you ever been frustrated that you spend significant time stretching, but you're still tight? Or maybe it’s even getting worse! I’m pretty sure anyone who lives an active life has experienced something like this before. To make your stretches worth your time and finally see progress in your mobility, it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind.
Tip #1: Modify The Position Until You're Comfortable
Most of us think the more we hurt during a stretch, the more we get out of it. We use a typical "more is better" approach. Our focus is on the muscle we’re trying to lengthen and we push our limits while disregarding the rest of the body. You're probably also holding or at least straining your breath. This is a sign that you're working too hard.
The runners among you know that you're supposed to be able to have a conversation during a run when building your aerobic base, which in turn will help you run longer and faster.
It's the same with stretching. By easing up on your stretches, your sympathetic nervous system can stop its fight-flight-freeze response (which keeps your muscles tight) and turn on the parasympathetic nervous system which will send messages to your muscles that it's okay to release.
Lastly, we often compromise our alignment in different body parts far away from the target muscle, which constricts and tightens other parts of the body which then have to be stretched. It's a vicious cycle.
This video shows how to modify a common hamstring stretch with a yoga belt that you most likely are familiar with. Remember to make sure you're comfortable, and keep your ego tucked away while modifying the position. I know that it can be frustrating to accept how tight your muscles really are. But isn't it better to have clarity and a solution to your tightness, than try for years without progress?
Tip #2: Stretch From Different Directions
Our muscles are not just running in a vertical line up and down the body. Some of them run across, diagonally, or they wrap around a joint, creating the option for rotation in that joint or stabilizing the joint during movement (by pulling in the opposite direction).
It's incredibly important to move our limbs and torso on a variety of angles and vectors. If we stretch in the same direction every single time, we only create mobility on this tiny range (like a landing strip), but to the right and left of that angle, we're still tight. That's why we can spend hours and weeks stretching an area without seeing much progress in our overall mobility.
Let’s put this into practice. This video will show you how to stretch your hamstrings from all directions using a yoga belt.
- Turn the whole leg outward, not just your toes.
- Turn the whole leg inward, not just your toes. Expect less range in this direction.
- Watch your pelvis and make sure you're not rotating your pelvis when your leg is rotating.
Tip #3: Choose Multiple Positions To Stretch The Same Muscle Group
Doing only one stretch for each muscle group might not be sufficient. Find another way to stretch the same area (in this case our hamstrings). In this video, I'm demonstrating a kneeling hamstring stretch as well as a hip flexor stretch, both include different angles.
Now I want to hear from you: which of these three techniques will you include in your (or your student's) stretching routine?