~Stretching and Flexibility
STRETCHING AND FLEXIBILITY:
Everything you never wanted to know
Version: 1.5, Last Modified 93/09/16
Copyright (C) 1993 by Bradford D. Appleton
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~Table of Contents
All section titles in this document begin with the prefix "~". If you
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could scan for /^~Appendix A/.
This document is organized into the following sections:
1 Physiology of Stretching
1.1 The Musculoskeletal System
1.2 Muscle Composition
1.2.1 How Muscles Contract
1.2.2 Fast and Slow Muscle Fibers
1.3 Connective Tissue
1.4 Cooperating Muscle Groups
1.5 Types of Muscle Contractions
1.6 What Happens When You Stretch
1.6.2 The Stretch Reflex
220.127.116.11 Components of the Stretch Reflex
1.6.3 The Lengthening Reaction
1.6.4 Reciprocal Inhibition
2.1 Types of Flexibility
2.2 Factors Limiting Flexibility
2.2.1 How Connective Tissue Affects Flexibility
2.2.2 How Aging Affects Flexibility
2.3 Strength and Flexibility
2.3.1 Why Bodybuilders Should Stretch
2.3.2 Why Contortionists Should Strengthen
3 Types of Stretching
3.1 Ballistic Stretching
3.2 Dynamic Stretching
3.3 Active Stretching
3.4 Passive Stretching
3.5 Static Stretching
3.6 Isometric Stretching
3.6.1 How Isometric Stretching Works
3.7 PNF Stretching
3.7.1 How PNF Stretching Works
4 How to Stretch
4.1 Warming Up
4.1.1 General Warm-Up
18.104.22.168 Joint Rotations
22.214.171.124 Aerobic Activity
4.1.2 Warm-Up Stretching
126.96.36.199 Static Warm-Up Stretching
188.8.131.52 Dynamic Warm-Up Stretching
4.1.3 Sport-Specific Activity
4.2 Cooling Down
4.4 Elements of a Good Stretch
4.5 Some Risky Stretches
4.6 Breathing During Stretching
4.7 Exercise Order
4.8 When to Stretch
4.8.1 Early-Morning Stretching
4.9 Stretching With a Partner
4.10 Stretching to Increase Flexibility
4.11 Pain and Discomfort
4.11.1 Common Causes of Muscular Soreness
4.11.2 Stretching with Pain
4.12 Performing Splits
4.12.1 Common Problems When Performing Splits
4.12.2 The Front Split
4.12.3 The Side Split
4.12.4 Split-Stretching Machines
Appendix A References on Stretching
A.2 Additional Comments
Appendix B Working Toward the Splits
B.1 lower back stretches
B.2 lying buttock stretch
B.3 groin and inner-thigh stretch
B.4 seated leg stretches
B.4.1 seated calf stretch
B.4.2 seated hamstring stretch
B.4.3 seated inner-thigh stretch
B.5 psoas stretch
B.6 quadricep stretch
B.7 lying `V' stretch
Appendix C Normal Ranges of Joint Motion
C.2 Lumbar Spine
This document is a modest attempt to compile a wealth of information in
order to answer some frequently asked questions about stretching and
flexibility. It is organized into chapters covering the following topics:
1. Physiology (as it relates to stretching)
3. Types of Stretching
4. How to Stretch
Although each chapter may refer to sections in other chapters, it is not
required that you read every chapter in in the order presented. (It is
important, however, that you read the disclaimer before reading any other
sections of this document. See [Disclaimer].) If you wish to skip around,
numerous cross references are supplied in each section to help you find the
concepts you may have missed. There is also an index at the end of this
Although every effort has been made to ensure that all information
presented in this document is accurate, errors may still be present. If
you notice any errors, please send corrections via e-mail to
THE AUTHOR MAKES NO WARRANTY OF ANY KIND IN REGARD TO THE CONTENT OF THIS
DOCUMENT, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, ANY IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF
MERCHANTABILITY, OR FITNESS FOR ANY PARTICULAR PURPOSE. THE AUTHOR OF THIS
DOCUMENT SHALL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ERRORS CONTAINED IN IT, OR FOR INCIDENTAL
OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES IN CONNECTION WITH THE FURNISHING OF, USE OF, OR
RELIANCE UPON INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS DOCUMENT.
In other words: "I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV!" I can not be
held liable for any damages or injuries that you might suffer from somehow
relying upon information in this document, no matter how awful. Not even if
the information in question is incorrect or inaccurate.
Thanks to all the readers of the `rec.martial-arts', `rec.arts.dance' and
`misc.fitness' newsgroups on Usenet who responded to my request for
questions (and answers) on stretching. Many parts of this document come
directly from these respondents. Thanks in particular to Shawne Neeper for
sharing her formidable knowledge of muscle anatomy and physiology.
Other portions of this document have been taken from the following books:
`Sport Stretch', by Michael J. Alter
(referred to as M. Alter in the rest of this document)
`Stretching Scientifically', by Tom Kurz
(referred to as Kurz in the rest of this document)
`SynerStretch For Total Body Flexibility', from Health For Life
(referred to as `SynerStretch' in the rest of this document)
`The Health For Life Training Advisor', also from Health For Life
(referred to as `HFLTA' in the rest of this document)
`Mobility Training for the Martial Arts', by Tony Gummerson
(referred to as Gummerson in the rest of this document)
Further information on these books and others, is available in Appendix A
[References on Stretching].
~1 Physiology of Stretching
The purpose of this chapter is to introduce you to some of the basic
physiological concepts that come into play when a muscle is stretched.
Concepts will be introduced initially with a general overview and then (for
those who want to know the gory details) will be discussed in further
detail. If you aren't all that interested in this aspect of stretching, you
can skip this chapter. Other sections will refer to important concepts from
this chapter and you can easily look them up on a "need to know" basis.
~1.1 The Musculoskeletal System
Together, muscles and bones comprise what is called the "musculoskeletal
system" of the body. The bones provide posture and structural support for
the body and the muscles provide the body with the ability to move (by
contracting, and thus generating tension). The musculoskeletal system also
provides protection for the body's internal organs. In order to serve their
function, bones must be joined together by something. The point where bones
connect to one another is called a "joint", and this connection is made
mostly by "ligaments" (along with the help of muscles). Muscles are
attached to the bone by "tendons". Bones, tendons, and ligaments do not
possess the ability (as muscles do) to make your body move. Muscles are
very unique in this respect.
~1.2 Muscle Composition
Muscles vary in shape and in size, and serve many different purposes. Most
large muscles, like the hamstrings and quadriceps, control motion. Other
muscles, like the heart, and the muscles of the inner ear, perform other
functions. At the microscopic level however, all muscles share the same
At the highest level, the (whole) muscle is composed of many strands of
tissue called "fascicles". These are the strands of muscle that we see when
we cut red meat or poultry. Each fascicle is composed of "fasciculi" which
are bundles of "muscle fibers". The muscle fibers are in turn composed of
tens of thousands of thread-like "myofybrils", which can contract, relax,
and elongate (lengthen). The myofybrils are (in turn) composed of up to
millions of bands laid end-to-end called "sarcomeres". Each sarcomere is
made of overlapping thick and thin filaments called "myofilaments". The
thick and thin myofilaments are made up of "contractile proteins",
primarily actin and myosin.
~1.2.1 How Muscles Contract
The way in which all these various levels of the muscle operate is as
follows: Nerves connect the spinal column to the muscle. The place where
the nerve and muscle meet is called the "neuromuscular junction". When an
electrical signal crosses the neuromuscular junction, it is transmitted
deep inside the muscle fibers. Inside the muscle fibers, the signal
stimulates the production of calcium which causes the thick and thin
myofilaments to slide across one another. When this occurs, it causes the
sarcomere to shorten, which generates force. When billions of sarcomeres in
the muscle shorten all at once it results in a contraction of the entire
When a muscle fiber contracts, it contracts completely. There is no such
thing as a partially contracted muscle fiber. Muscle fibers are unable to
vary the intensity of their contraction relative to the load against which
they are acting. If this is so, then how does the force of a muscle
contraction vary in strength from strong to weak? What happens is that
more muscle fibers are recruited, as they are needed, to perform the job at
hand. The more muscle fibers that are recruited by the central nervous
system, the stronger the force generated by the muscular contraction.
~1.2.2 Fast and Slow Muscle Fibers
The energy which produces the calcium in the muscle fibers comes from
"mitochondria", the part of the muscle cell that converts glucose (blood
sugar) into energy. Different types of muscle fibers have different amounts
of mitochondria. The more mitochondria in a muscle fiber, the more energy
it is able to produce. Muscle fibers are categorized into "slow-twitch
fibers" and "fast-twitch fibers". Slow-twitch fibers (also called "Type 1
muscle fibers") are slow to contract, but they are also very slow to
fatigue. Fast-twitch fibers are very quick to contract and come in two
varieties: "Type 2A muscle fibers" which fatigue at an intermediate rate,
and "Type 2B muscle fibers" which fatigue very quickly. The main reason the
slow-twitch fibers are slow to fatigue is that they contain more
mitochondria than fast-twitch fibers and hence are able to produce more
energy. Slow-twitch fibers are also smaller in diameter than fast-twitch
fibers and have increased capillary blood flow around them. Because they
have a smaller diameter and an increased blood flow, the slow-twitch fibers
are able to deliver more oxygen and remove more waste products from the
muscle fibers (which decreases their "fatigability").
These three muscle fiber types (Types 1, 2A, and 2B) are contained in all
muscles in varying amounts. Muscles that need to be contracted much of the
time (like the heart) have a greater number of Type 1 (slow) fibers.
According to `HFLTA':
When a muscle begins to contract, primarily Type 1 fibers are activated
first, then Type 2A, then 2B. This sequence of fiber recruitment allows
very delicate and finely tuned muscle responses to brain commands. It
also makes Type 2B fibers difficult to train; most of the Type 1 and 2A
fibers have to be activated already before a large percentage of the 2B
`HFLTA' further states that the the best way to remember the difference
between muscles with predominantly slow-twitch fibers and muscles with
predominantly fast-twitch fibers is to think of "white meat" and "dark
meat". Dark meat is dark because it has a greater number of slow-twitch
muscle fibers and hence a greater number of mitochondria, which are dark.
White meat consists mostly of muscle fibers which are at rest much of the
time but are frequently called on to engage in brief bouts of intense
activity. This muscle tissue can contract quickly but is fast to fatigue
and slow to recover. White meat is lighter in color than dark meat because
it contains fewer mitochondria.
~1.3 Connective Tissue
Located all around the muscle and its fibers are "connective tissues".
Connective tissue is composed of a base substance and two kinds of protein
based fiber. The two types of fiber are "collagenous connective tissue" and
"elastic connective tissue". Collagenous connective tissue consists mostly
of collagen (hence its name) and provides tensile strength. Elastic
connective tissue consists mostly of elastin and (as you might guess from
its name) provides elasticity. The base substance is called
"mucopolysaccharide" and acts as both a lubricant (allowing the fibers to
easily slide over one another), and as a glue (holding the fibers of the
tissue together into bundles). The more elastic connective tissue there is
around a joint, the greater the range of motion in that joint. Connective
tissues are made up of tendons, ligaments, and the fascial sheaths that
envelop, or bind down, muscles into separate groups. These fascial
sheaths, or "fascia", are named according to where they are located in the
The innermost fascial sheath that envelops individual muscle fibers.
The fascial sheath that binds groups of muscle fibers into individual
fasciculi (see Section 1.2 [Muscle Composition]).
The outermost fascial sheath that binds entire fascicles (see Section
1.2 [Muscle Composition]).
These connective tissues help provide suppleness and tone to the muscles.
~1.4 Cooperating Muscle Groups
When muscles cause a limb to move through the joint's range of motion, they
usually act in the following cooperating groups:
These muscles cause the movement to occur. They create the normal range
of movement in a joint by contracting. Agonists are also referred to
as "prime movers" since they are the muscles that are primarily
responsible for generating the movement.
These muscles act in opposition to the movement generated by the
agonists and are responsible for returning a limb to its initial
These muscles perform, or assist in performing, the same set of joint
motion as the agonists. Synergists are sometimes referred to as
"neutralizers" because they help cancel out, or neutralize, extra
motion from the agonists to make sure that the force generated works
within the desired plane of motion.
These muscles provide the necessary support to assist in holding the
rest of the body in place while the movement occurs. Fixators are also
sometimes called "stabilizers".
As an example, when you flex your knee, your hamstring contracts, and, to
some extent, so does your gastrocnemius (calf) and lower buttocks.
Meanwhile, your quadriceps are inhibited (relaxed and lengthened somewhat)
so as not to resist the flexion (see Section 1.6.4 [Reciprocal
Inhibition]). In this example, the hamstring serves as the agonist, or
prime mover; the quadricep serves as the antagonist; and the calf and lower
buttocks serve as the synergists. Agonists and antagonists are usually
located on opposite sides of the affected joint (like your hamstrings and
quadriceps, or your triceps and biceps), while synergists are usually
located on the same side of the joint near the agonists. Larger muscles
often call upon their smaller neighbors to function as synergists.
The following is a list of commonly used agonist/antagonist muscle pairs:
* pectorals/latissimus dorsi (pecs and lats)
* anterior deltoids/posterior deltoids (front and back shoulder)
* trapezius/deltoids (traps and delts)
* abdominals/spinal erectors (abs and lower-back)
* left and right external obliques (sides)
* quadriceps/hamstrings (quads and hams)
* forearm flexors/extensors
~1.5 Types of Muscle Contractions
The contraction of a muscle does not necessarily imply that the muscle
shortens; It only means that tension has been generated. Muscles can
contract in the following ways:
This is a contraction in which no movement takes place, because the
load on the muscle exceeds the tension generated by the contracting
muscle. This occurs when a muscle attempts to push or pull an
This is a contraction in which movement *does* take place, because the
tension generated by the contracting muscle exceeds the load on the
muscle. This occurs when you use your muscles to successfully push or
pull an object.
Isotonic contractions are further divided into two types:
This is a contraction in which the muscle decreases in length
(shortens) against an opposing load, such as lifting a weight.
This is a contraction in which the muscle increases in length
(lengthens) as it resists a load, such as lowering a weight.
During a concentric contraction, the agonists are the muscles that are
doing all of the work. During an eccentric contraction, the antagonists
do all of the work. See Section 1.4 [Cooperating Muscle Groups].
