Hardcore Stretching Part2
The Hardcore Stretching Program
Now this wouldn’t be a true flexibility article if I
didn’t give you some stretches to get you started. While the program given
below is quite thorough, it doesn’t stretch every single muscle group. As well,
it doesn’t allow for variety or individualization in your program. What I want
to do is give you a program that’ll get you started, and from there you can
learn variations and techniques to keep your training fresh.
Beyond that, not every person is tight in the same area of
the same muscle group. Expand your repertoire with stretches that give you the
most benefit. Not only will your body respond to the new stimulus, but you’ll
be a lot less likely to fall off the flexibility wagon!
In Part I, I discussed the rationale for adding
static stretching into your program. I also gave you some specific tips to
improve the quality of your stretching workouts. Now, on with the program!
The calves are typically one of the most overactive muscle
groups. Think about it, if you’re an athlete, you only plantar flex your foot
about 1000 times a day! Even if you’re just on your feet a lot, these muscles
tend to harbor a lot of tension.
To begin, pull the left toe up and press it against the
wall. Keep the chest up and pull the torso close to the wall to get a mild
stretch in the back of the lower leg. Hold, then repeat on the right side. If
you want to stretch the soleus, flex the knee and repeat.
Tight hip flexors and hamstrings are the result of our
activity-resistant society. We sit for hours on end with our hip flexors and
hammies in a shortened position, screwing up the length-tension relationship
throughout the lower body. This stretch will focus on loosening up the hamstrings.
Stand up straight with the chest held high and the hands
on the hips. From the starting position, push the butt back until you feel a
mild stretch in the hamstrings. Make sure to keep an arch in the back
throughout the stretch! Remember, we’re stretching the hammies here, not the
low back. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat.
Posterior Chain/Glute 1
A lot of the lower back injuries I see are due to
excessive tension and poor ROM in the gluteal muscle groups. When the hips are
bound up and tight, movements such as squatting and deadlifting are much more
dangerous because the lumbar spine is forced into flexion as you increase
flexion at the hip. Eric Cressey and I discussed the benefits of healthy hips
in our Get Your Butt in Gear article series. This first stretch focuses on
stretching the gluteus maximus.
Lie on your back and flex your right knee/hip to a 90
degree angle. From this position, use the left hand to pull the knee up toward
the chest and across your body. Hold for 20 seconds and then repeat on left
Beyond loosening up the glutes, another typically tight
muscle group is the piriformis. Now bare with me for a second while I get geeky
for you. Typically, the piriformis is an external rotator of the hip; however,
as the hip moves past 60 degrees of flexion, it acts as an internal rotator. An
excessively tight piriformis can cause impingement/irritation of the sciatic
nerve, better known as Piriformis syndrome.
To stretch this muscle you didn’t even know you had, flex
your left knee/hip and keep your foot on the ground. Next, flex the right
knee/hip and then externally rotate the leg, resting the ankle just below your
left knee. Now, reach through the “hole” and place your hands on the
back of your left leg. Pull your left leg into your body until you feel a mild
stretch in the right hip. Hold for 20 seconds and then repeat on the opposite
It’s rare that people have just tight quads. Typically,
it’s a combination of really tight hip flexors and semi-tight quads. As well,
excessive tension in the rectus femoris (the quad muscle that spans both the
hip and knee joints), is far more common than excessive tension in the vastus
muscle group. Nevertheless, tight hip flexors and quads will eventually ruin your
knees. It’s not a question of if, but when. Please stretch them!
Grab an object in front of you and flex your left knee.
With the left hand, pull your left foot toward your butt until you feel a mild
stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold for 20 seconds and then switch legs.
Make sure to keep your chest up and try not to let your back arch while
performing this stretch.
Upper Quad/Hip Flexor (Hip emphasis)
While the previous version focuses on the muscle belly of
the quads, this version puts an emphasis on the upper portion of the quad.
Start off easy here, as you’ll probably get way more stretch than you bargained
Before you begin, place some sort of padding underneath
the “down” knee. Take the toe of the left leg and place it on a chair,
bench or low sitting couch behind you, and place your left knee on the padding.
Take the right leg out in front of you as if you were lunging.
From this position, let the hips sink down and forward
until you get a mild stretch in the front of the left hip. Hold for 20 seconds
and then repeat on the opposite side. It may help to have a chair or table next
to you while stretching. Instead of fighting to keep your balance, you might be
able to focus on the stretch instead!
Basic Hip Flexor
Now that we’ve loosened up the quads, it’s time to focus
on the hip flexors. This is probably the single-most overactive group of
muscles, and the benefits of stretching them are numerous: improved firing of
the gluteals, decreased incidence of low back injury, etc.
This stretch is identical to the one described before,
except your back leg isn’t elevated in this version. To increase the stretch on
the psoas versus iliacus, laterally flex the body in the opposite direction of
the side you’re stretching (e.g. if you’re stretching the right hip, laterally
flex to the left).
