Almost everyone, from office workers to athletes, can benefit from stretching. However, if your clients aren’t flexible, the thought alone is enough to make them avoid any form of flexibility training.
Your clients probably spend much of their days sitting — on the job, in the car, at the dinner table — only to spend their evenings watching TV. Sitting for extended periods day in and day out, without adequate stretching and movement, leads to decreased flexibility and muscle imbalances.
It won’t take long before they lose so much flexibility that bending over to pick up nearly anything becomes a major challenge.
If your client is naturally tight and wants to participate in a sport or leisure activity that requires more flexibility than he/she currently has, becoming more flexible will help him/her avoid injury.
For example, tennis is a multi-pattern sport, meaning to play it effectively your clients must squat, lunge, bend, push, pull, twist and run.
If they are too tight to perform any of these movements at speeds natural to tennis, they are likely to avoid certain shots to protect themselves, or could get hurt forcing their bodies to do things they’re not currently equipped to do.
Tennis players often find themselves moving very quickly into a lunge while bending, reaching and twisting to make a forehand (push pattern) or backhand (pull pattern) shot.
Posture and stretching
Regular readers of this blog know how important good posture is to good health and wellbeing. Poor posture always indicates the need to follow a stretching program to lengthen short muscles and an exercise program to tighten your clients’ weak or loose muscles.
To better explain to your clients how muscle imbalances affect their bodies, imagine a bicycle wheel out of balance. When you take the bike out for a ride, chances are good the bicycle won’t handle well. In fact, the stress of riding on a crooked wheel could cause the wheel to fall apart.
To get a crooked bicycle wheel to roll straight or true, you must shorten and tighten the loose spokes and lengthen and loosen the tight ones. If your clients have poor posture, they must attempt to lengthen their short muscles and strengthen or tighten any long or weak phasic muscles to bring their bodies back into balance.
Body balancing stretches
There are many stretches you can teach clients to help them increase flexibility and rebalance their bodies. What follows are a few key stretches to help you, and them, get started.
People commonly make the mistake of stretching muscles that don’t need stretching and not stretching the ones that do need it. That’s where you come into the picture to train them properly.
Warn them that if they perform any of the stretches as outlined and their muscle(s) do not feel tight, this means they don’t need to include that stretch.
It’s also important to remind clients to do a self-reassessment every two to four weeks, as they may no longer need to stretch a particular muscle but need to add a stretch for a different one.
Many of the stretches I describe in this blog post use a contract-relax method. Here are the four basic steps to follow when doing them:
- Move into initial stretch. You should feel the muscles being stretched, but it should not be uncomfortable.
- Contract the muscle being stretched. Use your hand or the floor to provide resistance and only light force when you contract.
- Relax, moving immediately into the stretch position after you release the contraction. You should find that you can move farther into the stretch.
- Performing this process three to five times per muscle each session is optimal.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and pointing up at the ceiling.
- Your lower legs should be relaxed. Place your hand on your thigh while keeping the other arm stretched out to help you stabilize.
- Slowly let your legs roll to that side until you feel a comfortable stretch in your lower back. Inhale and reduce the support from your arm slightly to activate your trunk muscles.
- Hold for five seconds and repeat to the other side. Continue to practice this stretch until you can comfortably place your thighs on the ground, or you are no longer improving your range of motion.
- Reach one arm as far down between your shoulder blades as possible.
- Look as far as you comfortably can to the opposite side.
- Take a deep breath in and hold it for five seconds. As you exhale, look downward as far as you can comfortably toward your shoulder.