~1.6 What Happens When You Stretch
The stretching of a muscle fiber begins with the sarcomere (see Section 1.2
[Muscle Composition]), the basic unit of contraction in the muscle fiber.
As the sarcomere contracts, the area of overlap between the thick and thin
myofilaments increases. As it stretches, this area of overlap decreases,
allowing the muscle fiber to elongate. Once the muscle fiber is at its
maximum resting length (all the sarcomeres are fully stretched), additional
stretching places force on the surrounding connective tissue (see Section
1.3 [Connective Tissue]). As the tension increases, the collagen fibers in
the connective tissue align themselves along the same line of force as the
tension. Hence when you stretch, the muscle fiber is pulled out to its full
length sarcomere by sarcomere, and then the connective tissue takes up the
remaining slack. When this occurs, it helps to realign any disorganized
fibers in the direction of the tension. This realignment is what helps to
rehabilitate scarred tissue back to health.
When a muscle is stretched, some of its fibers lengthen, but other fibers
may remain at rest. The current length of the entire muscle depends upon
the number of stretched fibers. According to `SynerStretch':
Picture little pockets of fibers distributed throughout the muscle body
stretching, and other fibers simply going along for the ride. Just as
the total strength of a contracting muscle is a result of the number of
fibers contracting, the total length of a stretched muscle is a result
of the number of fibers stretched - the more fibers stretched, the more
length developed by the muscle for a given stretch.
The nerve endings that relay all the information about the musculoskeletal
system to the central nervous system are called "proprioceptors".
Proprioceptors (also called "mechanoreceptors") are the source of all
"proprioception": the perception of one's own body position and movement.
The proprioceptors detect any changes in physical displacement (movement or
position) and any changes in tension, or force, within the body. They are
found in all nerve endings of the joints, muscles, and tendons. The
proprioceptors related to stretching are located in the tendons and in the
There are two kinds of muscle fibers: "intrafusal muscle fibers" and
"extrafusal muscle fibers". Extrafusil fibers are the ones that contain
myofibrils (see Section 1.2 [Muscle Composition]) and are what is usually
meant when we talk about muscle fibers. Intrafusal fibers are also called
"muscle spindles" and lie parallel to the extrafusal fibers. Muscle
spindles, or "stretch receptors", are the primary proprioceptors in the
muscle. Another proprioceptor that comes into play during stretching is
located in the tendon near the end of the muscle fiber and is called the
"golgi tendon organ". A third type of proprioceptor, called a "pacinian
corpuscle", is located close to the golgi tendon organ and is responsible
for detecting changes in movement and pressure within the body.
When the extrafusal fibers of a muscle lengthen, so do the intrafusal
fibers (muscle spindles). The muscle spindle contains two different types
of fibers (or stretch receptors) which are sensitive to the change in
muscle length and the rate of change in muscle length. When muscles
contract it places tension on the tendons where the golgi tendon organ is
located. The golgi tendon organ is sensitive to the change in tension and
the rate of change of the tension.
~1.6.2 The Stretch Reflex
When the muscle is stretched, so is the muscle spindle (see Section 1.6.1
[Proprioceptors]). The muscle spindle records the change in length (and how
fast) and sends signals to the spine which convey this information. This
triggers the "stretch reflex" (also called the "myotatic reflex") which
attempts to resist the change in muscle length by causing the stretched
muscle to contract. The more sudden the change in muscle length, the
stronger the muscle contractions will be (plyometric, or "jump", training
is based on this fact). This basic function of the muscle spindle helps to
maintain muscle tone and to protect the body from injury.
One of the reasons for holding a stretch for a prolonged period of time is
that as you hold the muscle in a stretched position, the muscle spindle
habituates (becomes accustomed to the new length) and reduces its
signaling. Gradually, you can train your stretch receptors to allow
greater lengthening of the muscles.
~184.108.40.206 Components of the Stretch Reflex
The stretch reflex has both a dynamic component and a static component.
The static component of the stretch reflex persists as long as the muscle
is being stretched. The dynamic component of the stretch reflex (which can
be very powerful) lasts for only a moment and is in response to the initial
sudden increase in muscle length. The reason that the stretch reflex has
two components is because there are actually two kinds of intrafusal muscle
fibers: "nuclear chain fibers", which are responsible for the static
component; and "nuclear bag fibers", which are responsible for the dynamic
Nuclear chain fibers are long and thin, and lengthen steadily when
stretched. When these fibers are stretched, the stretch reflex nerves
increase their firing rates (signaling) as their length steadily increases.
This is the static component of the stretch reflex.
Nuclear bag fibers bulge out at the middle, where they are the most
elastic. The stretch-sensing nerve ending for these fibers is wrapped
around this middle area, which lengthens rapidly when the fiber is
stretched. The outer-middle areas, in contrast, act like they are filled
with viscous fluid; they resist fast stretching, then gradually extend
under prolonged tension. So, when a fast stretch is demanded of these
fibers, the middle takes most of the stretch at first; then, as the
outer-middle parts extend, the middle can shorten somewhat. So the nerve
that senses stretching in these fibers fires rapidly with the onset of a
fast stretch, then slows as the middle section of the fiber is allowed to
shorten again. This is the dynamic component of the stretch reflex: a
strong signal to contract at the onset of a rapid increase in muscle
length, followed by slightly "higher than normal" signaling which gradually
decreases as the rate of change of the muscle length decreases.
~1.6.3 The Lengthening Reaction
When muscles contract (possibly due to the stretch reflex), they produce
tension at the point where the muscle is connected to the tendon, where the
golgi tendon organ is located. The golgi tendon organ records the change in
tension, and the rate of change of the tension, and sends signals to the
spine to convey this information (see Section 1.6.1 [Proprioceptors]).
When this tension exceeds a certain threshold, it triggers the "lengthening
reaction" which inhibits the muscles from contracting and causes them to
relax. Other names for this reflex are the "inverse myotatic reflex",
"autogenic inhibition", and the "clasped-knife reflex". This basic
function of the golgi tendon organ helps to protect the muscles, tendons,
and ligaments from injury. The lengthening reaction is possible only
because the signaling of golgi tendon organ to the spinal cord is powerful
enough to overcome the signaling of the muscle spindles telling the muscle
Another reason for holding a stretch for a prolonged period of time is to
allow this lengthening reaction to occur, thus helping the stretched
muscles to relax. It is easier to stretch, or lengthen, a muscle when it is
not trying to contract.
~1.6.4 Reciprocal Inhibition
When an agonist contracts, in order to cause the desired motion, it usually
forces the antagonists to relax (see Section 1.4 [Cooperating Muscle
Groups]). This phenomenon is called "reciprocal inhibition" because the
antagonists are inhibited from contracting. This is sometimes called
"reciprocal innervation" but that term is really a misnomer since it is the
agonists which inhibit (relax) the antagonists. The antagonists do *not*
actually innervate (cause the contraction of) the agonists.
Such inhibition of the antagonistic muscles is not necessarily required.
In fact, co-contraction can occur. When you perform a sit-up, one would
normally assume that the stomach muscles inhibit the contraction of the
muscles in the lumbar, or lower, region of the back. In this particular
instance however, the back muscles (spinal erectors) also contract. This is
one reason why sit-ups are good for strengthening the back as well as the
When stretching, it is easier to stretch a muscle that is relaxed than to
stretch a muscle that is contracting. By taking advantage of the
situations when reciprocal inhibition *does* occur, you can get a more
effective stretch by inducing the antagonists to relax during the stretch
due to the contraction of the agonists. You also want to relax any muscles
used as synergists by the muscle you are trying to stretch. For example,
when you stretch your calf, you want to contract the shin muscles (the
antagonists of the calf) by flexing your foot. However, the hamstrings use
the calf as a synergist so you want to also relax the hamstrings by
contracting the quadricep (i.e. keeping your leg straight).
Flexibility is defined by Gummerson as "the absolute range of movement in a
joint or series of joints that is attainable in a momentary effort with the
help of a partner or a piece of equipment." This definition tells us that
flexibility is not something general but is specific to a particular joint
or set of joints. In other words, it is a myth that some people are
innately flexible throughout their entire body. Being flexible in one
particular area or joint does not necessarily imply being flexible in
another. Being "loose" in the upper body does not mean you will have a
"loose" lower body. Furthermore, according to `SynerStretch', flexibility
in a joint is also "specific to the action performed at the joint (the
ability to do front splits doesn't imply the ability to do side splits even
though both actions occur at the hip)."
~2.1 Types of Flexibility
Many people are unaware of the fact that there are different types of
flexibility. These different types of flexibility are grouped according to
the various types of activities involved in athletic training. The ones
which involve motion are called "dynamic" and the ones which do not are
called "static". The different types of flexibility (according to Kurz) are:
Dynamic flexibility (also called "kinetic flexibility") is the ability
to perform dynamic (or kinetic) movements of the muscles to bring a
limb through its full range of motion in the joints.
Static-active flexibility (also called "active flexibility") is the
ability to assume and maintain extended positions using only the
tension of the agonists and synergists while the antagonists are being
stretched (see Section 1.4 [Cooperating Muscle Groups]). For example,
lifting the leg and keeping it high without any external support
(other than from your own leg muscles).
Static-passive flexibility (also called "passive flexibility") is the
ability to assume extended positions and then maintain them using only
your weight, the support of your limbs, or some other apparatus (such
as a chair or a barre). Note that the ability to maintain the position
does not come solely from your muscles, as it does with static-active
flexibility. Being able to perform the splits is an example of
Research has shown that active flexibility is more closely related to the
level of sports achievement than is passive flexibility. Active
flexibility is harder to develop than passive flexibility (which is what
most people think of as "flexibility"); Not only does active flexibility
require passive flexibility in order to assume an initial extended
position, it also requires muscle strength to be able to hold and maintain
~2.2 Factors Limiting Flexibility
According to Gummerson, flexibility (he uses the term "mobility") is
affected by the following factors:
* Internal influences
- the type of joint (some joints simply aren't meant to be flexible)
- the internal resistance within a joint
- bony structures which limit movement
- the elasticity of muscle tissue (muscle tissue that is scarred
due to a previous injury is not very elastic)
- the elasticity of tendons and ligaments (ligaments do not stretch
much and tendons should not stretch at all)
- the elasticity of skin (skin actually has some degree of
elasticity, but not much)
- the ability of a muscle to relax and contract to achieve the
greatest range of movement
- the temperature of the joint and associated tissues (joints and
muscles offer better flexibility at body temperatures that are 1
to 2 degrees higher than normal)
* External influences
- the temperature of the place where one is training (a warmer
temperature is more conducive to increased flexibility)
- the time of day (most people are more flexible in the afternoon
than in the morning, peaking from about 2:30pm-4pm)
- the stage in the recovery process of a joint (or muscle) after
injury (injured joints and muscles will usually offer a lesser
degree of flexibility than healthy ones)
- age (pre-adolescents are generally more flexible than adults)
- gender (females are generally more flexible than males)
- one's ability to perform a particular exercise (practice makes
- one's commitment to achieving flexibility
- the restrictions of any clothing or equipment
Rather than discuss each of these factors in significant detail as
Gummerson does, I will attempt to focus on some of the more common factors
which limit one's flexibility. According to `SynerStretch', the most
common factors are: bone structure, muscle mass, excess fatty tissue, and
connective tissue (and, of course, physical injury or disability).
Depending on the type of joint involved and its present condition (is it
healthy?), the bone structure of a particular joint places very noticeable
limits on flexibility. This is a common way in which age can be a factor
limiting flexibility since older joints tend not to be as healthy as
Muscle mass can be a factor when the muscle is so heavily developed that it
interferes with the ability to take the adjacent joints through their
complete range of motion (for example, large hamstrings limit the ability
to fully bend the knees). Excess fatty tissue imposes a similar restriction.
The majority of "flexibility" work should involve performing exercises
designed to reduce the internal resistance offered by soft connective
tissues (see Section 1.3 [Connective Tissue]). Most stretching exercises
attempt to accomplish this goal and can be performed by almost anyone,
regardless of age or gender.
~2.2.1 How Connective Tissue Affects Flexibility
The resistance to lengthening that is offered by a muscle is dependent upon
its connective tissues: When the muscle elongates, the surrounding
connective tissues become more taut (see Section 1.3 [Connective Tissue]).
Also, inactivity of certain muscles or joints can cause chemical changes in
connective tissue which restrict flexibility. To quote M. Alter directly:
A question of great interest to all athletes is the relative importance
of various tissues in joint stiffness. The joint capsule (i.e. the
saclike structure that encloses the ends of bones) and ligaments are
the most important factors, accounting for 47 percent of the stiffness,
followed by the muscle's fascia (41 percent), the tendons (10 percent),
and skin (2 percent). However, most efforts to increase flexibility
through stretching should be directed to the muscle fascia. The
reasons for this are twofold. First, muscle and its fascia have more
elastic tissue, so they are more modifiable in terms of reducing
resistance to elongation. Second, because ligaments and tendons have
less elasticity than fascia, it is undesirable to produce too much
slack in them. Overstretching these structures may weaken the
integrity of joints. As a result, an excessive amount of flexibility
may destabilize the joints and *increase* an athlete's risk of injury.
When connective tissue is overused, the tissue becomes fatigued and may
tear, which also limits flexibility. When connective tissue is unused or
under used, it provides significant resistance and limits flexibility. The
elastin begins to fray and loses some of its elasticity, and the collagen
increases in stiffness and in density. Aging has some of the same effects
on connective tissue as lack of use does.
~2.2.2 How Aging Affects Flexibility
With appropriate training, flexibility can, and should, be developed at all
ages. This does not imply, however, that flexibility can developed at same
rate by everyone. In general, the older you are, the longer it will take to
develop the desired level of flexibility. Hopefully, you'll be more patient
if you're older.
According to M. Alter, the main reason we become less flexible as we get
older is a result of certain changes that take place in our connective
The primary factor responsible for the decline of flexibility with age
is certain changes that occur in the connective tissues of the body.
Interestingly, it has been suggested that exercise can delay the loss
of flexibility due to the aging process of dehydration. This is based
on the notion that stretching stimulates the production or retention of
lubricants between the connective tissue fibers, thus preventing the
formation of adhesions.
M. Alter further states that some of the physical changes attributed to
aging are the following:
* An increased amount of calcium deposits, adhesions, and cross-links in
* An increase in the level of fragmentation and dehydration
* Changes in the chemical structure of the tissues.
* Loss of "suppleness" due to the replacement of muscle fibers with
fatty, collagenous fibers.
