Best Stretch, Better Stretch Audio
Listen to the Best Stretch, Better Stretch Audio. Includes how to choose the best stretch for your needs, plus 6 tips on how to get a better stretch.
by Brad Walker | First Published February 19, 2007 | Updated September 14, 2017
I’m always hearing comments like; “This is the best stretch.” or “You should never do this stretch.” So… Is there any such thing as a best stretch? Or is one stretch really better than another?
In this free audio presentation titled, Best Stretch, Better Stretch, you’ll learn how to decide whether a stretch is safe or unsafe for you. Plus, you’ll also learn how to choose the best stretches for your specific requirements.
If you’re looking to improve your sporting performance, or just minimize injuries, it is important to follow the information in this audio. In addition, adding a few simple stretches to your fitness program will also help. To get started on a safe and effective stretching routine that’s just right for you, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility.
Read the Best Stretch, Better Stretch Transcript
Moderator: All right, everybody, my name is Geo, and welcome to Fitcom Expo. This is our third, and last day of Fitcom Expo. I can hear, hopefully, they’re not sighs of relief, but you know, appears that we’re going to be ending this. But again, it’s been a great event, and this presentation that Brad Walker is about to put together will definitely live up to the hype, and it will definitely open your eyes, and I had an opportunity to see the presentation in advance, so hopefully you guys take notes, and let me stop talking, and let me give it away to Brad. Thank you, Brad.
Brad: Thank you very much, Geo. It’s a absolute pleasure and honor to be part of the Fitcom Expo. And just to see the mass of talent that you’ve got contributing is just awesome, and it’s, like I said, an absolute honor to be a part of it. What I wanna do is just start by giving a little bit a background about myself, and then get straight into the presentation.
As Geo said, my name’s Brad Walker, and I’ve been in the health and fitness industry for about 20 years now. I started athletics about 20, 25 years ago. I was running track, and competing as a swimmer, and eventually moved into triathlons, and actually, competed as a full time professional triathlete for a few years.
And during my time as an athlete, I started to work with some coaches, and I was fortunate enough to work with a couple of coaches, a swimming coach in particular, who had a number of Olympic athletes in his squad. And later on, after working with him for a while, I went to university, and studied health science in sport and exercise.
And when I left there, I started working with another sports coach, by the name of Col Stewart. And he’s the coach and father of World Triathlon Champion, Miles Stewart. And while working with him, I was lucky enough to work with a whole range of athletes, from sports as diverse as triathlon, to roller skating, 500cc motorcycle racing, squash players, cyclists, runners, and a whole range of athletes.
And one of the things we started to see was that a lot of these athletes were being held back by injury. And so we started to do some testing, and we started to look into reasons why these athletes were getting injured. And one of the things we found was quite a substantial lack of flexibility in either specific areas of the body, or just generally all over.
So this led to us trying a lot of different techniques, and a lot of different methods. We incorporated just about every type of stretching that we could think of. And we basically experimented on these athletes to see if improving their flexibility would help to not only reduce their injuries, but also improve their performance.
So it was quite a learning experience for myself, and that’s where my passion for stretching and flexibility started. And from there, we’ve developed a number of techniques, tools, tips, and so forth to help athletes.
It’s interesting to note that, recently, the stretching and flexibility field is just starting to move in a forward direction. For a long time, it’s been going in circles. And there’s been a lot of debate about the benefits of stretching, and the benefits of flexibility, and so forth. And in past times, we’ve had a pendulum effect where a lot of people have said that stretching is no longer valid, and then we swing to the other side of the pendulum, where people have said that stretching is the “be all” and the “end all” of physical performance, and so forth.
But what we’re starting to see now is a more mature view, I think, of stretching and flexibility, and how it can be used to reduce the incidents of injury, sports injury, and also improve performance. So it’s an exciting time for the field, and I think, over the next five to ten years, you’ll see some big advances in the field of stretching and flexibility.
I relate the field of stretching and flexibility to where strength training was 20 years ago. If anyone’s been in the industry for that long, they’ll probably remember, years ago, the debates that raged over whether strength training was beneficial for athletes.
