What’s the best way to stretch?
If you want to increase flexibility, stay limber, mobile and healthy then “stretching” is a favorite the world over for all of these, but…exactly HOW should you be stretching?
If you’ve been hanging out with me here at Mobility Mastery for any length of time then you’re probably aware that I’m not a fan of static stretching (going into a linear stretch and holding it for an extended period of time). In fact I adamantly oppose it for most people most of the time. This is because taking “cold” muscles into intense stretches and forcing all your tissues to stay lengthened greatly increases the chances those same tissues will resist being pulled on, which means risking micro tears, stretch reflexes and generally doing more harm than good.
The potential benefits of static stretching simply aren’t worth the risks (in my opinion). Besides…there are FAR BETTER ways to stretch that not only yield better results for increasing flexibility and range of motion but have nearly zero potential for harm if performed correctly.
So what’s the BEST method of stretching?
My personal favorite way to stretch is called PNF stretching. PNF stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation.
In the above video I talk about the basic principles behind PNF and show you a simple PNF stretching routine for 4 basic muscle groups: quads, hamstrings, calves and chest. Instructions for specific stretches starts at 2:37.
Before you stretch, know your WHY:
Why do you want to stretch? Is it for sport specific reasons like being a gymnast or dancer?
Are you trying to stretch your way out of pain?
Do you simply want to maintain healthy muscles and range of motion?
All of the above?
If you’re at all unsure of your WHY then please go read my three part series on the differences between fascial restriction and flexibility issues. Start with Part I by clicking here.
If you’re in pain PLEASE DON’T TRY TO STRETCH YOUR WAY OUT.
I advocate fascial release (or addressing muscle and nerve inhibition) for most pain issues from head to toe. I NEVER recommend stretching as a way to get out of pain.
Reasons to stretch:
- You’re an athlete required to have an above average level of flexibility to perform well
- You’re actually inflexible or have super tight muscle fibers and attachments and want to lengthen them to achieve an average healthy level of flexibility (if you’re not sure whether you fall into this category, please read the post I linked to above about flexibility vs. fascial restriction issues)
- You enjoy being more flexible in your everyday life and want a safe, healthy stretching routine
- You want a better stretching routine to use before working out or performing a sport
- It just feels good to be limber and loose!
Now that you know your WHY, let’s talk about PNF stretching:
The reason this is my personal (and professional) preferred way to stretch is because it engages muscles and fascia (and other fancy worded things like golgi tendons) in such a way that it fatigues all the tissues (muscle inhibition), including attachments, allowing for the greatest range of motion (lengthening) without the risk of a strain or stretch reflex. Put quite simply, the tissues relax and do not resist the stretch, making this a very safe way to increase gains in flexibility.
You can use this method on ANY muscle group in the body, though typically it is used on major muscles like quads, hamstrings, calves, pecs etc.
The HOW TO’s are in the video.
Get the MOST out of this method:
- A stretching routine of 3 ish times a week is probably sufficient for your goals (for example, I might use this or a similar routine 3-4 times a week, before working out with a trainer or before a trail run; anything more than this seems like overkill to me)
- Always begin gently and increase your range of motion a little at a time and you’ll get further faster without injury (DON’T crank down on your muscles by pushing them into too great a stretch at ANY time)
- There are several variations of PNF stretching and I only demonstrate ONE in the video because it is the most self-explanatory and does not require a partner, but if you’re curious to learn more you could check out this article: click here
- One of the other methods of PNF stretching that can be incorporated WITH the one I demonstrate in the video is to use opposing muscle contraction to create reciprocal inhibition, or relaxation of the desired muscle group you want to stretch by contracting its opposite)
- Using the opposing muscle contraction is a great addition so go ahead and try it, ESPECIALLY for a quad/hip flexor stretch (you would contract your GLUTES to get the best quad hip flexor stretch)
- ALWAYS listen to your body: if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Not all methods are meant for all people. Typically PNF stretching should feel REALLY good, and by the time you’re holding the stretch it doesn’t feel like a strain (like static stretching usually does)