This does *not* mean that you should give up trying to achieve flexibility
if you are old or inflexible. It just means that you need to work harder,
and more carefully, for a longer period of time when attempting to increase
flexibility. Increases in the ability of muscle tissues and connective
tissues to elongate (stretch) can be achieved at any age.
~2.3 Strength and Flexibility
Strength training and flexibility training should go hand in hand. It is a
common misconception that there must always be a trade-off between
flexibility and strength. Obviously, if you neglect flexibility training
altogether in order to train for strength then you are certainly
sacrificing flexibility (and vice versa). However, performing both
strength and flexibility exercises need not sacrifice either one. As a
matter of fact, flexibility training and strength training can actually
enhance one another.
~2.3.1 Why Bodybuilders Should Stretch
One of the best times to stretch is right after a strength workout such as
weightlifting. Static stretching of fatigued muscles (see Section 3.5
[Static Stretching]) performed immediately following the exercise(s) that
caused the fatigue, helps not only to increase flexibility, but also
enhances the promotion of muscular development (muscle growth), and will
actually help decrease the level of post-exercise soreness. Here's why:
After you have used weights (or other means) to overload and fatigue your
muscles, your muscles retain a "pump" and are shortened somewhat. This
"shortening" is due mostly to the repetition of intense muscle activity
that often only takes the muscle through part of its full range of motion.
This "pump" makes the muscle appear bigger. The "pumped" muscle is also
full of lactic acid and other by-products from exhaustive exercise. If the
muscle is not stretched afterward, it will retain this decreased range of
motion (it sort of "forgets" how to make itself as long as it could) and
the buildup of lactic acid will cause post-exercise soreness. Static
stretching of the "pumped" muscle helps it to become "looser", and to
"remember" its full range of movement. It also helps to remove lactic acid
and other waste-products from the muscle. While it is true that stretching
the "pumped" muscle will make it appear visibly smaller, it does not
decrease the muscle's size or inhibit muscle growth. It merely reduces the
"tightness" (contraction) of the muscles so that they do not "bulge" as
Also, strenuous workouts will often cause damage to the muscle's connective
tissue. The tissue heals in 1 to 2 days but it is believed that the tissues
heal at a shorter length (decreasing muscular development as well as
flexibility). To prevent the tissues from healing at a shorter length,
physiologists recommend static stretching after strength workouts.
~2.3.2 Why Contortionists Should Strengthen
You should be "tempering" (or balancing) your flexibility training with
strength training (and vice versa). Do not perform stretching exercises for
a given muscle group without also performing strength exercises for that
same group of muscles. Judy Alter, in her book `Stretch and Strengthen',
recommends stretching muscles after performing strength exercises, and
performing strength exercises for every muscle you stretch. In other words:
"Strengthen what you stretch, and stretch after you strengthen!"
The reason for this is that flexibility training on a regular basis causes
connective tissues to stretch which in turn causes them to loosen (become
less taut) and elongate. When the connective tissue of a muscle is weak, it
is more likely to become damaged due to overstretching, or sudden, powerful
muscular contractions. The likelihood of such injury can be prevented by
strengthening the muscles bound by the connective tissue. Kurz suggests
dynamic strength training consisting of light dynamic exercises with
weights (lots of reps, not too much weight), and isometric tension
exercises. If you also lift weights, dynamic strength training for a
muscle should occur *before* subjecting that muscle to an intense
weightlifting workout. This helps to pre-exhaust the muscle first, making
it easier (and faster) to achieve the desired overload in an intense
strength workout. Attempting to perform dynamic strength training *after*
an intense weightlifting workout would be largely ineffective.
If you are working on increasing (or maintaining) flexibility then it is
*very* important that your strength exercises force your muscles to take
the joints through their full range of motion. According to Kurz:
Repeating movements that do not use a full range of motion in the
joints (e.g., bicycling, certain techniques of Olympic weightlifting,
pushups) can cause a shortening of the muscles surrounding the joints
of the working limbs. This shortening is a result of setting the
nervous control of length and tension in the muscles at the values
repeated most often or most strongly. Stronger stimuli are remembered
It is possible for the muscles of a joint to become too flexible.
According to `SynerStretch':
There is a tradeoff between flexibility and stability. The looser you
get, the less support offered to the joints by their adjacent muscles.
Excessive flexibility can be just as much of a liability as not enough
flexibility. Either one increases your risk of injury.
Once a muscle has reached its absolute maximum length, attempting to
stretch the muscle further only serves to stretch the ligaments and put
undue stress upon the tendons (two things that you do *not* want to
stretch). Ligaments will tear when stretched more than 6% of their normal
length. Tendons are not even supposed to be able to lengthen. Even when
stretched ligaments and tendons do not tear, loose joints and/or a decrease
in the joint's stability can occur (thus vastly increasing your risk of
Once you have achieved the desired level of flexibility for a muscle or set
of muscles and have maintained that level for a solid week, you should
discontinue any isometric or PNF stretching of that muscle until some of
its flexibility is lost (see Section 3.6 [Isometric Stretching], and see
Section 3.7 [PNF Stretching]).
~3 Types of Stretching
Just as there are different types of flexibility, there are also different
types of stretching. Stretches are either dynamic (meaning they involve
motion) or static (meaning they involve no motion). Dynamic stretches
affect dynamic flexibility and static stretches affect static flexibility
(and dynamic flexibility to some degree).
The different types of stretching are:
* ballistic stretching
* dynamic stretching
* active stretching
* passive (or relaxed) stretching
* static stretching
* isometric stretching
* PNF stretching
~3.1 Ballistic Stretching
Ballistic stretching uses the momentum of a moving body or a limb in an
attempt to force it beyond its normal range of motion. This is stretching,
or "warming up", by bouncing into (or out of) a stretched position, using
the stretched muscles as a spring which pulls you out of the stretched
position. (e.g. bouncing down repeatedly to touch your toes.) This type
of stretching is not considered useful and can lead to injury. It does not
allow your muscles to adjust to, and relax in, the stretched position. It
may instead cause them to tighten up by repeatedly activating the stretch
reflex (see Section 1.6.2 [The Stretch Reflex]).
~3.2 Dynamic Stretching
"Dynamic stretching", according to Kurz, "involves moving parts of your
body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both." Do not
confuse dynamic stretching with ballistic stretching! Dynamic stretching
consists of controlled leg and arm swings that take you (gently!) to the
limits of your range of motion. Ballistic stretches involve trying to
force a part of the body *beyond* its range of motion. In dynamic
stretches, there are no bounces or "jerky" movements. An example of
dynamic stretching would be slow, controlled leg swings, arm swings, or
Dynamic stretching improves dynamic flexibility and is quite useful as part
of your warm-up for an active or aerobic workout (such as a martial-arts
class). See Section 4.1 [Warming Up].
According to Kurz, dynamic stretching exercises should be performed in sets
of 8-12 repetitions:
Perform your exercises (leg raises, arm swings) in sets of eight to
twelve repetitions. If after a few sets you feel tired - stop. Tired
muscles are less elastic, which causes a decrease in the amplitude of
your movements. Do only the number of repetitions that you can do
without decreasing your range of motion. More repetitions will only set
the nervous regulation of the muscles' length at the level of these
less than best repetitions and may cause you to lose some of your
flexibility. What you repeat more times or with a greater effort will
leave a deeper trace in your [kinesthetic] memory! After reaching the
maximal range of motion in a joint in any direction of movement, you
should not do many more repetitions of this movement in a given
workout. Even if you can maintain a maximal range of motion over many
repetitions, you will set an unnecessarily solid memory of the range of
these movements. You will then have to overcome these memories in order
to make further progress.
~3.3 Active Stretching
"Active stretching" is also referred to as "static-active stretching". An
active stretch is one where you assume a position and then hold it there
with no assistance other than using the strength of your agonist muscles
(see Section 1.4 [Cooperating Muscle Groups]). For example, bringing your
leg up high and then holding it there without anything (other than your leg
muscles themselves) to keep the leg in that extended position. The tension
of the agonists in an active stretch helps to relax the muscles being
stretched (the antagonists) by reciprocal inhibition (see Section 1.6.4
Active stretching increases active flexibility and strengthens the
antagonistic muscles. Active stretches are usually quite difficult to hold
and maintain for more than 10 seconds and rarely need to be held any longer
than 15 seconds.
Many of the movements (or stretches) found in various forms of yoga are
~3.4 Passive Stretching
"Passive stretching" is also referred to as "relaxed stretching", and as
"static-passive stretching". A passive stretch is one where you assume a
position and hold it with of some other part of your body, or with the
assistance of a partner or some other apparatus. For example, bringing your
leg up high and then holding it there with your hand. The splits are an
example of a passive stretch (in this case the floor is the "apparatus"
that you use to maintain your extended position).
One thing many people seem to disagree about is how long to hold a passive
stretch in position. Various sources seem to suggest that they should be
held for as little as 10 seconds to as long as a full minute (or even
several minutes). The truth is that no one really seems to know for sure.
According to `HFLTA':
Some controversy surrounds how long a stretch should be held. Some
researchers say 30-60 seconds; more recent research on the hamstrings
indicates that 15 seconds may be sufficient. Whether the 15 seconds
that may be sufficient for the hamstrings is also sufficient for other
muscle groups is unclear.
A good common ground seems to be about 20 seconds. Children, and people
whose bones are still growing, do not need to hold a passive stretch this
long (and, in fact, Kurz strongly discourages it). Holding the stretch for
about 7-10 seconds should be sufficient for this younger group of people.
Many sources also suggest that passive stretches should be performed in
sets of 2-5 repetitions with a 15-30 second rest in between each stretch.
Slow, relaxed stretching is useful in relieving spasms in muscles that are
healing after an injury (obviously, you should check with your doctor first
to see if it is okay to attempt to stretch the injured muscles - see
Section 4.11 [Pain and Discomfort]).
Relaxed stretching is also very good for "cooling down" after a workout and
helps reduce post-workout muscle fatigue, and soreness. See Section 4.2
~3.5 Static Stretching
Many people use the term "passive stretching" and "static stretching"
interchangeably. However, there are a number of people who make a
distinction between the two. According to M. Alter:
"Static stretching" involves holding a position. That is, you stretch
to the farthest point and hold the stretch ...
"Passive stretching" is a technique in which you are relaxed and make
no contribution to the range of motion. Instead, an external force is
created by an outside agent, either manually or mechanically.
Notice that the definition of passive stretching given in the previous
section encompasses *both* of the above definitions. Throughout this
document, when the term "static stretching" or "passive stretching" is
used, its intended meaning is the definition of passive stretching as
described in the previous section. You should be aware of these alternative
meanings, however, when looking at other references on stretching.
~3.6 Isometric Stretching
"Isometric stretching" is a static form of stretching (meaning it does not
use motion) which involves the resistance of muscle groups through
isometric contractions (tensing) of the stretched muscles (see Section 1.5
[Types of Muscle Contractions]). The use of isometric stretching is one of
the fastest ways to develop increased static-passive flexibility and is
much more effective than either passive stretching or active stretching
alone. Isometric stretches also help to develop strength in the "tensed"
muscles (which helps to develop static-active flexibility), and seems to
decrease the amount of pain usually associated with stretching.
The most common ways to provide the needed resistance for an isometric
stretch are to apply resistance manually to one's own limbs, to have a
partner apply the resistance, or to use an apparatus such as a wall (or the
floor) to provide resistance.
An example of manual resistance would be holding onto the ball of your foot
to keep it from flexing while you are using the muscles of your calf to try
and straighten your instep so that the toes are pointed.
An example of using a partner to provide resistance would be having a
partner hold your leg up high (and keep it there) while you attempt to
force your leg back down to the ground.
An example of using the wall to provide resistance would be the well known
"push-the-wall" calf-stretch where you are actively attempting to move the
wall (even though you know you can't).
Isometric stretching is *not* recommended for children and adolescents
whose bones are still growing. These people are usually already flexible
enough that the strong stretches produced by the isometric contraction has
a much higher risk of damaging tendons and connective tissue. Kurz
strongly recommends preceding any isometric stretch of a muscle with
dynamic strength training for the muscle to be stretched. A full session of
isometric stretching puts a lot of demands on the muscles being stretched
and should not be performed more than once per day for a given group of
muscles (ideally, no more than once every 36 hours).
The proper way to perform an isometric stretch is as follows:
1. Assume the position of a passive stretch for the desired muscle.
2. Next, tense the stretched muscle for 7-15 seconds (resisting against
some force that will not move, like the floor or a partner).
3. Finally, relax the muscle for at least 20 seconds.
Some people seem to recommend holding the isometric contraction for longer
than 15 seconds, but according to `SynerStretch' (the videotape), research
has shown that this is not necessary. So you might as well make your
stretching routine less time consuming.
~3.6.1 How Isometric Stretching Works
Recall from Section 1.2.1 [How Muscles Contract] that there is no such
thing as a partially contracted muscle fiber: when a muscle is contracted,
some of the fibers contract and some remain at rest (more fibers are
recruited as the load on the muscle increases). Similarly, when a muscle is
stretched, some of the fibers are elongated and some remain at rest (see
Section 1.6 [What Happens When You Stretch]). During an isometric
contraction, some of the resting fibers are being pulled upon from both
ends by the muscles that are contracting. The result is that some of those
resting fibers stretch!
Normally, the handful of fibers that stretch during an isometric
contraction are not very significant. The true effectiveness of the
isometric contraction occurs when a muscle that is already in a stretched
position is subjected to an isometric contraction. In this case, some of
the muscle fibers are already stretched before the contraction, and, if
held long enough, the initial passive stretch overcomes the stretch reflex
and triggers the lengthening reaction, inhibiting the stretched fibers from
contracting (see Section 1.6.2 [The Stretch Reflex], and see Section 1.6.3
[The Lengthening Reaction]). At this point, according to `SynerStretch':
When you isometrically contracted, some of the resting fibers would
contract, many of the resting fibers would stretch, and many of the
already stretched fibers, which are being prevented from contracting by
the inverse myotatic reflex [the lengthening reaction], would stretch
even more. When the isometric contraction was relaxed and the
contracting fibers returned to their resting length, the stretched
fibers would retain their ability to stretch beyond their normal limit.
... the whole muscle would be able to stretch beyond its initial
maximum, and you would have increased flexibility ...