And again, we had this pendulum effect, where people would say that strength training plays no part in athletic development. And if you’re a runner, you just need to run. If you’re a swimmer, you just need to swim. And fortunately, over the years, we’ve gone back, and back, and I think, back and forth. And I think, now, we’ve developed quite a mature and balanced view of how to use strength training to complement athletes.
And I think, the same thing’s gonna happen with stretching and flexibility over the next few years. We’ll start to develop a more mature, balanced view of how to use stretching and flexibility as part of athletic conditioning, and training.
So with that said, I wanna get into the presentation. And what we’re gonna be looking at today is a common question that we get here at the institute. And we commonly hear questions from people along the lines of, “Should I do this particular stretch, or should I do that particular stretch?” Or, “My coach, or my trainer told me that this stretch is a bad stretch.” Or, “This stretch is a great stretch, and everyone should be doing it.”
So what we’re gonna be looking at is, “Can we really define a good stretch or a bad stretch?” And if there are only good and bad stretches, how do we decide which ones are good, and which ones are bad, so by the end of this presentation, hopefully, you’ll have an understanding of appropriate stretches, or appropriate people. And you’ll be able to make those decisions, either for yourself, or your clients.
So firstly, we’re going to look at can we really label a stretch? And then, we’ll have a look at some of the precautions you can take for safe stretching, and so forth. So firstly, I wanna make the point that there is no such thing as a good or bad stretch. There are only stretches that are appropriate for the specific requirements of the individual.
So in other words, a stretch that’s perfectly okay for me, may not be okay for you or someone else. And again, this is a sign of the maturity of the stretching and flexibility industry at the moment. If you were to say to a strength coach, for example, “This particular exercise is a good exercise,” well, immediately, they’d say, “A good exercise for who? A good exercise for what? What are you trying to achieve? Who is the individual involved?”
And then, once we get an understanding of that, then we can make a decision as to which stretches are appropriate, or which strength exercises are appropriate, and so forth. So what we need to be careful of is labelling stretches as good or bad because that does a couple of things.
Firstly, by labelling a stretch as bad, it prevents a number of people who are well and truly capable of doing that particular stretch from doing it. But worse still, by labelling a stretch as good, it gives people the impression that they can do that stretch anywhere, anytime, and any way they like.
And that’s certainly not a good thing because it gives people the impression that they can do this stretch with safety, and so forth. So that can certainly lead to the wrong person doing the wrong stretch at the wrong time. And obviously, could lead to injury and so forth.
So how do we decide whether a stretch is safe or not? And again, it’s great to see the industry moving from a one-size-fits-all to individual programs for individual people, and it’s certainly a great thing, especially in the strength industry. We’re seeing movements away from the one-size-fits-all approach.
You know, there was a time when, if you walked into a gym, you were basically given the same set of exercises that everyone else got. And there was no consideration to your particular needs, your particular restrictions, or requirements, whether you had any injuries or ailments, or any past conditions that had to be taken into account. There was no consideration for any of this.
So it’s great to see that we’re starting to move towards a more individualized, or personalized program. And I think this is a very positive thing. So since we’ve established that there’s no such thing as a good or bad stretch, only that which is appropriate for the individual, so how do we go about making sure that the particular stretch you want to do is not only appropriate, but also safe for the individual to do?
So there’s a few things we need to look at before we can decide which particular stretches are appropriate, and which aren’t. So one of the first things we need to do is we need to make a general review of the individual. And we’re looking at things like, “Is the individual healthy, and physically active? Or have they been leading a sedentary lifestyle?”
Now, this is obviously very important regarding the intensity of the stretching that is going to be undertaken. Obviously, if someone’s a quite fit and active individual, and they’re engaged in regular physical activity, and so forth, our approach to stretching can be somewhat more aggressive. Whereas, someone who’s been leading a sedentary lifestyle for quite a while, and hasn’t had any exposure to physical activity, and so forth, certain precautions need to be taken there.
Just as if someone walked into a gym, and had been literally sitting on the couch for the last five years, the lead-up, and the progression, and so forth, has to match the physical fitness, or the physical state of the individual. So that’s the first thing we need to look at.
