To stretch or not to stretch. You may have recently read, Jordan Fortuna’s recent blog where he discussed the science behind stretching and whether or not it has an impact on performance. Spoiler alert, the evidence doesn’t say so.
So should you give it up completely? Heck no. Flexibility is important and is critical in maintaining good posture and proper muscle alignment. After a busy day or a physical effort it also feels really good.
So why are so many of us terrible at fitting stretching in?
I suspect it is because we bite off more than we can chew and then throw in the towel at the prospect of the time and effort it would take to fulfill our stretching goals.
I’m going to fix that. All I need is five minutes of your time for three of my favourite stretches. No equipment, no fuss. If you can watch TV for 5 minutes, you can knock off these stretches.
Cactus chest stretch
It is no secret we live in a world that encourages rounded shoulders and a tight chest. Whether it is time spent scrolling your phone, wrangling a baby or the outdated notion that you NEED to work your pecs at the gym… all have put us in a chest heavy position and not in a good way.
A tight chest can lead to upper back pain, chronic headaches and shoulder instability. Stretching your chest is one of the best ways to undo some of the postural stresses of the day.
Here is my favourite version of this stretch:
- Lie on your back supported by a foam roller running the length of your spine from the base of you skull to your tailbone.
- Bring your arms up to shoulder height by your sides, bend at the elbow and let your hands fall back to the floor (aka cactus pose).
- If your chest is really tight your hands may not even touch the floor but this is a great position to linger in for a few minutes and enjoy a low load prolonged stretch.
No time to get down on the floor? No problem. You can mimic this in standing by finding a corner of a room, bring your arms up to shoulder height resting on perpendicular walls and elbows bent to 90 degrees. From here lean in toward the corner to sink into a nice juicy chest stretch. This version is perfect for the office or in between exercises at the gym.
Hip flexor stretch
I have yet to meet a client who does not have tight hips. In fact, I think tight hips might be a big part of what keeps our business thriving.
That likely means that this next stretch applies to just about everyone. Just like a tight chest, tight hips are a reflection of what most of us do all day long…sit. They can also be an indication of weak back muscles and gluts.
To stretch out your hips:
- Adopt a split stance and slowly lower down until your front knee is bent and the back leg is straight or resting on the floor.
- Make sure your hips are square and slightly tuck your pelvis under while staying upright through your upper body.
- If done correctly you should feel this in the front of the back leg.
Pretty much everyone knows they should stretch their hamstrings but this is the stretch I most often see done incorrectly. Tight hamstrings often directly correlate to back dysfunction but most people try to stretch their hamstrings by reaching for their toes further putting their backs at risk.
To isolate your hamstrings safely and effectively:
- Rest your foot on the floor or on something four to six inches off the ground.
- Make sure your hips are square and hinge at the hips while keeping a straight leg and a straight back.
- Stop when you feel a stretch through the back of the leg.
For all of the above:
- Choose technique and good positioning over how far you can move into the stretch
- Hold for a minimum of 30 seconds (a minute is better)
- Always stretch both sides even if you only feel one side is tight
- Stretch to the point you feel like your muscle is being challenged but never to the point it is painful
Melanie Stevens Sutherland, Clinic Director & Senior Orthopaedic and Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist
Melanie is a graduate of McMaster University and brings 17 years of experience as a senior physiotherapist to Body Co. She has enjoyed a long tenure working with active populations at prestigious sport medicine clinics. Past clients include Provincial, National and Olympic level athletes as well as members of the National Football League, the Canadian Football League, the Ontario Hockey League, the American Hockey League, the National Lacrosse League and Major League Soccer.
Following the birth of her own children, Melanie developed a strong interest in women’s health. She has taken specialized courses in pelvic floor physiotherapy and women’s nutrition. She is passionate about helping women find strength and confidence in their post-natal bodies following pregnancy and delivery.