The reason that the stretched fibers develop and retain the ability to
stretch beyond their normal limit during an isometric stretch has to do
with the muscle spindles (see Section 1.6.1 [Proprioceptors]): The signal
which tells the muscle to contract voluntarily, also tells the muscle
spindle's (intrafusal) muscle fibers to shorten, increasing sensitivity of
the stretch reflex. This mechanism normally maintains the sensitivity of
the muscle spindle as the muscle shortens during contraction. This allows
the muscle spindles to habituate (become accustomed) to an even
~3.7 PNF Stretching
PNF stretching is currently the fastest and most effective way known to
increase static-passive flexibility. PNF is an acronym for "proprioceptive
neuromuscular facilitation". It is not really a type of stretching but is
a technique of combining passive stretching and isometric stretching in
order to achieve maximum static flexibility (see Section 3.4 [Passive
Stretching], and see Section 3.6 [Isometric Stretching]). Actually, the
term PNF stretching is itself a misnomer. PNF was initially developed as a
method of rehabilitating stroke victims. PNF refers to any of several
"post-isometric relaxation" stretching techniques in which a muscle group
is passively stretched, then contracts isometrically against resistance
while in the stretched position, and then is passively stretched again
through the resulting increased range of motion. PNF stretching usually
employs the use of a partner to provide resistance against the isometric
contraction and then later to passively take the joint through its
increased range of motion. It may be performed, however, without a
partner, although it is usually more effective with a partner's assistance.
Most PNF stretching techniques employ "isometric agonist
contraction/relaxation" where the stretched muscles are contracted
isometrically and then relaxed. Some PNF techniques also employ "isometric
antagonist contraction" where the antagonists of the stretched muscles are
contracted. In all cases, it is important to note that the stretched muscle
should be rested (and relaxed) for at least 20 seconds before performing
another PNF technique. The most common PNF stretching techniques are:
This technique is also called the "contract-relax". After assuming an
initial passive stretch, the muscle being stretched is isometrically
contracted for 7-15 seconds, after which the muscle is briefly relaxed
for 2-3 seconds, and then immediately subjected to a passive stretch
which stretches the muscle even further than the initial passive
stretch. This final passive stretch is held for 10-15 seconds. The
muscle is then relaxed for 20 seconds before performing another PNF
This technique is also called the "contract-relax-contract", and the
"contract-relax-antagonist-contract" (or "CRAC"). It involves
performing two isometric contractions: first of the agonists, then, of
the antagonists. The first part is similar to the hold-relax where,
after assuming an initial passive stretch, the stretched muscle is
isometrically contracted for 7-15 seconds. Then the muscle is relaxed
while its antagonist immediately performs an isometric contraction that
is held for 7-15 seconds. The muscles are then relaxed for 20 seconds
before performing another PNF technique.
Notice that in the hold-relax-contract, there is no final passive stretch.
It is replaced by the antagonist-contraction which (via reciprocal
inhibition - see Section 1.6.4 [Reciprocal Inhibition]) serves to relax and
further stretch the muscle that was subjected to the initial passive
stretch. Because there is no final passive stretch, this PNF technique is
considered one of the safest PNF techniques to perform (it less likely to
result in torn muscle tissue). Some people like to make the technique even
more intense by adding the final passive stretch after the second isometric
contraction. Although this can result in greater flexibility gains, it
also increases the likelihood of injury.
Like isometric stretching, PNF stretching is also not recommended for
children and people whose bones are still growing (for the same reasons -
see Section 3.6 [Isometric Stretching]). Also like isometric stretching, PNF
stretching helps strengthen the muscles that are contracted and therefore
is good for increasing active flexibility as well as passive flexibility.
Furthermore, as with isometric stretching, PNF stretching is very strenuous
and should be performed for a given muscle group no more than once per day
(ideally, no more than once per 36 hour period).
The initial recommended procedure for PNF stretching is to perform the
desired PNF technique 3-5 times for a given muscle group (resting 20
seconds between each repetition). However, `HFLTA' cites 1987 study whose
results suggest that performing 3-5 repetitions of a PNF technique for a
given muscle group is not necessarily any more effective than performing
the technique only once. As a result, in order to decrease the amount of
time taken up by your stretching routine (without decreasing its
effectiveness), `HFLTA' recommends performing only one PNF technique per
muscle group stretched in a given stretching session.
~3.7.1 How PNF Stretching Works
Remember that during an isometric stretch, when the muscle performing the
isometric contraction is relaxed, it retains its ability to stretch beyond
its initial maximum length (see Section 3.6.1 [How Isometric Stretching
Works]). Well, PNF tries to take immediate advantage of this increased
range of motion by immediately subjecting the contracted muscle to a
The isometric contraction of the stretched muscle accomplishes several
1. As explained in Section 3.6.1 [How Isometric Stretching Works], it
helps to train the stretch receptors of the muscle spindle to
immediately accommodate a greater muscle length.
2. The intense muscle contraction, and the fact that it is maintained for
a period of time, serves to fatigue many of the fast-twitch fibers of
the contracting muscles (see Section 1.2.2 [Fast and Slow Muscle
Fibers]). This makes it harder for the fatigued muscle fibers to
contract in resistance to a subsequent stretch (see Section 1.6.2 [The
3. The tension generated by the contraction activates the golgi tendon
organ (see Section 1.6.1 [Proprioceptors]), which inhibits contraction
of the muscle via the lengthening reaction (see Section 1.6.3 [The
Lengthening Reaction]). Voluntary contraction during a stretch
increases tension on the muscle, activating the golgi tendon organs
more than the stretch alone. So, when the voluntary contraction is
stopped, the muscle is even more inhibited from contracting against a
PNF stretching techniques take advantage of the sudden "vulnerability" of
the muscle and its increased range of motion by using the period of time
immediately following the isometric contraction to train the stretch
receptors to get used to this new, increased, range of muscle length. This
is what the final passive stretch accomplishes.
~4 How to Stretch
When done properly, stretching can do more than just increase flexibility.
According to M. Alter, benefits of stretching include:
* enhanced physical fitness
* enhanced ability to learn and perform skilled movements
* increased mental and physical relaxation
* enhanced development of body awareness
* reduced risk of injury to joints, muscles, and tendons
* reduced muscular soreness
* reduced muscular tension
* increased suppleness due to stimulation of the production of chemicals
which lubricate connective tissues (see Section 1.3 [Connective
* reduced severity of painful menstruation ("dysmenorrhea") in females
Unfortunately, even those who stretch do not always stretch properly and
hence do not reap some or all of these benefits. Some of the most common
mistakes made when stretching are:
* improper warm-up
* inadequate rest between workouts
* performing the wrong exercises
* performing exercises in the wrong (or sub-optimal) sequence
In this chapter, we will try to show you how to avoid these problems, and
others, and present some of the most effective methods for realizing all
the benefits of stretching.
~4.1 Warming Up
Stretching is *not* warming up! It is, however, a very important part of
warming up. Warming up is quite literally the process of "warming up" (i.e.
raising your core body temperature). A proper warm-up should raise your
body temperature by one or two degrees Celcius (1.4 to 2.8 degrees
Fahrenheit) and is divided into three phases:
1. general warm-up
3. sport-specific activity
It is very important that you perform the general warm-up *before* you
stretch. It is *not* a good idea to attempt to stretch before your muscles
are warm (something which the general warm-up accomplishes).
Warming up can do more than just loosen stiff muscles; when done properly,
it can actually improve performance. On the other hand, an improper
warm-up, or no warm-up at all, can greatly increase your risk of injury
from engaging in athletic activities.
It is important to note that active stretches and isometric stretches
should *not* be part of your warm-up because they are often
counterproductive. The goals of the warm-up are (according to Kurz): "an
increased awareness, improved coordination, improved elasticity and
contractibility of muscles, and a greater efficiency of the respiratory and
cardiovascular systems." Active stretches and isometric stretches do not
help achieve these goals because they are likely to cause the stretched
muscles to be too tired to properly perform the athletic activity for which
you are preparing your body.
~4.1.1 General Warm-Up
The general warm-up is divided into two parts:
1. joint rotations
2. aerobic activity
These two activities should be performed in the order specified above.
~220.127.116.11 Joint Rotations
The general warm-up should begin with joint-rotations, starting either from
your toes and working your way up, or from your fingers and working your
way down. This facilitates joint motion by lubricating the entire joint
with synovial fluid. Such lubrication permits your joints to function more
easily when called upon to participate in your athletic activity. You
should perform slow circular movements, both clockwise and
counter-clockwise, until the joint seems to move smoothly. You should
rotate the following (in the order given, or in the reverse order):
1. fingers and knuckles
~18.104.22.168 Aerobic Activity
After you have performed the joint rotations, you should engage in at least
five minutes of aerobic activity such as jogging, jumping rope, or any
other activity that will cause a similar increase in your cardiovascular
output (i.e. get your blood pumping). The purpose of this is to raise your
core body temperature and get your blood flowing. Increased blood flow in
the muscles improves muscle performance and flexibility and reduces the
likelihood of injury.
~4.1.2 Warm-Up Stretching
The stretching phase of your warmup should consist of two parts:
1. static stretching
2. dynamic stretching
It is important that static stretches be performed *before* any dynamic
stretches in your warm-up. Dynamic stretching can often result in
overstretching, which damages the muscles (see Section 4.11.3
[Overstretching]). Performing static stretches first will help reduce this
risk of injury.
~22.214.171.124 Static Warm-Up Stretching
Once the general warm-up has been completed, the muscles are warmer and
more elastic. Immediately following your general warm-up, you should engage
in some slow, relaxed, static stretching (see Section 3.5 [Static
Stretching]). You should start with your back, followed by your upper body
and lower body, stretching your muscles in the following order (see Section
4.7 [Exercise Order]):
2. sides (external obliques)
4. forearms and wrists
8. groin (adductors)
9. thighs (quadriceps and abductors)
Some good static stretches for these various muscles may be found in most
books about stretching. See Appendix A [References on Stretching].
Unfortunately, not everyone has the time to stretch all these muscles
before a workout. If you are one such person, you should at least take the
time to stretch all the muscles that will be heavily used during your
~126.96.36.199 Dynamic Warm-Up Stretching
Once you have performed your static stretches, you should engage in some
light dynamic stretching: leg-raises, and arm-swings in all directions (see
Section 3.2 [Dynamic Stretching]). According to Kurz, you should do "as
many sets as it takes to reach your maximum range of motion in any given
direction", but do not work your muscles to the point of fatigue. Remember
- this is just a warm-up, the real workout comes later.
Some people are surprised to find that dynamic stretching has a place in
the warm-up. But think about it: you are "warming up" for a workout that is
(usually) going to involve a lot of dynamic activity. It makes sense that
you should perform some dynamic exercises to increase your dynamic
~4.1.3 Sport-Specific Activity
The last part of your warm-up should be devoted to performing movements
that are a "watered-down" version of the movements that you will be
performing during your athletic activity. `HFLTA' says that:
The final phase of the warm-up involves rehearsing specific movements
that the athlete will be using during the practice or the event, but at
a reduced intensity. Sport-specific activities improve coordination,
balance, strength, and response time, and may reduce the risk of
~4.2 Cooling Down
Stretching is *not* a legitimate means of cooling down. It is only part of
the process. After you have completed your workout, the best way to reduce
muscle fatigue and soreness (caused by the production of lactic acid from
your maximal or near-maximal muscle exertion) is to perform a light
"warm-down". This warm-down is similar to the second half of your warm-up
(but in the reverse order). The warm-down consists of two phases:
1. sport-specific activity
2. static stretching
Ideally, you should start your warm-down with about 10-20 minutes of
sport-specific activity (perhaps only a little more intense than in your
warm-up). In reality however, you may not always have 10-20 minutes to
spare at the end of your workout. You should, however, attempt to perform
at least 5 minutes of sport-specific activity in this case. The
sport-specific activity should immediately be followed by some relaxed,
static stretches. Sport-specific activity, followed by static stretching,
can reduce cramping, tightening, and soreness in fatigued muscles and will
make you feel better.
According to `HFLTA', "light warm-down exercise immediately following
maximal exertion is a better way of clearing lactic acid from the blood
than complete rest." Furthermore, if you are still sore the next day, a
light warm-down is a good way to reduce lingering muscle tightness and
soreness even when not performed immediately after a workout. See Section
4.11 [Pain and Discomfort].
Many people are unaware of the beneficial role that massage can play in
both strength training and flexibility training. Massaging a muscle, or
group of muscles, immediately prior to performing stretching or strength
exercises for those muscles, has some of the following benefits:
increased blood flow
The massaging of the muscles helps to warm-up those muscles,
increasing their blood flow and improving their circulation.
relaxation of the massaged muscles
The massaged muscles are more relaxed. This is particularly helpful
when you are about to stretch those muscles. It can also help relieve
painful muscle cramps.
removal of metabolic waste
The massaging action, and the improved circulation and blood flow
which results, helps to remove waste products, such as lactic acid,
from the muscles. This is useful for relieving post-exercise soreness.
Because of these benefits, you may wish to make massage a regular part of
your stretching program: immediately before each stretch you perform,
massage the muscles you are about to stretch.
~4.4 Elements of a Good Stretch
According to `SynerStretch', there are three factors to consider when
determining the effectiveness of a particular stretching exercise:
Ideally, a particular stretch should work only the muscles you are trying
to stretch. Isolating the muscles worked by a given stretch means that you
do not have to worry about having to overcome the resistance offered by
more than one group of muscles. In general, the fewer muscles you try to
stretch at once, the better. For example, you are better off trying to
stretch one hamstring at a time than both hamstrings at once. By isolating
the muscle you are stretching, you experience resistance from fewer muscle
groups, which gives you greater control over the stretch and allows you to
more easily change its intensity. As it turns out, the splits is not one
of the best stretching exercises. Not only does it stretch several
different muscle groups all at once, it also stretches them in both legs at
Having leverage during a stretch means having sufficient control over how
intense the stretch becomes, and how fast. If you have good leverage, not
only are you better able to achieve the desired intensity of the stretch,
but you do not need to apply as much force to your outstretched limb in
order to effectively increase the intensity of the stretch. This gives you
According to `SynerStretch':
The most effective stretches provide the greatest mechanical advantage
over the muscle to be stretched. Like isolation, good leverage makes it
easier to overcome the substantial resistance offered by inflexible
Many borderline stretching exercises can be made effective by adjusting
them to provide improved leverage ... [which] provides for an easier,
more effective stretch.
Although a stretch may be very effective in terms of providing the athlete
with ample leverage and isolation, the potential risk of injury from
performing the stretch must be taken into consideration. Once again,
`SynerStretch' says it best:
Even an exercise offering great leverage and isolation may be a
candidate for the discard pile - because many otherwise good stretches
subject joints to potentially injurious stresses. Some of these
exercises may involve rotations that can strain ligaments or tendons.