Secondly, we need to be aware of certain injuries or ailments that the individual might be carrying, or experiencing at that time. You know, do they have any aches and pains, or joint stiffness, muscle stiffness. Have they had any injuries in the past that haven’t quite healed properly, or keep flaring up on a regular basis, and so forth?
So these are the sort of things that we need to consider from an overall perspective to try and get a picture of the individual, and their fitness level, and so forth. Just exactly the same as you would when you’re prescribing a strength exercises and so forth. This thing we need to take consideration of is the specific area that we’re going to be stretching.
So it’s important to look at the particular muscle groups that will be involved in a particular stretch. And consult with the individual to see if there has been any previous damage to soft tissues like joints, and ligaments, and tendons, and muscles, and so forth. Is the individual still recovering from an injury? Is there something in the past that keeps flaring up that we need to be aware of?
And once we start to get this picture of the overall physical condition of the athlete, or of the person, then we can start to look at prescribing different stretches, and so forth. So let’s have a look at some more specific precautions that we should be looking at taking before we start to get an individual to stretch, and so forth.
So one of the first things we need to be looking at is we need to be preparing the athlete, or the individual to stretch. Now, a lot of people confuse stretching, and the warm-up. And they tend to try and either separate the two, or they actually consider stretching to be the warm-up, and that’s certainly not the case.
We need to prepare the body for stretches, and it’s important that we do that by warming up the muscles, and so forth. So and, in recent times, a lot of strength trainers are starting to refer to this part of training as movement preparation, and so forth.
So but what we’re primarily trying to do is prepare the body and mind for more strenuous activity. And whether that be strength exercises, or cardiovascular exercises, or stretching, it’s important that the body is prepared for that.
So by warming up, or by preparing for movement with different light activity-type exercises, where we’re helping to increase the body’s core temperature, and increase the body’s muscle temperature.
And by doing this, we’re getting the blood flowing through the body, and through the muscles, where we’re getting essential nutrients and oxygen into the muscles to prepare them for more activity. And this preparation is essential to insure not only safety during stretching, but also to insure that the maximum benefits are gained from the stretching.
So once we get into the stretching, then there’s a couple of precautions that we should be looking at taking, and these are fairly well known among strength and conditioning coaches, and personal trainers, and so forth. But it’s important that, as trainers and coaches, that we pass things on to the individuals that we’re working with, and educate them in the process as well.
So the first thing we’re looking at doing is stretching gently, and slowly. And this helps to relax the muscles, which in turn, makes stretching more pleasurable and beneficial. And it will also help to avoid muscle tears and strains that can be caused by rapid, jerky movements.
Now, this is appropriate, or this is for both static or dynamic stretching. So to give you just a quick rundown of the different types of stretching, when we’re looking at stretches, we can basically break them down into two main categories. We’ve got static stretches, and dynamic stretches.
Static stretches are stretches where there is no movement involved. So for example, the individual gets into the stretch position, and then the stretch is held, and there’s no movement. Dynamic stretches, on the other hand, are stretching exercises, which involve movement.
So there, an individual would use gentle swinging motions to gradually lengthen the muscles, and so forth, and the soft tissues. Now, even though with dynamic stretching, there’s some movement involved, this movement should never become uncontrolled, or excessively rapid, and jerky, and so forth.
So whether you’re looking at static stretching, or dynamic stretching, you still need to keep this precaution in mind, and even if you are doing dynamic stretches, it still should be a gentle activity, rather than aggressive and rapid.
Next, we should look at only stretching to the point of pain. And this is an area that should be emphasized with your clients. Stretching, for the most part, is not meant to be painful. It’s meant to be quite pleasurable, and relaxing.
And if you are stretching to the point of pain, then you’re probably doing more harm than good. The other point to remember here is when is put under pain due to a muscle, or soft tissue being stretched, the body employs a defence mechanism, which actually contracts the muscles that are being stretched.
So by pushing the stretch to the point of pain, you’re actually getting a counterproductive result there, where the body is actually contracting the muscle in an attempt to stop it from being injured. So the point here is to only stretch to the point where you can feel pinching in the muscle group, and no pain.
