First, what do we mean by stretching? Some say get longer pull your muscles and think of it associated with getting more range of motion in certain areas. Muscles only do one thing they pull they don’t push. What is normal range and how far should I go? More is always better and the books say this is the range I should be able to get correct? What motion do you need to get by in life or do you need this for sport? To sit you only need to get to 90 degrees in the knee. Is this enough too functional in your life? So what is functional for you and what can you control is very important?
You enter a yoga class or have a personal trainer and you stretch statically and for most its passive type stretching. Passive is stretching achieved by aiding your body and making it go slightly farther then you could actively or on your own. You do your yoga class or workout and come back the next day has your range increased or are you stuck with the same range and limitations? As a general rule I don’t recommend having teachers and trainers force people into ranges they can’t control or hold on their own. Ligaments, tendons, boney structures, scar tissues and muscles all can limit the range. In a class setting you don’t know the client and their background so caution should always come first. Never force clients into ranges they can’t control and over stretching is something that happens all the time. Any movement done slow and controlled will normally increase with time so take it slow and don’t allow your teacher or instructor to force you into movements your not ready for.
There are so many different types of stretching and if the muscular system can’t hold the new range then in most cases your not going to be stable and the range will go back to where is was when you started. I recommend following up various types of stretching with exercises that will help you hold that position if that is your purpose and goal of stretching. You must always have a purpose is it to just feel good that fine, is it to increase your internal rotation in your hips for sport fine, is it to help your posture fine. All these are great but have a game plan to follow up to help the muscular system learn what you are trying to do. The muscles hold these new positions or ranges not the other hand or trainer. Injuries, joint ranges, individual make up and so much more come into play when talking about stretching.
I will say it again as a general rule range under control using the muscular system to help is a good place to start. Lets use simple examples for people that sit all day and then go to the gym and want to squat. A fine choose but try these simple stretches and activation movements that should help you hold a new range if that is what you’re looking to improve. Again, we have a purpose and I’m saying the person currently can get to maybe 90 degree of hip flexion. First, you might start with your right knee down and left leg in front in a lunge position (IMAGE 1). You are now in flexion one hip and extension in other. Make sure you knees are down so you’re stable and have a foundation to start with. For some you can advance to squeezing your right butt and lightly pressing your right foot into the ground to feel a stretch. Hold for 5 seconds and perform 5 times then switch sides for 2-5 rounds. Follow this up with heel slides to butt bridge (IMAGE 2). Start on your back with feet out in front legs locked out. Take one leg and slide your heel back toward your butt then the other heel. Do this without the aid of your hands but using your hamstrings to do this action. Plant both feet on the ground firmly and try and press your butt up using your butt and hamstrings. Hold this position for 10-30 second and repeat again 2-3 times. Go back to your knee down stretch for the 5 seconds and 5 times and then back to your heel slides to butt bridge activation exercise for the 2-5 rounds. Your range should increase after a few reps and sets because you muscles are doing the work. Next stand up and do a bodyweight squat or lunge if your ability allows with your body weight and your ranges should increase and hopefully you can maintain and hold those positions. This is a process and needs to be thought of a just that. A very simple 2 step stretch and activate sequence that is safe and effective for almost anyone. Remember nothing is perfect and that is why you need someone who is educated and knows the history of the individual.
Stretching has great benefits but it can be done very poorly and can be very dangerous. So think next time someone forces you into a position and then reflect on this later. See if your range holds and you’re stable or are you unable to hold that position? Are you back to square one and your range didn’t increase? Enjoy and stretch activate is a sequence that works for most and can work for you.