Most people don't need the flexibility required for advanced yoga moves. You
do, however, need a certain level of flexibility, which many people lack. If
you want to participate in a sports or leisure activity that requires more
flexibility than you now have, becoming more flexible will help you avoid
injury. Many people spend most of their day sitting-on the job, in the car,
at the dinner table. Sitting for extended periods day in and day out,
without adequate stretching and movement, leads to loss of flexibility and
muscle imbalances. It's not long before bending over to pick up your socks
becomes a challenge.
Tennis players often have to move very quickly into a lunge while bending,
reaching and twisting to make a forehand (push pattern) or backhand (pull
pattern) shot. Fig. 1a shows a tennis player who has adequate flexibility
while the player in Fig. 1b hasn't; the red arrows indicate areas where the
latter player is at higher risk of injury due to inflexibility.
Posture and stretching
Poor posture indicates the need for a stretching programme to lengthen short
muscles, and an exercise programme to strengthen weak/loose muscles. To
better understand how muscle imbalances affect your body, think of a bicycle
wheel. If it's out of balance (Fig. 2a), the bicycle won't handle well, and
the stress could cause the wheel to fall apart. To make a crooked bicycle
wheel roll straight, you must shorten/tighten the loose spokes and
lengthen/loosen the tight ones. If you have poor posture, you need to
lengthen the short muscles and strengthen or tighten the long or weak
muscles to bring your body back into balance (Fig. 2b).
People often make the mistake of stretching muscles that don't need
stretching and not stretching the ones that do. If you do any of the
stretches outlined here and your muscle(s) don't feel tight, that means you
don't need to include that particular stretch in your routine. However,
assess yourself every two to four weeks, as you may find that you need to
add a different stretch for a different muscle. Many of the following
stretches use a contract-relax method, comprising three basic phases.
1. Move into the initial stretch. You should feel the muscles being
stretched, but it shouldn't be uncomfortable.
2. Contract the muscle being stretched. Use either your hand or the
floor for resistance. Use only a light force when you contract.
3. Relax immediately back into the stretch after you release the
contraction. You should find that you can now stretch farther.
Doing this process three to five times per muscle at each session is
(shoulder blade muscles; Fig. 3)
- Reach one arm as far down between your shoulder blades as possible,
looking as far as you comfortably can to the opposite side
- Take a deep breath in and hold for 5 seconds; as you exhale, look
down as far as you can towards your shoulder.
Rhomboids (muscles between shoulder blades; Fig. 4)
- Kneel in front of a Swiss ball and place your elbow on the ball,
with your fore-arm reaching across your body to rest on your shoulder
- Inhale and press into the ball with your elbow as you attempt to
draw your shoulder blade toward your spine; use your opposite hand to hold
the ball still
- Hold for 5 seconds, then release as you exhale and move farther into
the stretch, allowing the shoulder blade to move away from your spine; use
your opposite arm to roll the ball across your body.
Chest (Fig. 5, a & b)
- Pectoralis major (the large chest muscle, a)
v With your forearm on a Swiss ball and shoulders
parallel to the ground, drop your body to-wards the floor; when you've
reach-ed a good stretch, inhale and press your forearm into the ball for 5
v Exhale, and go back into the stretch; you should
feel no pain in the shoulder joint.
- Pectoralis minor (the smaller muscle beneath pectoralis major, b)
v Place your shoulder on the ball and, as you drop
your upper body downwards, allow your shoulder blade to move towards your
v Inhale and press your shoulder into the ball for 5
seconds, exhale and lower your-self into a new stretch, keeping your torso
parallel to the floor.
Trunk rotation (Fig. 6)
- Lie flat on your back with the knees bent and pointing at the
- Place one hand on your thigh and keep the other arm outstretched for
- Slowly roll your legs to one side until you feel a stretch in your
lower back; inhale and reduce the support of your outstretched arm to work
the trunk muscles
- Hold for 5 seconds and repeat on the other side; continue to
practice this stretch until you can comfortably place both thighs on the
floor or until you are no longer improving your range of motion.
Middle back and abdominals (Fig. 7)
Caution: If you become dizzy looking up (such as when putting something away
on a high shelf), you may also become dizzy during this stretch. Stop the
stretch as soon as you feel any unusual symptoms such as nausea, dizziness
or changes in vision. You should also see your doctor for a complete
evaluation of your neck to rule out occlusion of the vertebral artery. Also,
be sure to perform this stretch on a non-slip surface.
- Sitting on a Swiss ball, walk your legs out and roll backwards until
you are lying across the ball, then extend your arms back over your head
- To increase the stretch, slowly straighten your legs and hold this
position for 1 minute.
Lunge (Fig. 8)
- Assume a lunge position, making sure your front foot stays in front
of the bent knee
- Draw your belly button in towards your spine and tuck your tail
under (to flatten your lower back)
- Move your whole pelvis forwards, keeping it square to the front
- To increase the stretch, reach the arm on the side of the trailing
leg over your head and bend your trunk towards the other side; rotating your
pelvis towards the front leg will increase the stretch.
Hamstrings (Fig. 9)
- Lie on your back with a small rolled-up towel under your back at
belt-line level [the towel, when compressed, should be the width and
thickness (of the fattest part) of your hand]
- With both hands, bend one leg, hold it just above the knee and
slowly straighten the leg until it's perpendicular to the floor, while
flexing the toes towards your shin; don't allow your back to come off the
- Hold this stretch for 20 seconds.
90/90 Hip stretch (Fig. 10)
- Sit on the floor with one leg extending forwards and the other
reaching backwards, with both bent to 90 degrees; the angle at your groin
should also be 90 degrees
- Place your hand on the ground next to your hip, and tip your pelvis
as though it were a bowl and you're trying to pour the contents out over
your belt line
- Imagine sticking your butt backwards, like Donald Duck, to increase
the curvature of your lower back; keep this curve in your lower back while
keeping your chest and head up as you lean forwards over the front leg
- When you feel a comfortable stretch in your outer thigh and hip,
inhale and press the front knee and ankle firmly into the ground for 5
seconds; then exhale and lean even further forwards to increase the stretch.
Adapted from How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy! by Paul Chek, founder of the
C.H.E.K Institute in Encinitas, CA, and an internationally recognized
lecturer and educator in the fields of orthopaedic rehabilitation, and
corrective and performance exercise. For more information, call 01924 566
091 (UK) or visit his website at www.chekinstitute.com.
Vol 20 07 October 2009