The next thing to remember while stretching, and it’s an often forgotten thing, is you need to breathe slowly, and deeply, and easily while stretching. For a lot of people, when they do their stretches, they get into the stretch position, and they tend to hold their breaths. So this is quite, again, quite counterproductive. This just causes tension in the muscle, which in turn, make it very difficult to stretch.
So we need to remember to breathe slowly and deeply during your stretching, and this will help to relax your muscles, promote blood flow, and increase the delivery of oxygen and nutrients, and so forth.
So with the understanding that there’s no such thing as a good or bad stretch, and some understanding as to how to make sure that particular stretching exercises are safe for individuals, what we’re gonna do is just have a quick look at a particular stretch that receives a lot of attention. I know here, we’ve received numerous e-mails about it.
And if you have your hand-outs, you’ll see the stretch that I’m referring to. Now, if you don’t have your hand-outs, I’ll briefly explain the stretch to you. It’s a standing stretch. It’s a standing hamstring stretch, where your feet are placed about shoulder-width apart, and you simply bend forward at the waist, and reach towards the ground.
Now, this stretch has received a lot of negative attention, and a lot of people have quickly made the assumption that this is a bad stretch, and it should be avoided. And certainly, in some cases, with some individuals, this is definitely a stretch that you would not do, but by going through the precautions that we just talked about, there are circumstances where this stretch is appropriate, and quite beneficial.
And you know, it always amazes me when people say that this stretch shouldn’t be done. If you have a look at the start of any 100-meter race, before the athletes get on to the blocks, just about all of them are doing this stretch in some form or another. So if so many of these world class athletes are doing this stretch why is it considered dangerous, and so forth?
But anyway, let’s have a look at this particular stretch. Let’s apply the precautions that we’ve just spoken about, and see how we go about making sure that this stretch is safe for the particular individual. So firstly, what we would have a look at doing is reviewing the individual that’s going to be doing this particular stretch.
So what we would do is we would firstly ask the individual the state of their physical well-being, and try to get some background into whether they are physically active, or whether they’re basically been leading a sedentary lifestyle.
From here, we’d start to ask questions like, “Do you have any injuries, and so forth, that prevents you from doing physical activity?” And again, we’re continuing to build up a picture of the individual, and see how this stretch can be applied specifically to them.
Now next, we would have a look at the stretch itself, and see just where most of the tension and the stress is placed on the body during this stretch. So quite clearly, during this stretch, you have a lot of stress, and a lot of tension being placed on the hamstring muscles primarily, but right through the buttocks, the lower back, and also into the calf muscle.
So we would be asking the individual if they have any restrictions, any muscle strains, any injuries, either past or present, that they have, or they’ve been trying to get over. Obviously, for example, if someone has a hamstring strain, then this is a stretch that you wouldn’t wanna do.
Same as if they had lower back condition, or any other muscle or joint problem in that lower back, buttocks, hamstring, calf area. So by understanding the individual a little bit better, we can see whether this stretch is appropriate for the person or not. And looking at the general population, or the sedentary population, this stretch would probably be inappropriate for a considerable proportion of the sedentary population, especially with a lot of people experiencing back pain, and so forth.
This is a stretch which would be avoided, but by going through these precautions, we can analyze the individual, and make a decision as to whether this stretch is appropriate or not. So once we’ve done that, and we’ve established that the individual’s reasonably physically active, they have no specific injuries, or ailments for those particular areas, which are going to be affected by this stretch, then we can go through the next lot of precautions to make sure that this stretch is both safe and beneficial.
So before we attempt this stretch, we would be looking at things like preparing the individual with warming-up activities. So for example, light aerobic activity like running, cycling, basic movement-type exercises, simply just to get the blood flowing, and to start to get some blood and warmth into those muscles, and so forth.
And once we’ve started to do that, and the individual is being prepared sufficiently for stretching, then we can start to move into the stretch, remembering those rules that we discussed before, like stretching gently and slowly. Again, this stretch is a stretch that does put a lot of strain on the hamstring muscles, so we do have to be careful as far as how aggressive we do this stretch.