Others put pressure on vertebral disks and can lead to lower back
problems (like the classic backbend exercise). Still others call for
twists or turns that can cause problems in areas unrelated to the
~4.5 Some Risky Stretches
The following stretches (many of which are commonly performed) are
considered risky (M. Alter uses the term `X'-rated) due to the fact that
they have a very high risk of injury for the athlete that performs them.
This does not mean that these stretches should never be performed. However,
great care should be used when attempting any of these stretches. Unless
you are an advanced athlete, you can probably do without them (or find
alternative stretching exercises to perform). Each of these stretches is
illustrated in detail in the section `X-Rated Exercises' of M. Alter:
"the yoga plough"
In this exercise, you lie down on your back and then try to sweep your
legs up and over, trying to touch your knees to your ears. This
position places excessive stress on the lower back, and on the discs
of the spine. Not to mention the fact that it compresses the lungs and
heart, and makes it very difficult to breathe. This particular
exercise also stretches a region that is frequently flexed as a result
of improper posture.
"the traditional backbend"
In this exercise, your back is maximally arched with the soles of your
feet and the palms of your hands both flat on the floor, and your neck
tilted back. This position squeezes (compresses) the spinal discs and
pinches nerve fibers in your back.
"the traditional hurdler's stretch"
This exercise has you sit on the ground with one leg straight in front
of you, and with the other leg fully flexed (bent) behind you, as you
lean back and stretch the quadricep of the flexed leg. The two legged
version of this stretch is even worse for you, and involves fully
bending both legs behind you on either side. The reason this stretch is
harmful is that it stretches the medial ligaments of the knee
(remember, stretching ligaments and tendons is *bad*) and crushes the
meniscus. It can also result in slipping of the knee cap from being
twisted and compressed.
"straight-legged toe touches"
In this stretch, your legs are straight (either together or spread
apart) and your back is bent over while you attempt to touch your toes
or the floor. If you do not have the ability to support much of your
weight with your hands when performing this exercise, your knees are
likely to hyperextend. This position can also place a great deal of
pressure on the vertebrae of the lower lumbar. Furthermore, if you
choose to have your legs spread apart, it places more stress on the
knees, which can sometimes result in permanent deformity.
Performing sudden, intense twists of the torso, especially with
weights, while in an upright (erect) position can tear tissue (by
exceeding the momentum absorbing capacity of the stretched tissues)
and can strain the ligaments of the knee.
This is any stretch where you "hang upside down". Staying inverted for
too long increases your blood pressure and may even rupture blood
vessels (particularly in the eyes). Inverted positions are especially
discouraged for anyone with spinal problems.
~4.6 Breathing During Stretching
Proper breathing control is important for a successful stretch. Proper
breathing helps to relax the body, increases blood flow throughout the
body, and helps to mechanically remove lactic acid and other by-products of
You should be taking slow, relaxed breaths when you stretch, trying to
exhale as the muscle is stretching. Some even recommend increasing the
intensity of the stretch only while exhaling, holding the stretch in its
current position at all other times (this doesn't apply to isometric
The proper way to breathe is to inhale slowly through the nose, expanding
the abdomen (not the chest); hold the breath a moment; then exhale slowly
through the mouth. Inhaling through the nose has several purposes
including cleaning the air and insuring proper temperature and humidity for
oxygen transfer into the lungs.
The rate of breathing should be controlled through the use of the glottis
in the back of the throat. This produces a very soft "hm-m-m-mn" sound
inside the throat as opposed to a sniffing sound in the nasal sinuses. The
exhalation should be controlled in a similar manner but with more of an
"ah-h-h-h-h" sound, like a sigh of relief.
As you breathe in, the diaphragm presses downward on the internal organs
and their associated blood vessels, squeezing the blood out of them. As
you exhale, the abdomen, its organs and muscles, and their blood vessels
flood with new blood. This rhythmic contraction and expansion of the
abdominal blood vessels is partially responsible for the circulation of
blood in the body. Also, the rhythmic pumping action helps to remove waste
products from the muscles in the torso. This pumping action is referred to
as the "respiratory pump". The respiratory pump is important during
stretching because increased blood flow to the stretched muscles improves
their elasticity, and increases the rate at which lactic acid is purged
~4.7 Exercise Order
Many people are unaware of the fact that the order in which you perform
your stretching exercises is important. Quite often, when we perform a
particular stretch, it actually stretches more than one group of muscles:
the muscles that the stretch is primarily intended for, and other
supporting muscles that are also stretched but which do not receive the
"brunt" of the stretch. These supporting muscles usually function as
synergists for the muscles being stretched (see Section 1.4 [Cooperating
Muscle Groups]). This is the basis behind a principle that `SynerStretch'
calls the "interdependency of muscle groups".
Before performing a stretch intended for a particular muscle, but which
actually stretches several muscles, you should first stretch each of that
muscle's synergists. The benefit of this is that you are able to better
stretch the primary muscles by not allowing the supporting muscles the
opportunity to be a limiting factor in how "good" a stretch you can attain
for a particular exercise.
Ideally, it is best to perform a stretch that isolates a particular muscle
group, but this is not always possible. According to `SynerStretch': "by
organizing the exercises within a stretching routine according to the
principle of interdependency of muscle groups, you minimize the effort
required to perform the routine, and maximize the effectiveness of the
individual exercises." This is what `Health For Life' (in all of their
publications) calls "synergism": "combining elements to create a whole that
is greater than the mere sum of its parts."
For example, a stretch intended primarily for the hamstrings may also make
some demands upon the calves and buttocks (and even the lower back) but
mostly, it stretches the hamstrings. In this case, it would be beneficial
to stretch the lower back, buttocks, and calves first (in that order, using
stretches intended primarily for those muscles) before they need to be used
in a stretch that is intended primarily for the hamstrings.
As a general rule, you should usually do the following when putting
together a stretching routine:
* stretch your back (upper and lower) first
* stretch your sides after stretching your back
* stretch your buttocks before stretching your groin or your hamstrings
* stretch your calves before stretching your hamstrings
* stretch your shins before stretching your quadriceps (if you do shin
* stretch your arms before stretching your chest
~4.8 When to Stretch
The best time to stretch is when your muscles are warmed up. If they are
not already warm before you wish to stretch, then you need to warm them up
yourself, usually by performing some type of brief aerobic activity (see
Section 4.1.1 [General Warm-Up]). Obviously, stretching is an important
part of warming-up before, and cooling-down after a workout (see Section
4.1 [Warming Up], and see Section 4.2 [Cooling Down]). If the weather is
very cold, or if you are feeling very stiff, then you need to take extra
care to warm-up before you stretch in order to reduce the risk of injuring
Many of us have our own internal body-clock, or "circadian rhythm" as, it
is more formally called: Some of us are "early morning people" while others
consider themselves to be "late-nighters". Being aware of your circadian
rhythm should help you decide when it is best for you to stretch (or
perform any other type of activity). Gummerson says that most people are
more flexible in the afternoon than in the morning, peaking from about
2:30pm-4pm. Also, according to `HFLTA':
There is some evidence to suggest that flexibility and strength are
greatest in the late afternoon or early evening. If this is true, then,
all else being equal, an athlete might get a better workout by hitting
the gym right after work rather than before work.
~4.8.1 Early-Morning Stretching
On the other hand, according to Kurz, "if you need [or want] to perform
movements requiring considerable flexibility with [little or] no warm-up,
you ought to make early morning stretching a part of your routine." In
order to do this properly, you need to first perform a general warm-up (see
Section 4.1.1 [General Warm-Up]). You should then begin your early morning
stretching by first performing some static stretches, followed by some
light dynamic stretches. Basically, your early morning stretching regimen
should be almost identical to a complete warm-up (see Section 4.1 [Warming
Up]). The only difference is that you may wish to omit any sport-specific
activity (see Section 4.1.3 [Sport-Specific Activity]), although it
certainly won't hurt to perform it *if* you have time.
~4.9 Stretching With a Partner
When done properly, stretches performed with the assistance of a partner
can be more effective than stretches performed without a partner
(particularly isometric stretches and PNF stretches - see Section 3.7 [PNF
Stretching]). The problem with using a partner, however, is that the
partner does not feel what you feel, and thus cannot respond as quickly to
any discomfort that might prompt you to immediately reduce the intensity
(or some other aspect) of the stretch. This can greatly increase your risk
of injury while performing a particular exercise.
If you do choose to stretch with a partner, make sure that it is someone
you trust to pay close attention to you while you stretch, and to act
appropriately when you signal that you are feeling pain or discomfort.
~4.10 Stretching to Increase Flexibility
When stretching for the purpose of increasing overall flexibility, a
stretching routine should accomplish, at the very least, two goals:
1. To train your stretch receptors to become accustomed to greater muscle
length (see Section 1.6.1 [Proprioceptors]).
2. To reduce the resistance of connective tissues to muscle elongation
(see Section 2.2.1 [How Connective Tissue Affects Flexibility]).
If you are attempting to increase active flexibility (see Section 2.1
[Types of Flexibility]), you will also want to strengthen the muscles
responsible for holding the stretched limbs in their extended positions.
Before composing a particular stretching routine, you must first decide
which types of flexibility you wish to increase (see Section 2.1 [Types of
Flexibility]), and which stretching methods are best for achieving them
(see Section 3 [Types of Stretching]). The best way to increase dynamic
flexibility is by performing dynamic stretches, supplemented with static
stretches. The best way to increase active flexibility is by performing
active stretches, supplemented with static stretches. The fastest and most
effective way currently known to increase passive flexibility is by
performing PNF stretches (see Section 3.7 [PNF Stretching]).
If you are very serious about increasing overall flexibility, then I
recommend religiously adhering to the following guidelines:
* Perform early-morning stretching everyday (see Section 4.8.1
* Warm-up properly before any and all athletic activities. Make sure to
give yourself ample time to perform the complete warm-up. See Section
4.1 [Warming Up].
* Cool-down properly after any and all athletic activities. See Section
4.2 [Cooling Down].
* Always make sure your muscles are warmed-up before you stretch!
* Perform PNF stretching every other day, and static stretching on the
off days (if you are overzealous, you can try static stretching every
day, in addition to PNF stretching every other day).
Overall, you should expect to increase flexibility *gradually*. However,
If you really commit to doing the above, you should (according to
`SynerStretch') achieve maximal upper-body flexibility within one month and
maximal lower-body flexibility within two months. If you are older or more
inflexible than most people, it will take longer than this.
Don't try to increase flexibility too quickly by forcing yourself. Stretch
no further than the muscles will go *without pain*. See Section 4.11.3
~4.11 Pain and Discomfort
If you are experiencing pain or discomfort before, during, or after
stretching or athletic activity, then you need to try to identify the
cause. Severe pain (particularly in the joints, ligaments, or tendons)
usually indicates a serious injury of some sort, and you may need to
discontinue stretching and/or exercising until you have sufficiently
~4.11.1 Common Causes of Muscular Soreness
If you are experiencing soreness, stiffness, or some other form of muscular
pain, then it may be due to one or more of the following:
Overstretching and engaging in athletic activities without a proper
warm-up can cause microscopic tearing of muscle fibers or connective
tissues. If the tear is not too severe, the pain will usually not
appear until one or two days after the activity that caused the
damage. If the pain occurs during or immediately after the activity,
then it may indicate a more serious tear (which may require medical
attention). If the pain is not too severe, then light, careful static
stretching of the injured area is supposedly okay to perform (see
Section 3.5 [Static Stretching]). It is hypothesized that torn fibers
heal at a shortened length, thus decreasing flexibility in the injured
muscles. Very light stretching of the injured muscles helps reduce
loss of flexibility resulting from the injury. Intense stretching of
any kind, however, may only make matters worse.
Overexertion and/or intense muscular activity will fatigue the muscles
and cause them to accumulate lactic acid and other waste products. If
this is the cause of your pain, then static stretching, isometric
stretching, or a good cool-down (see Section 4.2 [Cooling Down]) will
help alleviate some of the soreness. See Section 2.3.1 [Why
Bodybuilders Should Stretch]. Massaging the sore muscles may also help
relieve the pain (see Section 4.3 [Massage]). It has also been claimed
that supplements of vitamin C will help alleviate this type of pain,
but controlled tests using placebos have been unable to lend
credibility to this hypothesis. The ingestion of sodium bicarbonate
(baking soda) before athletic activity has been shown to help increase
the body's buffering capacity and reduce the output of lactic acid.
However, it can also cause urgent diarrhea.
Exercising above a certain threshold can cause a decreased flow of
blood to the active muscles. This can cause pain resulting in a
protective reflex which contracts the muscle isotonically (see Section
1.5 [Types of Muscle Contractions]). The reflex contraction causes
further decreases in blood flow, which causes more reflex
contractions, and so on, causing the muscle to spasm by repeatedly
contracting. One common example of this is a painful muscle cramp.
Immediate static stretching of the cramped muscle can be helpful in
relieving this type of pain. However, it can sometimes make things
worse by activating the stretch reflex (see Section 1.6.2 [The Stretch
Reflex]), which may cause further muscle contractions. Massaging the
cramped muscle may prove more useful than stretching in relieving this
type of pain (see Section 4.3 [Massage]).
~4.11.2 Stretching with Pain
If you are already experiencing some type of pain or discomfort before you
begin stretching, then it is very important that you determine the cause of
your pain (see Section 4.11.1 [Common Causes of Muscular Soreness]). Once
you have determined the cause of the pain, you are in a better position to
decide whether or not you should attempt to stretch the affected area.
Also, according to M. Alter:
An important thing to remember is that some degree of soreness is often
experienced by those who have not previously exercised or stretched -
this is the penalty for having been inactive. On the other hand,
well-trained athletes who work out at higher-than-usual levels of
difficulty can also become sore. (However, you should immediately stop
exercising if you feel or hear something popping or tearing.) As a
general rule, remember the acronym "RICE" when treating an injured
This will help to minimize the pain and swelling. Then seek appropriate
If you stretch properly, you should *not* be sore the day after you have
stretched. If you are, then it may be an indication that you are
overstretching and that you need to go easier on your muscles by reducing
the intensity of some (or all) of the stretches you perform.