Ever had a groin strain or tear? It sucks, believe me. Not
only is this area super sensitive, but it also doesn’t get much blood flow,
making rehab a time-consuming process. Ignore stretching your adductors and you
might end up like this:
Nomar was in a bad situation here, as he was A) playing on
a wet field, and B) had probably been sitting for several hours due to a rain
delay. Needless to say, this isn’t a good recipe for healthy, injury-free
To stretch the adductors, sit flat on the floor with the
legs spread comfortably apart. Shift your weight forward, keeping your chest up
until you get a mild stretch on the inner part of your thigh. Hold for 20
seconds, relax, and then repeat.
Lumbar Spinal Erectors
A while back I was looking for a solid low-back stretch
that didn’t involve flexion of the spine. I think toe touches and supine
knee-to-chest stretches are great, but they simply can’t be utilized by all
populations. This version is applicable to a wider range of people and can also
address unilateral imbalances in flexibility in the spinal erectors.
Lay flat on your back with your legs together and
straight. To get into position, flex the right hip/knee to 90 degrees, and then
take the knee all the way to the ground on the opposite side. Use the left hand
to hold the knee down, and then reach back with the right arm to stretch the
spinal erectors. Hold for 20 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.
Thoracic Spinal Erectors
While the previous stretch gets more in the lumbar region
of the erectors, this version hits more in the mid-back/thoracic region. It
doesn’t really make sense to stretch one area and not the other, as the
erectors are a long group of muscles spanning from the hips up to the base of
To stretch the thoracic area erectors, sit on the floor
with the legs extended out in front of you. Flex the right knee and cross it
over the left leg so the foot is resting on the ground. Bend the left arm and
place the elbow on the outside of the knee. From here you can push off the
elbow to increase the amount of rotation and stretch. Hold for 20 seconds and
then repeat on the opposite side.
The pecs and lats are to the upper body what the hip
flexors and hamstrings are to the lower body. Both are shortened each and every
minute we sit on our arses at a computer.
Using a doorway or post, bend the right arm to 90 degrees
and place the lower arm and hand along the length of the doorway. From the
starting position, twist the hips in the opposite direction until you get a
mild stretch in the chest. Hold for 20 seconds and then switch arms.
Much like the pecs, the lats are major internal rotators
and need to be stretched. If you’re like me, you love to train back, especially
heavy chin-ups and pull-ups. If this is the case, you really need to make sure
you’re stretching your lats out. Not only will it improve your posture, but
you’ll be pressing more weight for more years as well.
Stand up straight with the chest held high and the hands
on something just above hip height. From the starting position, push the butt
back until you feel a mild stretch along the sides of the back. Hold for 20
seconds and repeat as necessary. This can also be done one arm at a time if
you’ve noticed you have one side that’s significantly tighter than the other.
The triceps are used in virtually every pressing exercise,
so at least some static stretching is necessary to return them to an appropriate
In a standing or seated position, flex the shoulder and
bend your elbow to a point where your elbow is actually pointing straight up
toward the ceiling. From here, take the opposite arm and pull the elbow even
farther back until you get a pull in the back of your upper arm. Hold for 20
seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.
Upper Traps/Sternocleidomastoid (SCM)
Most of you probably haven’t heard of your SCM, but I
assure you it can be a real pain in the ass if it’s overactive or tight. This
can lead to several postural issues such as a head forward posture and tension
To stretch the SCM, sit in a chair with good erect posture
and hook the fingers of your right hand underneath. With your left hand, gently
pull your left ear toward your left shoulder (straight across). Hold for 20
seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.
The suboccipitals are a very small muscle group that lies
on the back of your neck near the base of your skull. Much like the SCM, overly
tight suboccipitals can lead to forward head posture issues: headaches,
excessive dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, and general tightness in the neck.
Sit or stand with good erect posture. Tuck the chin in
slightly, and then lace your finger tips on the back of your head. Gently pull
the head forward until you feel a stretch in the back of your neck, right at
the base of your skull. Hold for 20 seconds, relax, and then repeat.
The Road to Success
You do all the right things to help improve your
performance. You train hard, eat and supplement your diet with the best
products, and recover like it’s a part-time job. You should stretch too.
Stretching is not only extremely simple, but cost
effective as well. Doesn’t it make sense to take a few minutes out of your day
to help keep you hitting the iron? Sure, you’re probably not going to hear
people say, “Wow, you have great quad flexibility!” but if it keeps
you healthy and on the road to success, does it really matter?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been sitting as this
computer way too long. I need to go stretch!
About the Author
Mike Robertson, M.S., C.S.C.S., U.S.A.W., is the Director
of the Athletic Performance Center (a Division of Allen County Family &
Sports Chiropractic) in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The APC offers sport performance
training, injury rehabilitation, and personal training services to its clients.
Mike received his Masters in Sports Biomechanics from the Human Performance Lab
at Ball State University. Mike has been a competitive powerlifter for the last
4 years and is currently the USA Powerlifting State Chair in Indiana.
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