And obviously, our initial review gives us some ideas, just as to how aggressively that we can approach this stretch. Obviously, someone of an Olympic caliber has the physical conditioning to be able to perform this stretch more aggressively than someone who is just an amateur athlete, or just involved in some general health and fitness activities.
So again, that’s why the initial review of the individual is so important. So next thing, we’re stretching gently and slowly. Obviously, we’re only stretching to the point of tension. So as the individual moves into this stretch, they start to experience some tension in the muscles, for example, the hamstring and the calves, and the lower back, and so forth.
Once that tension is experienced, that’s the point at which the stretch is held, so we basically get into that stretch position, and then go no further, remembering to breathe slowly and easily while we’re doing this stretch, and so forth.
So this particular stretch would really be appropriate for only someone who is reasonably physically active, has no current sports injuries, or no history of soft tissue injuries in the hamstrings, lower back, and calves, and so forth, and then, someone who follows those particular rules that we’ve gone through.
So that’s a bit of an example of how to apply those precautions and rules to the different stretching that you do. So we can certainly say that a particular stretch in itself is not good or bad, just as we can say no particular strength exercise by itself is good or bad, it’s really only what is appropriate for the individual.
So for example push-ups are a fantastic strength exercise, but you certainly wouldn’t prescribe them to someone who has a shoulder injury. So and, the exact same applies to stretches. The particular stretch that we just discussed is a perfectly fine stretch, but you wouldn’t prescribe that stretch to an individual who has a hamstring strain, or a lower back injury, and so forth.
So it’s not that a stretch, by itself, is good or bad. It’s important to remember, it’s the way it’s performed, and who it’s performed on that makes it effective and safe, or ineffective and harmful. So this is what we need to keep in mind. And we can certainly say that stretching is beneficial when used correctly.
And we need to remember that just with any other physical activities, there are rules and guidelines to ensure that they are safe, and stretching is no exception. So you know, we need to make the point that, just as using free weights can be extremely dangerous and harmful if used incorrectly, so can stretching be. So stretching can be just as dangerous when used incorrectly.
And the last point I wanna finish off with is just a point I like to usually round things off with. And that is that even though I’m quite a big proponent of stretching, and you know, I’m absolutely convinced of the benefits of stretching, from an injury prevention perspective, and also a performance enhancement perspective.
It’s important to look at stretching as just being one very important component to reducing injury, and improved athletic performance. I certainly don’t view stretching as any magic bullet or magic pill that will be the “be all” and “end all” of athletic conditioning. Stretching is just one very important component. It’s just one spoke in that fitness wheel. And it’s an important spoke, or an important component, but no more important than any other part of athletic conditioning.
And I think, the greatest benefits of stretching are achieved when stretching is used in combination with other injury reduction techniques, and conditioning exercises, and so forth. So as a big a fan of stretching as I am, I’m certainly well aware that it is particularly just one important key part of your overall athletic conditioning, and so forth.
So I’m gonna just finish off by letting you in on a few things that we have at our website for people who would like to get some more information, and so forth. We have a number of resources at our side, including a heap of free articles. We have over 100 stretching, flexibility, and sports injury articles in our archive. And they are all there for anyone to come and view, and print out, and so forth.
I will also have a course, a six-part e-course, which covers a lot of the basics of stretching, and flexibility training. And although the e-course itself may not be appropriate, or may not be anything new to personal trainers, and sports coaches, and so forth, who are involved in the industry.
The e-course was put together for the amateur athlete, the individual that personal trainers and strength coaches are training, and so forth. So the course itself has a lot of basic fundamental information about stretching. And it’s a very good foundational or basic course to get a good understanding of how to use stretching, and so forth.
And we also have a free one-hour audio that I compiled a little while ago, which goes into some of the more advanced techniques, and some of the more advanced information about stretching, and flexibility, and so forth. So that’s all available at our website.
The website address to get the free e-course and one-hour audio is stretchingsecretsrevealed.com. And I’ll spell that out for you, it’s S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G-S-E-C-R-E-T-S-R-E-V-E-A-L-E-D.com, and that will take you straight to the e-course, and one-hour audio page, so you’ll be able to get that directly there.