Overstretching will simply increase the time it takes for you to gain
greater flexibility. This is because it takes time for the damaged muscles
to repair themselves, and to offer you the same flexibility as before they
One of the easiest ways to "overstretch" is to stretch "cold" (without any
warm-up). A "maximal cold stretch" is not necessarily a desirable thing.
Just because a muscle can be moved to its limit without warming up doesn't
mean it is ready for the strain that a workout will place on it.
Obviously, during a stretch (even when you stretch properly) you are going
to feel some amount of discomfort. The difficulty is being able to discern
when it is too much. In her book, `Stretch and Strengthen', Judy Alter
describes what she calls "ouch! pain": If you feel like saying "ouch!" (or
perhaps something even more explicit) then you should ease up immediately
and discontinue the stretch. You should definitely feel the tension in your
muscle, and perhaps even light, gradual "pins and needles", but if it
becomes sudden, sharp, or uncomfortable, then you are overdoing it and are
probably tearing some muscle tissue (or worse). In some cases, you may
follow all of these guidelines when you stretch, feeling that you are not
in any "real" pain, but still be sore the next day. If this is the case,
then you will need to become accustomed to stretching with less discomfort
(you might be one of those "stretching masochists" that take great pleasure
in the pain that comes from stretching).
Quite frequently, the progression of sensations you feel as you reach the
extreme ranges of a stretch are: localized warmth of the stretched muscles,
followed by a burning (or spasm-like) sensation, followed by sharp pain (or
"ouch!" pain). The localized warming will usually occur at the origin, or
point of insertion, of the stretched muscles. When you begin to feel this,
it is your first clue that you may need to "back off" and reduce the
intensity of the stretch. If you ignore (or do not feel) the warming
sensation, and you proceed to the point where you feel a definite burning
sensation in the stretched muscles, then you should ease up immediately and
discontinue the stretch! You may not be sore yet, but you probably will be
the following day. If your stretch gets to the point where you feel sharp
pain, it is quite likely that the stretch has already resulted in tissue
damage which may cause immediate pain and soreness that persists for
~4.12 Performing Splits
A lot of people seem to desire the ability to perform splits. If you are
one such person, you should first ask yourself why you want to be able to
perform the splits. If the answer is "So I can kick high!" or something
along those lines, then being able to "do" the splits may not be as much
help as you think it might be in achieving your goal. Doing a full split
looks impressive, and a lot of people seem to use it as a benchmark of
flexibility, but it will not, in and of itself, enable you to kick high.
Kicking high requires dynamic flexibility (and, to some extent, active
flexibility) whereas the splits requires passive flexibility. You need to
discern what type of flexibility will help to achieve your goal (see
Section 2.1 [Types of Flexibility]), and then perform the types of
stretching exercises that will help you achieve that specific type of
flexibility. See Section 3 [Types of Stretching].
If your goal really is "to be able to perform splits" (or to achieve
maximal lower-body static-passive flexibility), and assuming that you
already have the required range of motion in the hip joints to even do the
splits (most people in reasonably good health without any hip problems do),
you will need to be patient. Everyone is built differently and so the
amount of time it will take to achieve splits will be different for
different people (although `SynerStretch' suggests that it should take
about two months of regular PNF stretching for most people to achieve their
maximum split potential). The amount of time it takes will depend on your
previous flexibility and body makeup. Anyone will see improvements in
flexibility within weeks with consistent, frequent, and proper stretching.
Trust your own body, take it gently, and stretch often. Try not to dwell
on the splits, concentrate more on the stretch. Also, physiological
differences in body mechanics may not allow you to be very flexible. If
so, take that into consideration when working out.
A stretching routine tailored to the purpose of achieving the ability to
perform splits may be found in Appendix B [Working Toward the Splits].
~4.12.1 Common Problems When Performing Splits
First of all, there are two kinds of splits: front and side (the side split
is often called a "chinese split"). In a Front split, you have one leg
stretched out to the front and the other leg stretched out to the back. In
a side split, both legs are stretched out to your side.
A common problem encountered during a side split is pain in the hip joints.
Usually, the reason for this is that the split is being performed
improperly (you may need to tilt your pelvis forward).
Another common problem encountered during splits (both front and side) is
pain in the knees. This pain can often (but not always) be alleviated by
performing a slightly different variation of the split. See Section 4.12.2
[The Front Split], and see Section 4.12.3 [The Side Split].
~4.12.2 The Front Split
For front splits, the front leg should be straight and its kneecap should
be facing the ceiling, or sky. The front foot can be pointed or flexed
(there will be a greater stretch in the front hamstring if the front foot
is flexed). The kneecap of the back leg should either be facing the floor
(which puts more of a stretch on the quadriceps and psoas muscles), or out
to the side (which puts more of a stretch on the inner-thigh (groin)
muscles). If it is facing the floor, then it will probably be pretty hard
to flex the back foot, since its instep should be on the floor. If the back
kneecap is facing the side, then your back foot should be stretched out
(not flexed) with its toes pointed to reduce undue stress upon the knee.
Even with the toes of the back foot pointed, you may still feel that there
is to much stress on your back knee (in which case you should make it face
~4.12.3 The Side Split
For side splits, you can either have both kneecaps (and insteps) facing the
ceiling, which puts more of a stretch on the hamstrings, or you can have
both kneecaps (and insteps) face the front, which puts more of a stretch on
the inner-thigh (groin) muscle. The latter position puts more stress on the
knee joints and may cause pain in the knees for some people. If you perform
side splits with both kneecaps (and insteps) facing the front then you
*must* be sure to tilt your pelvis forward (push your buttocks to the rear)
or you may experience pain in your hip joints.
~4.12.4 Split-Stretching Machines
Many of you may have seen an advertisement for a "split-stretching" machine
in your favorite exercise/athletic magazine. These machines look like
"benches with wings". They have a padded section upon which to sit, and two
padded sections in which to place your legs (the machine should ensure that
no pressure is applied upon the knees). The machine functions by allowing
you to gradually increase the "stretch" in your adductors (inner-thigh
muscles) through manual adjustments which increase the degree of the angle
between the legs. Such machines usually carry a hefty price tag, often in
excess of $100 (American currency).
A common question people ask about these machines is "are they worth the
price?". The answer to that question is entirely subjective. Although the
machine can certainly be of valuable assistance in helping you achieve the
goal of performing a side-split, it is not necessarily any better (or
safer) than using a partner while you stretch. The main advantage that
these machines have over using a partner is that they give you (not your
partner) control of the intensity of the stretch. The amount of control
provided depends on the individual machine.
One problem with these "split-stretchers" is that there is a common
tendency to use them to "force" a split (which can often result in injury)
and/or to hold the "split" position for far longer periods of time than is
The most effective use of a split-stretching machine is to use it as your
"partner" to provide resistance for PNF stretches for the groin and inner
thigh areas (see Section 3.7 [PNF Stretching]). When used properly,
"split-stretchers" can provide one of the best ways to stretch your groin
and inner-thighs without the use of a partner.
However, they do cost quite a bit of money and they don't necessarily give
you a better stretch than a partner could. If you don't want to "cough-up"
the money for one of these machines, I recommend that you either use a
partner and/or perform the lying `V' stretch described later on in this
document (see Appendix B [Working Toward the Splits]).
~Appendix A References on Stretching
I don't know if these are *all* good, but I am aware of the following books
and videotapes about stretching:
`Sport Stretch', by Michael J. Alter
Softcover, Leisure Press (Publisher) 1990, 168 pages
$15.95 (US), ISBN: 0-88011-381-2
Leisure Press is a division of Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.
in Champaign, IL and may be reached by phone at 1-800-747-4457
`Science of Stretching', by Michael J. Alter
Clothcover, Leisure Press (Publisher) 1988, 256 pages
$35.00 (US), ISBN: 0-97322-090-0
`Facilitated Stretching: PNF Stretching Made Easy', by Robert E. McAtee
Softcover, Human Kinetics Publishers 1993, 96 pages
$16.00 (US), ISBN: 0-87322-420-5
`Stretching Scientifically', by Tom Kurz
Softcover, Stadion (Publisher) 1991, 125 pages
$15.95 (US), ISBN: 0-94019-28-1
(also by Tom Kurz: `Science of Sports Training',
(A Videotape entitled `Tom Kurz' Secrets of Stretching'
is also available from Stadion for $49.95 (US)).
Stadion can be reached by phone at 1-800-873-7117
`SynerStretch For Total Body Flexibility', from Health For Life
Softcover, 1984, 29 pages, $11.95 (US), ISBN: 0-944831-05-2
(A videotape which is an updated version of this same course
is also available for $39.95 (US))
HFL can be reached by phone at 1-800-874-5339
`The Health For Life Training Advisor', edited by Andrew T. Shields
Softcover, Health for Life 1990, 320 pages
$29.95 (US), ISBN: 0-944831-22-2
`Stretch and Strengthen', by Judy Alter
Softcover, Houghton Mifflin Company (Publishers) 1986, 241 pages
$12.95 (US), ISBN: 0-395-52808-9
(also by Judy Alter: `Surviving Exercise',
Softcover, Houghton Mifflin 1983, 127 pages, ISBN: 0-395-50073-7)
`Mobility Training for the Martial Arts', by Tony Gummerson
Softcover, A&C Black (Publishers) 1990, 96 pages
$15.95 (US), ISBN: 0 7136 3264 X
`Health & Fitness Excellence: The Scientific Action Plan',
by Robert K. Cooper, Ph.D.
Softcover, Houghton Mifflin Company (Publishers) 1989, 541 pages
$12.95 (US), ISBN 0-395-54453-X
`Staying Supple: The Bountiful Pleasures of Stretching', by John Jerome
Softcover, Bantam Books 1987, 151 pages, ISBN: 0-553-34429-3
`Stretching', by Bob Anderson (Illustrated by Jean Anderson)
Softcover, Random House (Publisher) $9.95 (US), ISBN: 0-394-73874-8
`Complete Stretching', by Maxine Tobias and John Patrick Sullivan
Softcover, Knopf (Publisher), $17.95 (US), ISBN: 0-679-73831-2
(also by Maxine Tobias: `Stretch and Relax')
`Stretching the Quick and Easy Way', by Sternad & Bozdech
Softcover, $9.95 (US), ISBN: 0-8069-8434-1
`Jean Frenette's Complete Guide to Stretching', by Jean Frenette
Softcover, $10.95 (US), ISBN: 0-86568-145-7
(also by Jean Frenette, `Beyond Kicking: A Complete Guide to
Kicking and Stretching', $12.95 (US), ISBN: 0-86568-154-6)
`Beyond Splits (Volume I and Volume II)', by Marco Lala
Videotapes available from Marco Lala Karate Academy,
P.O. Box 979, Yonkers, NY USA 10704
the tapes are $39.95 each (Vol.I and Vol.II are separate tapes)
`Stretching for Athletics', by Pat Croce (2nd edition)
Softcover, Leisure Press (Publisher) 1984, 128 pages
$11.95 (US), ISBN: 0-88011-119-4
`The Woman's Stretching Book', by Susan L. Peterson
Softcover, Leisure Press (Publisher) 1983, 112 pages
$11.95 (US), ISBN: 0-88011-095-3
`The Book About Stretching', by Dr. Sven-A Solveborn, M.D.
Japan Publications, 1985
`Stretching For All Sports', by John E. Beaulieu
Athletic Press 1980, Pasadena, CA
`Stretch!', by Ann Smith
Acropolis Books 1979
My best recommendations are for `Sport Stretch' and `Stretching
Scientifically', followed by `Health & Fitness Excellence', `SynerStretch',
or `Stretch and Strengthen'. `Mobility Training for the Martial Arts' also
has quite a bit of valuable information and stretches. `The Health for
Life Training Advisor' has a *lot* of information about stretching and
muscle physiology, but it is not strictly about stretching and contains a
*ton* of other information about all aspects of athletic training and
performance (which I find to be invaluable). If you really want to delve
into all the technical aspects of stretching, including physiology,
neurophysiology, and functional anatomy, then you must get `Science of
Stretching'. If you want to know more about PNF stretching, then
`Facilitated Stretching' is the book to get. If you are looking for active
stretches, your local library probably has quite a few books and/or
videotapes of yoga exercises.
Many of the other books don't have as much detail about stretching and what
happens to your muscles during a particular stretch, they just present (and
illustrate) a variety of different exercises. Also, most of the stretches
presented in these books are to be performed alone. `Sport Stretch',
`SynerStretch' (both the videotape and the book), and `Mobility Training
for the Martial Arts' present stretches that you can perform with the
assistance of a partner.
In general, `Health For Life' (also known as `HFL') and `Human Kinetics
Publishers' have a tremendously wide variety of technical, no-nonsense,
exercise related books and videotapes. I would highly recommend contacting
both organizations and asking for their free catalogs:
Human Kinetics Publishers
1607 North Market Street
P.O. Box 5076
Champaign, IL USA 61825-5076
Health For Life
8033 Sunset Blvd., Suite 483
Los Angeles, CA USA 90046
~A.2 Additional Comments
Here is a little more information about some of the references (I haven't
actually read or seen all of them so I can't comment on all of them):
This book has a very thorough section on all the details about how
stretching works and what different stretching methods to use. It also
contains over 300 illustrated stretches as well as various stretching
programs for 26 different sports and recreational activities. Each
stretching program takes about 20 minutes and illustrates the 12 best
stretches for that activity. In my humble opinion, this is the most
complete book I was able to find on the subject of stretching (however,
`Science of Stretching', by the same author, is even more
comprehensive). Some of you may prefer Kurz' book to this one, however,
since it is more devoted to increasing flexibility.
`Science of Stretching'
This book explains the scientific basis of stretching and discusses
physiology, neurophysiology, mechanics, and psychology as they all
relate to stretching. The book makes thorough use of illustrations,
charts, diagrams, and figures, and discusses each of its topics in
great detail. It then presents guidelines for developing a flexibility
program, including over 200 stretching exercises and warm-up drills.
I suppose you could think of this book as a "graduate-level version"
of `Sport Stretch'.
This is an excellent book that goes into excruciating detail about just
about everything you want to know about stretching. It also contains a
variety of stretches and stretching programs and is geared towards
achieving maximal flexibility in the shortest possible amount of time.
The only problem I found in this book is that some of the discussion
gets very technical without giving the reader (in my opinion)
sufficient background to fully understand what is being said. I
believe that `Sport Stretch' does a better job of explaining things in
a more comprehensible (easily understood) fashion.
