How to make your stretches more effective

Monday, Jan. 7, 2019

Have you ever bent down to pick something up or tie your shoes, felt the stretch in your legs, and thought “wow, my hamstrings are really tight”? Be it at the gym, in the clinic, or just in everyday life, this is a complaint that I hear all the time.

Most people think that the best solution for this is to stretch more. While there is nothing wrong with straightforward stretching, there is a better way to decrease that tightness. Working on both your flexibility and mobility will improve the effectiveness of your stretches.

Stretching is all about flexibility and mobility

There are two different components to stretching that are important to keep in mind.

Flexibility is your ability to be moved (by gravity, a therapist, etc)

Mobility is your ability to move yourself (using your own muscles)

The key difference is that flexibility is a passive movement (it’s happening to us), while mobility is active movement (we move ourselves).

When we do traditional passive stretching, or flexibility work, we’re allowing gravity or another person to move our joints and muscles into their end ranges as we try to relax and lengthen these muscles. While this can feel good, what usually happens shortly afterwards is our muscles tighten up again.

This re-tightening can occur because we’ve “unlocked” a passive range or muscle length by stretching, but our brain perceives this as dangerous as we have not established active control there; we’re so used to having tight muscles, our brain doesn’t know what to do!

By adding mobility work to our passive stretching routine, we can help strengthen our muscles at this new length/range and help the brain feel safer there. This will help make this new range of movement stick around longer and help us to control our bodies better.

Here are some examples of flexibility and mobility stretches you can try to relieve the tightness in your hamstrings or shoulders:

Hamstring Flexibility

Reps: 2-3 on each side

Hold: 1-2 min

Intensity: Gentle stretch or pull in back of thigh

Hamstring Mobility

Reps: 12-15

Hold: 3 sec

Intensity: Gentle stretch or pull on back of thigh

Shoulder Flexibility

Reps: 2-3

Hold: 1-2 min

Intensity: Gentle stretch or pull in shoulders/armpits

Shoulder Mobility

Reps: 12-15

Hold: 3 sec

Intensity: Gentle stretch or pull in shoulders/armpits

If these stretches are causing you pain or discomfort, head to your local Lifemark clinic to get assessed. Don’t push yourself too hard!