And for all the other information, and so forth, that’s available at our website, at thestretchinginstitute.com. So I wanna thank you very much for listening in. And hopefully, we’ll have a few questions, and we’ll be able to go through those, and expand on the topic. So thank you very much.
Are you there, Geo?
Moderator: Yes, I’m here, and we actually have a question from Chris, who’s out of Allentown, Pennsylvania. His question is, “Is it all right to stretch when it’s uncomfortable, not painful, but just uncomfortable?”
Brad: The shorter answer to that is yes it is. But if there’s some discomfort, or even mild pain, while doing a particular stretch, it’s important that, firstly, you follow those rules that we discussed before about warming properly, and don’t stretch to the point of pain, and all those things.
But what I find with working with individuals, if they have a certain level of discomfort while doing a stretch, or even a certain level of mild pain, it’s an indication of a couple of things. Firstly, it’s indication of that particular muscle being tight, and so forth.
But what a lot of people try and do is they try and stretch that particular muscle group further. So for example, in a hamstring stretch, let’s say a seated hamstring stretch, where you’re sitting on the ground, and you’ve got one leg out in front, a straight leg. You’ve got your toes pointing straight up, and you’re leaning towards those toes.
Well, that stretch is specifically targeted towards the hamstring muscles. But often, people will get a lot of discomfort, or a lot of tension or mild pain in the hip area. So that can be an indication of, not necessarily that the hamstring muscle is tight, but that there are muscles around the hamstrings, or around the hips that are tight, and inflexible.
So when you come across a situation where you have discomfort, you need to ask the question, “Okay, what’s causing this discomfort?” And in most cases, it’s not specifically the stretch, or the muscle group that you’re trying to stretch. A lot of the times, it’s the muscle group, or the muscles around the muscle group that you’re trying to stretch.
So in that previous example, where you’re doing a seated hamstring stretch, you’re reaching towards your toes, but you’re getting discomfort in your hip, and so forth. And that’s an indication that there’s the muscles within your hip are excessively tight, and so forth.
And what you’ll find is when you start to concentrate on those area, the buttocks, the groin, the outside of the quad muscle there, the ITB, some of the deeper hip muscles, like the Piriformis muscle, and that stuff. When you start to loosen up those muscles, then you can start to get into the hamstring stretch a lot more, and get more benefit out of that.
So it’s important to remember that, although we’re trying to isolate a particular muscle group while doing a particular stretch, it’s also important to consider the muscles around that group, and consider that the muscles are quite interrelated. They do overlap, and so forth, and a tightness in one area will certainly give off a discomfort or a pain, potentially in another area.
So a lot of restriction can come from muscles that you haven’t really considered, so you know, again, the hamstring muscle is a great example because what I’ve found in experience is that a lot of athletes are very flexible in the hamstring muscles, but it’s those muscles around the hamstrings, like the groin, the buttocks, and so forth, and even the calf muscles, that are tight.
And they are the muscles that are preventing the athlete from advancing with their hamstring flexibility, and so forth. So once we take a step back, and start to look at the muscles around that particular area, start to work on them, then we find that our flexibility increases quite considerably.
So I hope that answered the question, Geo. And remember…
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Moderator: It sound like it answered it to me. That was a real thorough response. And we’ll see, hold on a minute, if you don’t have no more questions, guys if you can go into the networking forum. All the presenters will given access to that.
And if you have any more specific questions you’d like to ask Brad, you can go ahead and post them in the forum, and we’ll make sure he has access, so that he can give you a good response to those questions. Also definitely we appreciate feedback. And I think this was a incredible presentation that you put together, Brad, and I really thank you for that. And I look forward to listening to your second presentation later on today.
And that will be at, if you’re interested, Brad Walker will be on again at 6:05 pm Eastern Time. The information will be posted on the website. It’s not there just as yet, but it will be. And again, thank you so much, Brad, for your time. I appreciate the knowledge that you’ve shared with us today. And again, this is the beautiful part of this fitness industry is that we’re all willing to help one another, so thanks again.
Brad: Thank you, Geo. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Moderator: All right, take care, everybody, and enjoy the rest of the third and last day of Fitcom Expo. I’m outta here. Bye.
About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.