Most of the reading material that is devoted to PNF stretching is
highly technical. This book attempts to break that trend. It tries to
explain the history and principles of PNF without getting too
technical, and shows how to perform PNF techniques that are
appropriate for healthy people (complete with illustrations and
easy-to-follow instructions). This book also contains a chapter which
discusses the role of PNF techniques during injury rehabilitation.
According to the publisher:
The stretches in `Facilitated Stretching' are known as CRAC
(contract-relax, antagonist-contract) stretches. CRAC stretches
are the safest PNF stretches because there is no passive movement
- the athlete performs all of the stretching. `Facilitated
Stretching' contains 29 CRAC stretches, which address most of the
major muscle groups: 18 are single-muscle stretches, and 11 use
the spiral-diagonal patterns that are the heart of PNF
stretching. Once readers have learned these stretching
techniques, they will be able to design additional stretches for
almost any muscle or muscle group. The book also features many
self-stretching techniques that athletes can use to maintain their
gains in range of motion.
This is a "course" from HFL which claims that you can achieve "total
body flexibility in just 8 minutes a day." It explains and presents two
excellent stretching routines: one for increasing flexibility and one
for maintaining flexibility. It was the only work that I found which
discusses the importance of performing certain stretches in a
particular order. It is important to note that there is a significant
difference between the printed and videotape versions of the this
course (aside from price): The printed version has a much more
thorough discussion of theory, exercise selection, and exercise order;
whereas the stretching routines presented in the videotape are better
explained, and more "up to date".
`Stretch and Strengthen'
This is very good, but the author makes a few mistakes in some places
(in particular, she seems to equate the stretch reflex, reciprocal
inhibition, and PNF with one another). The book is devoted to static
stretching and to performing strengthening exercises of the muscles
stretched. Each exercise explains what to do, what not to do, and why.
There is also a separate section for diagnosing and correcting some
problems that you may encounter during a particular stretch.
`Health & Fitness Excellence'
Simply put, this is one of the best books available on overall health
and fitness. It has two chapters devoted to flexibility training that
explain and provide several static and PNF stretches (although it
refers to the PNF stretches as "tighten-relax" stretches). This is
*not* a "fad" book! It uses sound, proven, scientific principles and
research (explained in simple terms) to present programs for: reducing
stress, strength and flexibility training, nutritional wellness, body
fat control, postural vitality, rejuvenation and living environments
design, and mind and life unity. I highly recommend this book.
`Mobility Training for the Martial Arts'
This book is also quite good and quite comprehensive, but not as good
(in my personal opinion) as `Sport Stretch' or `Stretching
This book is a little old but is wonderfully written (although it could
be organized a bit better). It contains information at just about every
level of detail about stretching, increasing and maintaining
suppleness, and preventing the loss of suppleness. There is also a
glossary of terms and concepts near the end of the book.
A lot of people like this one. It presents a wide variety of stretches
and stretching routines and does a good job of explaining each one. It
does not go into too much detail about stretching other than just to
present the various stretches and routines.
~Appendix B Working Toward the Splits
The following stretching routine is tailored specifically to the purpose of
achieving the ability to perform both front splits and side splits. It
consists of the following exercises:
1. lower back stretches
2. lying buttock stretch
3. groin & inner-thigh stretch
4. seated calf stretch
5. seated hamstring stretch
6. seated inner-thigh stretch
7. psoas stretch
8. quadricep stretch
9. lying `V' stretch
DON'T FORGET TO WARM-UP YOUR BODY BEFORE PERFORMING ANY OF THESE EXERCISES.
See Section 4.1.1 [General Warm-Up].
The details on how to perform each of the stretches are discussed in the
following sections. Each section describes how to perform a passive
stretch, and an isometric stretch, for a particular muscle group. On a
given day, you should either perform only the passive stretches, or perform
only the PNF stretches, in the order given (see Section 3 [Types of
Stretching]). If you perform the PNF stretches, don't forget to rest 20
seconds after each PNF stretch, and don't perform the same PNF stretch more
than once per day (see Section 3.7 [PNF Stretching]). The isometric
stretches described do not require the assistance of a partner, but you may
certainly use a partner if you so desire. The order in which these
exercises are performed is important because the entire routine attempts to
employ the principle of synergism by stretching a muscle fully before using
that muscle as a "supporting muscle" in another stretch (see Section 4.7
PERFORM THESE STRETCHES AT YOUR OWN RISK! I CANNOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR
ANY INJURY WHICH MAY RESULT FROM YOU PERFORMING ANY OF THESE EXERCISES! See
As with all stretches, you should *not* stretch to the point of intense
pain! A tolerable amount of discomfort should be more than sufficient. You
do *not* want to pull (or tear) your muscles, or be very sore the next day.
~B.1 lower back stretches
These stretches work mostly the lower back, but also make some demands on
your abdominals, and your external obliques (sides).
Lying down with your back on the floor, straighten one leg, while bending
the knee of the other leg, and try to bring the thigh of your bent leg as
close as possible to your chest. Hold it there for 10-15 seconds. Then
cross your bent leg over your straight leg and try to touch your knee to
the floor (while trying to keep both shoulders on the ground). Repeat this
same procedure with the other leg. Then, bend both knees and bring both
thighs up against your chest (keeping your back on the floor). Hold that
for 10-15 seconds. Then, put both feet on the ground but keep the knees
bent. While trying to keep both shoulders on the ground, roll your legs
over to one side and try to get your knees to touch the floor beside you.
Hold for about 10-15 seconds and then do the same thing on the other side.
Now repeat the same stretch, but this time begin with your feet off the
floor so that your leg is bent at the knee at about a 90 degree angle.
As for isometric stretches for the back, I don't recommend them.
~B.2 lying buttock stretch
This mainly stretches your buttocks (gluteal muscles) but also makes some
demands on your groin and upper inner-thigh area. You must be very careful
*not* to apply any stress to the knee joint when performing this stretch.
Otherwise, serious injury (such as the tearing of cartilage) may occur.
Lie on your back again with both knees bent and in the air and with your
feet on the floor. Take your right foot in your left hand (with your hand
wrapping under your foot so that the fingertips are on its outside edge)
and hold your leg (with your knee bent) in the air about 1-3 feet above
your left breast (relax, we haven't started to stretch the buttocks just
yet). The leg you are holding should be in much the same position as it was
when you started your groin stretch in the previous exercise (only now it
is in the air because you are on your back). Exhale and slowly pull your
foot over to the side and up (toward your head) as if you were trying to
touch your outstretched leg about 12 inches to the outside of your left
shoulder. You should feel a good stretch in your buttocks about now. If you
feel any stress at all on your knee then stop at once. You are probably
pulling "up" too much and not enough to the side. You may wish to use your
free hand to support your knee in some way. Hold this stretch for about 20
seconds (and stop if you feel any stress in the knee joint). Now repeat
this same stretch with the other leg (using the other hand). Remember that
the leg you are *not* holding should have the sole of its foot on the floor
with the knee bent and in the air.
To make an isometric stretch out of this, when you are performing the
passive stretch (above) and feel the stretch in your buttocks, continue
trying to pull your foot to the outside of your shoulder while at the same
time resisting with your leg so that it pushes agains your hand. No actual
leg motion should take place, just the resistance. Stop immediately if you
feel any undue stress to your knee.
~B.3 groin and inner-thigh stretch
This mainly stretches your groin and upper inner-thigh area, but also makes
some demands on your lower back. It is often called the "butterfly stretch"
or "frog stretch" because of the shape that your legs make when you perform
Sit down with your back straight up (don't slouch, you may want to put your
back against a wall) and bend your legs, putting the soles of your feet
together. Try to get your heels as close to your groin as is *comfortably*
possible. Now that you are in the proper position, you are ready to
stretch. For the passive stretch, push your knees to the floor as far as
you can (you may use your hands to assist but do *not* resist with the
knees) and then hold them there. Once you have attained this position, keep
your knees where they are, and then exhale as you bend over, trying to get
your chest as close to the floor as possible. Hold this stretch for about
The isometric stretch is almost identical to the passive stretch, but
before you bend over, place your hands on your ankles and your elbows in
the crooks of your knees. As you bend over, use your elbows to "force" your
knees closer to the floor while at the same time pushing "up" (away from
the floor) with your thighs to resist against your arms.
~B.4 seated leg stretches
These include three different stretches performed for the calves,
hamstrings, and inner-thighs, but they are all performed in very similar
positions and I do all three stretches (in the order given) for one leg
before performing them for the other leg. You will need an apparatus for
this stretch: a bench, or a firm bed or couch (or you could use two chairs
with your butt on one chair and the heel of your foot on the other) that is
at least 12 inches off the ground (but not so high that you can't sit on it
with out your knees bent and the sole of your foot solidly on the floor).
The bench should be long enough to accommodate the full length of your leg.
Sit on the bench and have your leg comfortably extended out in front of you
(your heel should still be on the bench) and the other leg hanging out to
the side with the leg bent and the foot flat on the ground.
~B.4.1 seated calf stretch
With your leg extended directly in front of you, face your leg and bend it
slightly. Place your hands around the ball of your foot and gently pull
back so that you force yourself to flex your foot as much as possible.
Hold this stretch for about 20 seconds (don't forget to breathe).
Now for the isometric stretch: in this same position, use your hands to try
and force the ball (and toes) of your foot even further back toward you
while at the same time using your calf muscles to try and straighten your
foot and leg. You should be resisting enough with your hands so that no
actual foot (or leg) motion takes place.
~B.4.2 seated hamstring stretch
Now that our calf is stretched, we can get a more effective hamstring
stretch (since inflexibility in the calf can be a limiting factor in this
hamstring stretch). Still sitting on the bench in the same position,
straighten your leg out while trying to hold onto your outstretched leg
with both hands on either side as close as possible to your heel. Starting
up with your back straight, slowly exhale and try to bring your chest to
the knee of your outstretched leg. You should feel a "hefty" stretch in
your hamstring and even a considerable stretch in your calf (even though
you just stretched it). Hold this stretch for about 20 seconds.
Now for the isometric stretch: when you have gotten your chest as close as
you can to your knee, try and put both hands under the bench by your heel
(or both hands on opposite sides of your heel). Now grab on tight with
your hands and try to physically push your heel (keeping your leg straight)
downward "through" the bench, the bench will provide the necessary
resistance, and should prevent any leg motion from occurring.
~B.4.3 seated inner-thigh stretch
You should still be sitting on the bench with your outstretched leg in
front of you. Now turn on the bench so that your leg is outstretched to
your side, and you are facing the leg that is bent. You may perform this
next stretch with either your toe pointing up toward the ceiling or with
the inside edge of your foot flat on the bench with your toe pointing
forward (but flexed), or you may try this stretch both ways since you will
stretch some slightly different (but many of the same) muscles either way.
I prefer to keep my toe pointed towards the ceiling because I personally
feel that the other way applies to much stress to my knee, but you can do
whatever feels comfortable to you.
*Note:* If you are using two chairs instead of a bench, the first thing you
need to do is to make sure that one of the chairs supports your
outstretched leg somewhere between the knee and the hip. If the support is
being provided below the knee and you try to perform this stretch, there is
a good chance that you will injure ligaments and/or cartilage.
Place your hands underneath the bench directly under you (or you may keep
one hand under the portion of the bench that is below the knee of your
outstretched leg) and pull your self down and forward (keeping your back
straight) as if you were trying to touch your chest to the floor. You
should be able to feel the stretch in your inner-thigh. Hold this for
about 20 seconds.
For the isometric stretch, do the same thing you did with the hamstring
stretch: keep both hands underneath you as before and try to force your
foot downward "through" the bench.
~B.5 psoas stretch
This stretch is sometimes called the "runner's start" because the position
you are in resembles that of a sprinter at the starting block. It mainly
stretches the psoas muscle located just above the top of the thigh.
Crouch down on the floor with both hands and knees on the ground. put one
leg forward with your foot on the floor so that your front leg is bent at
the knee at about a 90 degree angle. Now extend you rear leg in back of
you so that it is almost completely straight (with just an ever so slight
bend) and so that the weight of your rear leg is on the ball of your rear
foot with the foot in a forced arch position. Now we are in the position to
stretch (notice that your rear leg should be in pretty much the same
position that it would assume if you were performing a front split).
Keeping your back straight and in line with your rear thigh, exhale and
slowly try to bring your chest down to the floor (you shouldn't need to
bend much further than the line your front knee is on). You should feel
the stretch primarily in the upper thigh of your rear leg but you should
also feel some stretch in your front hamstring as well. Hold this position
for at least 15 seconds. If you wish to also stretch your rear quadricep
from this position, you can shift your weight back so that your rear leg
makes a right angle with your knee pointing toward the floor (but don't let
it touch the floor). Now, without bending your rear leg any further, try to
force your rear knee straight down to the floor.
Now repeat the same stretch(es) with your other leg in front.
For an isometric stretch, you can do this same stretch in front of a wall
and instead of putting your hands on the floor, put them in front of you
against the wall and then push against the wall with the ball of your foot
(without decreasing the "stretch" in your psoas).
~B.6 quadricep stretch
For this stretch you will need one (or two) pillows or soft cushions to
place between your knee and the floor. You must be very careful when
performing this stretch because it can be hard on the knees. Please be
advised to take it easy (and not overdo) while performing this exercise.
Put the pillow under your rear knee and let your knee rest on the floor.
Lift up your rear foot and grab onto your foot with the opposite hand (grab
the instep if possible, but if you can only reach the heel, that is okay).
If you have trouble grabbing your foot, then you may need to sit (or shift)
back onto your rear leg so that you can grab it, and then shift back into
your original position. Now, exhale and very gently, but steadily, pull
your foot toward its buttock (butt-cheek) and lean toward your front foot
(you may also wish to twist your waist and trunk towards the foot you are
holding). You should feel a tremendous stretch in the quadricep (top right
thigh) of the foot that you are pulling. If you begin to feel stress in
your knee, then discontinue the exercise (but let your foot down slowly -
not all at once). Hold this stretch for about 15 seconds. When you are
finished, shift your weight slowly back onto your rear leg and let your
foot down while you are still holding onto it. Do not just let go and let
your foot snap back to the ground - this is bad for your knee.
Now for the isometric stretch: Get into the same position as for the
passive quadricep stretch, but as you lean forward and pull on your foot,
resist with the leg you are holding by trying to push your instep back down
to the ground and out of the grip of your hand (but no actual movement
should take place).
Now do the same stretch with your other leg in front.
Stop the stretch immediately if you feel pain or discomfort in your knee.
