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.
- Kneel in front of a Swiss ball and place your elbow on the ball.
- Bring your arm across your body as it rests on the ball.
- Inhale and press into the ball with your elbow as you attempt to draw your shoulder blade toward your spine. Use your opposite hand to hold the ball still.
- Hold the stretch for five seconds and release as you exhale and move farther into the stretch, allowing the shoulder blade to move away from your spine. Use your opposite arm to roll the ball across your body.
Caution: If you experience dizziness when looking up toward the sky (for example, watching an airplane fly by or when putting something away in a high cupboard), you may also experience dizziness when performing this stretch. It is very important that you stop the stretch immediately if you feel any unusual symptoms, including nausea, dizziness or changes in vision. These symptoms indicate the need to see your doctor for a complete evaluation of your neck to rule out an occlusion of the vertebral artery.
- Perform this stretch on a non-slip surface.
- Sit on a Swiss ball, then walk your legs out and roll backwards until you are lying over the ball.
- Extend your arms over your head. To increase the stretch, slowly straighten your legs. Hold it for one minute.
- Assume a lunge position, making sure your front foot stays in front of your knee.
- Draw your belly button in toward your spine and tuck your tail under (this will flatten your low back).
- Begin to move your whole pelvis forward, keeping it square to the front.
- To increase the stretch, reach the arm on the trailing leg side over your head and bend your trunk to the side. Rotating your pelvis toward the front leg will also increase the stretch.
- Lie on your back with a small, rolled-up towel under your back at the belt line level.
- The towel, when compressed, should be the width and thickness of the fattest part of your hand.
- Grab one leg with both hands, just below the knee, and bring the bent leg up until the thigh is perpendicular to the floor. Extend your toes back toward your shin and slowly straighten your leg without letting your thigh move in your hands or letting your back come off the floor.
- Hold a comfortable stretch for 20 seconds.
- Sit on the floor with both of your front and back legs bent to 90 degrees. (The angle at your groin should also be 90 degrees.)
- Place your hand on the ground next to your hip.
- Tip your pelvis like it’s a bowl and you were trying to pour the contents out over your belt line. (Imagine sticking your butt backwards, like Donald Duck.)
- Now, you should have an increased curvature of your lower back. Keep the curve in your low back and your chest and head up as you move forward over the front leg.
- When you feel a comfortable stretch in your outer thigh and hip, inhale and press the front knee and ankle firmly into the ground for five seconds. Exhale and move farther forward into the stretch.
Pectoralis major (larger chest muscle)
- Place your forearm on a Swiss ball.
- Keep your shoulders parallel to the ground and drop your body toward the floor. When you reach a comfortable stretch, inhale and press the forearm into the ball for five seconds.
- Exhale and move immediately into the stretch.
- There should be no pain felt in the shoulder joint.
Pectoralis minor (smaller muscle beneath the pectoralis major that has a tendency to get tight)
- Place your shoulder on the ball instead of your forearm.
- As you drop your upper body downward, allow your shoulder blade to move toward your spine.
- Inhale and press your shoulder into the ball for five seconds. Exhale and lower into a new stretch position. Keep your torso parallel to the floor.
Love and chi,