There is a big debate in the worlds of strength and conditioning, physical therapy, and performance. Some research says that stretching is beneficial to improve flexibility while others say otherwise.
Like anything, it depends! Stretching is not the answer for everybody. Stretching and mobility work can be beneficial to some people to decrease pain, improve mobility, strength, and function.
Whether or not you believe in stretching, here are 5 stretches that are usually performed with poor technique.
1. Hip Flexors
Walk into any gym and I will find at least one person stretching their hip flexors, or at least attempting to.
Decreased hip extension mobility can contribute to shoulder and elbow dysfunction in baseball players, knee and ankle issues in the lower extremity, and to low back pain. Adequate hip extension mobility is important.
The problem with stretching the hip flexor musculature is when this stretch looks like the picture from above.
The femoral head is gliding anteriorly. There is a raging anterior pelvic tilt with associated lumbar spine extension. Most likely, the person is not stretching their hip flexors and are placing increased strain through their lumbar spine and anterior hip capsule.
Instead of performing it like so, the body needs to be placed in the correct position.
-Press down into front knee.
-Squeeze trail leg glute.
-Gently shift hips anteriorly.
-Gently stretch should be felt in front of the trail leg hip.
You can also perform it like so in order to make sure there is not an increased amount of translation anteriorly by the body.
The quadriceps are also known to limit hip extension as well and technically can be considered a hip flexor as well as a knee extensor. The typical “quad stretch” that you see people doing,
exhibits similar miscues as the hip flexor stretch did with an excessive anterior pelvic tilt/lumbar lordosis. Instead of feeding into those miscues, try this more effective quadriceps stretch.
-Press straight down into forward knee to activate the anterior core musculature.
-Squeeze trail leg glute.
By pressing down into the knee as well as squeezing the trail leg glute, this will help to place the pelvis in a more neutral alignment as compared to being in an anterior tilt. The same holds true for the hip flexor stretch mentioned prior.
3. Latissimus Dorsi
The Latissimus Dorsi aka the “lats,” for short, are a common muscle group that limits overhead shoulder flexion, abduction, as well as shoulder external rotation. These 3 motions are imperative for overhead lifting as well as just everyday function.
Many will attempt to stretch the “lats” by grabbing onto a stationary object such as a squat rack and just yanking on their arm.
The drawback of performing a “lat stretch” like this is that you are “stretching” more than just your lats. You are placing increased stress on the capsule of the glenohumeral joint and forcing the humerus up and into the acromion. The last thing we want to do is to do that and cause irritation to the labrum and/or rotator cuff.
Instead, try performing a Stabilized Lat Stretch.
-Hold onto something sturdy.
-Use opposite hand to stabilize scapula against rib cage.
-Sit hips posteriorly until gentle stretch is felt in lats.
By performing it in this fashion, a true isolated stretch is placed through the latissimus dorsi and in turn decrease stress/strain on the glenohumeral joint.
4. Ankle Dorsiflexion
The Gastrocnemius aka the “Calf” takes lot’s of the blame of limiting ankle dorsiflexion range of motion. We must not forget about the Soleus musculature as well. With the soleus, this limits ankle dorsiflexion when the knee is flexed. The soleus is much more of an influence because most activities such as squatting, deadlift, lunging, etc. occur with a flexed knee.
Most people will stretch their soleus like so:
Instead of performing it like the picture shown above, make sure to keep the foot either neutral or even slightly turned medially. This will decrease the incidence of over-pronating through the subtalar joint and creating a false sense of a stretch. If someone dives into pronation, the tension is then taken off of the soleus musculature and a true stretch is not achieved.
There are many reasons why someone may have “tight” hamstrings. From anterior pelvic tilt, core instability, neural tension, etc., someone can have the sensation that their hamstrings are tight.
Too many people perform a hamstring stretch that looks like this:
By performing it with a flexed lumbar spine, the hamstrings are not being placed on a true stretch. Instead, place the spine in a neutral alignment and move solely through the hip.
Also, you can perform a 90/90 Hamstring stretch where you are lying on your back.
The benefit of the 90/90 Hamstring Stretch is that you are supine and your lumbar spine is in a neutral alignment.
So, if you, your clients, or your patients are doing any of these stretches, try modifying them as shown above to improve the benefit, decrease risk for injury, and improve body positioning.
Here I will be writing and posting about topics ranging from physical therapy, injury prevention/reduction, and strength and conditioning.