~B.7 lying `V' stretch
This stretch is very good for working toward a side (chinese) split (see
Section 4.12.3 [The Side Split]). This exercise should be performed *after*
you have stretched each of these areas individually with prior stretches
(like the ones mentioned above).
Start by lying down with your back flat on the ground and your legs
straight together in the air at a 90 degree angle. Try to have your legs
turned out so that your knees are facing the side walls more than they are
facing your head. Slowly bring your legs down to the sides, keeping your
legs straight and turned out. When you reach the point where you cannot
bring them down any further into this "lying" side split position, leave
Now for the stretch: With your feet both flexed or both pointed (your
choice) use your arms to reach in and grab your legs. Each arm should grab
the leg on the same side. Try to get a hold of the leg between the ankle
and the knee (right at the beginning portion of the calf that is closest to
the ankle is almost perfect). Now, exhale and use your arms to gently but
steadily force your legs down further and wider (keeping the legs straight)
getting closer to the lying side-split position (where, ideally, your
kneecaps would be "kissing" the floor). Hold this position and keep applying
steady pressure with your arms for about 20 seconds.
For the isometric stretch, you do the same thing as the passive stretch
except that, as you use your arms to force your legs wider, use your inner
and outer thigh muscles to try and force your legs back up together and
straight (like a scissors closing), but apply enough resistance with your
arms so that no motion takes place (this can be tough since your arms are
usually stronger than your legs). You may find that you get a much better
stretch if you use a partner (rather than your own arms) to apply the
~Appendix C Normal Ranges of Joint Motion
According to Kurz, the following tables indicates the normal ranges of
joint motion for various parts of the body:
Flexion: 70-90 degrees
Touch sternum with chin.
Extension: 55 degrees
Try to point up with chin.
Lateral bending: 35 degrees
Bring ear close to shoulder.
Rotation: 70 degrees left & right
Turn head to the left, then right.
~C.2 Lumbar Spine
Flexion: 75 degrees
Bend forward at the waist.
Extension: 30 degrees
Lateral bending: 35 degrees
Bend to the side.
Abduction: 180 degrees
Bring arm up sideways.
Adduction: 45 degrees
Bring arm toward the midline of the body.
Horizontal extension: 45 degrees
Swing arm horizontally backward.
Horizontal flexion: 130 degrees
Swing arm horizontally forward.
Vertical extension: 60 degrees
Raise arm straight backward.
Vertical flexion: 180 degrees
Raise arm straight forward.
Flexion: 150 degrees
Bring lower arm to the biceps
Extension: 180 degrees
Straighten out lower arm.
Supination: 90 degrees
Turn lower arm so palm of hand faces up.
Pronation: 90 degrees
Turn lower arm so palm faces down.
Flexion: 80-90 degrees
Bend wrist so palm nears lower arm.
Extension: 70 degrees
Bend wrist in opposite direction.
Radial deviation: 20 degrees
Bend wrist so thumb nears radius.
Ulnar deviation: 30-50 degrees
Bend wrist so pinky finger nears ulna.
Flexion: 110-130 degrees
Flex knee and bring thigh close to abdomen.
Extension: 30 degrees
Move thigh backward without moving the pelvis.
Abduction: 45-50 degrees
Swing thigh away from midline.
Adduction: 20-30 degrees
Bring thigh toward and across midline.
Internal rotation: 40 degrees
Flex knee and swing lower leg away from midline.
External rotation: 45 degrees
Flex knee and swing lower leg toward midline.
Flexion: 130 degrees
Touch calf to hamstring.
Extension: 15 degrees
Straighten out knee as much as possible.
Internal rotation: 10 degrees
Twist lower leg toward midline.
Flexion: 45 degrees
Bend ankle so toes point up.
Extension: 20 degrees
Bend ankle so toes point down.
Pronation: 30 degrees
Turn foot so the sole faces in.
Supination: 20 degrees
Turn foot so the sole faces out.
* actin: 1.2 [Muscle Composition]
* active flexibility: 2.1 [Types of Flexibility]
* active stretching: 3.3 [Active Stretching]
* aerobic activity: 188.8.131.52 [Aerobic Activity]
* agonists: 1.4 [Cooperating Muscle Groups]
* Alter, Judy: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* Alter, Michael J.: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* Alter, Michael J.: [Acknowledgements]
* Anderson, Bob: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* ankle, range of motion of: C.8 [Ankle]
* antagonists: 1.4 [Cooperating Muscle Groups]
* autogenic inhibition: 1.6.3 [The Lengthening Reaction]
* ballistic stretching: 3.1 [Ballistic Stretching]
* Beaulieu, John E.: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* benefits of stretching: 4 [How to Stretch]
* books on stretching: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* butterfly stretch: B.3 [groin and inner-thigh stretch]
* chinese split: 4.12.1 [Common Problems When Performing Splits]
* circadian rhythms: 4.8 [When to Stretch]
* clasped-knife reflex: 1.6.3 [The Lengthening Reaction]
* collagen: 1.3 [Connective Tissue]
* collagenous connective tissue: 1.3 [Connective Tissue]
* common stretching mistakes: 4 [How to Stretch]
* concentric contraction: 1.5 [Types of Muscle Contractions]
* connective tissue: 1.3 [Connective Tissue]
* contract-relax, PNF stretching technique: 3.7 [PNF Stretching]
* contract-relax-antagonist-contract, PNF stretching technique: 3.7 [PNF Stretching]
* contract-relax-contract, PNF stretching technique: 3.7 [PNF Stretching]
* contractile proteins: 1.2 [Muscle Composition]
* cooling down: 4.2 [Cooling Down]
* Cooper, Robert K.: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* CRAC, PNF stretching technique: 3.7 [PNF Stretching]
* Croce, Pat: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* different types of flexibility: 2.1 [Types of Flexibility]
* different types of stretching: 3 [Types of Stretching]
* dynamic flexibility: 2.1 [Types of Flexibility]
* dynamic stretching: 3.2 [Dynamic Stretching]
* dynamic warm-up stretching: 184.108.40.206 [Dynamic Warm-Up Stretching]
* early-morning stretching: 4.8.1 [Early-Morning Stretching]
* eccentric contraction: 1.5 [Types of Muscle Contractions]
* elastic connective tissue: 1.3 [Connective Tissue]
* elastin: 1.3 [Connective Tissue]
* elbow, range of motion of: C.4 [Elbow]
* endomysium: 1.3 [Connective Tissue]
* epimysium: 1.3 [Connective Tissue]
* extrafusal muscle fibers: 1.6.1 [Proprioceptors]
* fascia: 1.3 [Connective Tissue]
* fascial sheaths of muscle: 1.3 [Connective Tissue]
* fascicles: 1.2 [Muscle Composition]
* fasciculi: 1.2 [Muscle Composition]
* fast-twitch fibers: 1.2.2 [Fast and Slow Muscle Fibers]
* fixators: 1.4 [Cooperating Muscle Groups]
* flexibility: 2 [Flexibility]
* flexibility, factors affecting: 2.2 [Factors Limiting Flexibility]
* flexibility, limiting factors: 2.2 [Factors Limiting Flexibility]
* Frenette, Jean: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* frog stretch: B.3 [groin and inner-thigh stretch]
* front split: 4.12.1 [Common Problems When Performing Splits]
* general warm-up: 4.1.1 [General Warm-Up]
* golgi tendon organ: 1.6.1 [Proprioceptors]
* groin and inner-thigh stretch: B.3 [groin and inner-thigh stretch]
* Gummerson, Tony: [Acknowledgements]
* Gummerson, Tony: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* Health for Life: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* Health for Life: [Acknowledgements]
* HFL: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* HFL: [Acknowledgements]
* hip, range of motion of: C.6 [Hip]
* hold-relax, PNF stretching technique: 3.7 [PNF Stretching]
* hold-relax-contract, PNF stretching technique: 3.7 [PNF Stretching]
* innervate: 1.6.4 [Reciprocal Inhibition]
* interdependency of muscle groups: 4.7 [Exercise Order]
* intrafusal muscle fibers: 1.6.1 [Proprioceptors]
* inverse myotatic reflex: 1.6.3 [The Lengthening Reaction]
* isolation offered by a stretch: 4.4.1 [Isolation]
* isometric agonist contraction/relaxation: 3.7 [PNF Stretching]
* isometric antagonist contraction: 3.7 [PNF Stretching]
* isometric contraction: 1.5 [Types of Muscle Contractions]
* isometric stretching: 3.6 [Isometric Stretching]
* isotonic contraction: 1.5 [Types of Muscle Contractions]
* Jerome, John: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* joint rotations: 220.127.116.11 [Joint Rotations]
* joints: 1.1 [The Musculoskeletal System]
* kinetic flexibility: 2.1 [Types of Flexibility]
* knee, range of motion of: C.7 [Knee]
* Kurz, Tom: [Acknowledgements]
* Kurz, Tom: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* Lala, Marco: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* lengthening reaction: 1.6.3 [The Lengthening Reaction]
* leverage offered by a stretch: 4.4.2 [Leverage]
* ligaments: 1.1 [The Musculoskeletal System]
* limiting factors of flexibility: 2.2 [Factors Limiting Flexibility]
* lower back stretches: B.1 [lower back stretches]
* lumbar spine, range of motion of: C.2 [Lumbar Spine]
* lying V stretch: B.7 [lying `V' stretch]
* lying buttock stretch: B.2 [lying buttock stretch]
* McAtee, Robert E.: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* mechanoreceptors: 1.6.1 [Proprioceptors]
* metabolic accumulation: 4.11.1 [Common Causes of Muscular Soreness]
* mitochondria: 1.2.2 [Fast and Slow Muscle Fibers]
* mobility: 2.2 [Factors Limiting Flexibility]
* mobility, factors affecting: 2.2 [Factors Limiting Flexibility]
* mucopolysaccharide: 1.3 [Connective Tissue]
* muscle fibers: 1.2 [Muscle Composition]
* muscle spasms: 4.11.1 [Common Causes of Muscular Soreness]
* muscle spindle: 1.6.1 [Proprioceptors]
* musculoskeletal system: 1.1 [The Musculoskeletal System]
* myofilaments: 1.2 [Muscle Composition]
* myofybrils: 1.2 [Muscle Composition]
* myosin: 1.2 [Muscle Composition]
* myotatic reflex: 1.6.2 [The Stretch Reflex]
* neck, range of motion of: C.1 [Neck]
* neuromuscular junction: 1.2.1 [How Muscles Contract]
* neutralizers: 1.4 [Cooperating Muscle Groups]
* nuclear bag fibers: 18.104.22.168 [Components of the Stretch Reflex]
* nuclear chain fibers: 22.214.171.124 [Components of the Stretch Reflex]
* pacinian corpuscles: 1.6.1 [Proprioceptors]
* passive flexibility: 2.1 [Types of Flexibility]
* passive stretching: 3.4 [Passive Stretching]
* perimysium: 1.3 [Connective Tissue]
* Peterson, Susan L.: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* plyometrics: 1.6.2 [The Stretch Reflex]
* PNF stretching: 3.7 [PNF Stretching]
* post-isometric relaxation techniques: 3.7 [PNF Stretching]
* prime movers: 1.4 [Cooperating Muscle Groups]
* proprioception: 1.6.1 [Proprioceptors]
* proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation: 3.7 [PNF Stretching]
* proprioceptors: 1.6.1 [Proprioceptors]
* psoas stretch: B.5 [psoas stretch]
* quadricep stretch: B.6 [quadricep stretch]
* ranges of joint motion: Appendix C [Normal Ranges of Joint Motion]
* reciprocal inhibition: 1.6.4 [Reciprocal Inhibition]
* reciprocal innervation: 1.6.4 [Reciprocal Inhibition]
* references on stretching: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* relaxed stretching: 3.4 [Passive Stretching]
* relaxed warm-up stretching: 126.96.36.199 [Static Warm-Up Stretching]
* respiratory pump: 4.6 [Breathing During Stretching]
* risk of injury from a stretch: 4.4.3 [Risk]
* runner's start: B.5 [psoas stretch]
* sarcomeres: 1.2 [Muscle Composition]
* seated calf stretch: B.4.1 [seated calf stretch]
* seated hamstring stretch: B.4.2 [seated hamstring stretch]
* seated inner-thigh stretch: B.4.3 [seated inner-thigh stretch]
* seated leg stretches: B.4 [seated leg stretches]
* Shields, Andrew T.: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* shoulder, range of motion of: C.3 [Shoulder]
* side split: 4.12.1 [Common Problems When Performing Splits]
* slow-twitch fibers: 1.2.2 [Fast and Slow Muscle Fibers]
* Smith, Ann: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* Solveborn, Sven-A: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* split-stretching machines: 4.12.4 [Split-Stretching Machines]
* sport-specific activity: 4.1.3 [Sport-Specific Activity]
* stabilizers: 1.4 [Cooperating Muscle Groups]
* static stretching: 3.5 [Static Stretching]
* static warm-up stretching: 188.8.131.52 [Static Warm-Up Stretching]
* static-active flexibility: 2.1 [Types of Flexibility]
* static-active stretching: 3.3 [Active Stretching]
* static-passive flexibility: 2.1 [Types of Flexibility]
* static-passive stretching: 3.4 [Passive Stretching]
* Sternad & Bozdech: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* stretch receptors: 1.6.1 [Proprioceptors]
* stretch reflex: 1.6.2 [The Stretch Reflex]
* stretch reflex, dynamic component: 184.108.40.206 [Components of the Stretch Reflex]
* stretch reflex, static component: 220.127.116.11 [Components of the Stretch Reflex]
* Sullivan, John Patrick: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* synergism: 4.7 [Exercise Order]
* synergists: 1.4 [Cooperating Muscle Groups]
* tendons: 1.1 [The Musculoskeletal System]
* Tobias, Maxine: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* torn tissue: 4.11.1 [Common Causes of Muscular Soreness]
* Type 1 muscle fibers: 1.2.2 [Fast and Slow Muscle Fibers]
* Type 2A muscle fibers: 1.2.2 [Fast and Slow Muscle Fibers]
* Type 2B muscle fibers: 1.2.2 [Fast and Slow Muscle Fibers]
* types of flexibility: 2.1 [Types of Flexibility]
* types of stretching: 3 [Types of Stretching]
* videotapes on stretching: Appendix A [References on Stretching]
* warm-up stretching: 4.1.2 [Warm-Up Stretching]
* warming down: 4.2 [Cooling Down]
* warming up: 4.1 [Warming Up]
* wrist, range of motion of: C.5 [Wrist]