Ugh. Stretching. Flexibility and stretching seems to be one of the most neglected parts of exercise programs I see in gyms today.  It’s not hard to convince yourself of the benefits of lifting when you feel the burn, or the importance of cardiorespiratory exercise when you’re sweating it out on the treadmill.

Flexibility, however, often seems to be a forgotten piece of the puzzle in many people’s programs. Stretching and flexibility exercises, nevertheless, are an incredibly important part of any fitness routine.

Stretching allows us to maintain full range of motion within our joints. Sitting all day can often create tight hip flexors and chest muscles. Stretching regularly will help to maintain appropriate range of motion and help to elongate those muscles that tighten with repetitive movement.

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Stretching can also help alleviate some of the soreness associated with hard workouts, tight muscles, or stress. For these reasons (and so many more), stretching is a vital part of any fitness routine.

Stretching by yourself is effective, but what better way to look forward to stretching than to stretch with someone else? Stretching with a partner can give you a deeper range of motion and achieve more flexibility than stretching alone.

There are two basic types of partner stretches: passive stretches and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretches. Both are effective in helping gain range of motion when done properly.

partner stretches_2

Passive stretches involve one partner assisting the stretcher with achieving a deeper stretch and greater range of motion. It’s similar to a static stretch (think low intensity stretch, over a long duration), but the partner applies gentle pressure to give the stretcher a greater range of motion.

PNF stretches, on the other hand, utilize a mild contraction of the muscle being stretched for 7-10 seconds prior to the partner pushing the muscle into the new range of motion and holding the stretch. Partner stretches definitely require good communication.

Partners need to communicate and tell each other when the stretch is too little, too much, or just right.

Let’s get to the basics of passive stretching. To complete a passive stretch, the partner gently moves the stretcher’s limb to the point of mild discomfort and holds the position for 20-30 seconds. You can repeat the stretch 1-3 times until the desired range of motion is achieved.

PNF stretches, on the other hand, involve the partner taking the stretch to the point of mild discomfort. Instead of holding this position, the stretcher then begins to contract the muscle to be stretched against the partner for 7-10 seconds.

Immediately after the contraction, the partner helps to gently push the joint into the new range of motion, again going the point of mild discomfort. PNF stretches can also be completed for 1-3 sets in order to achieve the desired range of motion.

When stretching, try to focus on all the major muscle groups-including your chest, back, hips, and legs. This stretching program provides five stretches that focus on the major muscle groups of the body and can be completed using either the PNF or passive stretching techniques.

Be sure to hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds at the point of mild discomfort (not pain—pain is a signal something is wrong).

Stretch

PNF Notes

Passive Notes

Chest The stretcher stands with the back to the partner.  Arms should be extended out to the sides, making a T-shape.  The partner should grasp the wrists of the stretcher gently.  The stretcher should then pull the arms toward the front while the partner resists the movement for 7-10 seconds.  After the contraction period, the partner should pull the arms back to stretch the chest and hold the new range of motion for 20-30 seconds. The stretcher stands with the back to the partner.  Arms should be extended out to the sides, making a T-shape.  The partner should grasp the wrists of the stretcher gently.  The partner then gently pulls the arms back to stretch the chest and hold the new range of motion for 20-30 seconds.
Upper Back The partners stand facing each other.  Arms should be extended in front with wrists crossed.  The partner grasps the wrists of the stretcher.  The stretcher then should pull the arms back contracting the muscles in between the shoulder blades and hold this position for 7-10 seconds.  After the contraction period, the stretcher should relax the muscles while the partner gently pulls the arms of the stretcher away from his or her body. The partners stand facing each other.  Arms should be extended in front with wrists crossed.  The partner grasps the wrists of the stretcher.  The stretcher should relax the muscles of the upper back while the partner gently pulls the arms of the stretcher away from his or her body.
Lower back The stretcher lies on his or her back with arms outstretched to the sides making a T shape.  The knees of the stretcher should be bent.  The partner should gently press on the right shoulder of the stretcher and gently push the knees over to the left side, twisting the back.  The stretcher then tries to pull the knees back to the midline of the body for 7-10 seconds, resisted by the partner.  After the contraction period, the stretcher relaxes and the partner gently pushes the knees to a new range of motion and holds for 20-30 seconds.  Repeat on other side. The stretcher lies on his or her back with arms outstretched to the sides making a T shape.  The knees of the stretcher should be bent.  The partner should gently press on the right shoulder of the stretcher and gently push the knees over to the left side, twisting the back.  The stretcher relaxes and the partner gently pushes the knees to a new range of motion and holds for 20-30 seconds.  Repeat on other side.
Piriformis The stretcher lies on his or her back with knees bent and feet on the floor.  The stretcher then crosses the right ankle over the left knee.  The partner then brings the left foot off the ground and places it on his or her thigh.  The stretcher then pulls the right knee back toward the body while the partner resists for 7-10 seconds.  The partner then pulls the knee toward him or herself and holds the position for 20-30 seconds. The stretcher lies on his or her back with knees bent and feet on the floor.  The stretcher then crosses the right ankle over the left knee.  The partner then brings the left foot off the ground and places it on his or her thigh.  The partner then gently pulls the knee toward him or herself and holds the position for 20-30 seconds.
Hamstrings/Biceps Femoris For this stretch, the stretcher lies on his or her back with both legs extended.  The partner should hold the left leg down on the ground while raising the right leg.  The partner should ensure the knee of the right leg remains straight, while being careful not to hyperextend the knee.  The stretcher should contract the hamstring and try to pull the leg back toward the ground while the partner resists for 7-10 seconds.  After the contraction, the partner should gently push the leg back up toward the stretcher’s body and hold for 20-30 seconds. For this stretch, the stretcher lies on his or her back with both legs extended.  The partner should hold the left leg down on the ground while raising the right leg.  The partner should ensure the knee of the right leg remains straight, while being careful not to hyperextend the knee.  The partner should gently push the leg back up toward the stretcher’s body and hold for 20-30 seconds.

I hope you really relax and gain some range of motion with these stretches.  Until next time, stay fit and be well!

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