How then shall we stretch?

In the previous installment I was a stretching snob and offered much criticism regarding five common stretches. So here are a few alternatives. Please keep in mind that the suggested movements are not fitting for all people at all times. They are based on the typical stress imposed on our bodies and the typical response to movement. 

But we're not all typical. If you try these and feel pain or inordinate discomfort, 1.) your are performing the stretch wrong, 2.) stretching correctly but too aggressively, or 3.) the stretch simply is not good for you.

1. Instead of Neck Circles...Try cervical retraction and thoracic extension.

With cervical retraction, the lower cervical vertebrae are extending (moving backward) while the upper cervical vertebrae flex (move forward). This counteracts the typical slumped posture where the lower vertebrae are forward with the upper segments extended.  

You can also try thoracic extension stretches, which definitely reduce the strain placed on the neck by moving the mid- to upper back into a more upright position. Be sure to keep the head neutral (horizontal relative to the trunk).

[For all the videos, please excuse my less-than-polished commentary ; ) ]

2. Instead of Ankle Alphabets...Try ankle multiplanar stretches and some light balance work.  

For tight ankles, try something that will actually stretch the tissue you intend to be stretched. If you claim to have "weak ankles," make some single leg balance/reach type activities a part of every warm-up. 

3. Instead of toe touches...Try kneeling hip flexor/lower back stretches or prone press ups. 

Give your lower back and hips some much needed relief from all the forward bending. For the hamstrings try to hip hinge while keeping the knee extended and lower back neutral. 

4. Instead of the High Five Pec Stretch...try the "W" or low doorway stretches. 

Having the elbow well below shoulder level minimizes the risk of soft tissue impingement and does not promote more laxity of the anterior shoulder capsule. You may also want to consider thoracic mobility (see above) and the internal rotation "sleeper" stretch. 

5. Instead of Shoulder Circles...try push ups, yoga-push ups, shoulder elevation at wall and shoulder abduction with thoracic side bend.

Try to perform all of these while keeping the lower back neutral and the shoulder blades in proper position.

Many of the best dynamic warm-up movements provide a moderate stretch to many of the tissues involved above plus some dynamic movement with balance and control. While these do little to increase the flexibility of tight tissues, they do serve as a time efficient and much more effective warm up to physical activity. A few of my favorites are:

This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but certainly let me know if there any that I missed. Or if your shoulders did fine since the first grade with arm circles, well then, keep doing arm circles.

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