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We all need flexibility, we know it helps just about every facet of movement there is and it is something that should be done daily in one form or another. Unfortunately, this is one of the most often visually offensive fitness facets I see on a regular basis.


Flexed lumbar and cervical spines (yes pilates and yoga, this means you) for people with upper cross syndrome, knees jerked in ways that hurt to think about let alone do and limbs that look like someone riding a jackhammer after a quadruple espresso they shake so much. If you're muscles are contracting violently while you try to stretch them, guess what? You aren't stretching!


With that being said, the following five stretches are some of worst ways to attempt to gain flexibility. There is no way to make these positive based on all of the contraindicated factors involved. The only person who benefits from this stretch is your doctor after you see them because you broke yourself.





This person is hitting the jackpot trashing the knee and doing it with a flexed spine.
1) The Hurdler's Stretch: or the "The Knee Crusher"
Allegedly, this stretch is intended to hit the hamstrings and quads at the same time. If ever the road to hell was paved with good intentions, this would be about the best one to travel.


This stretch not only does not accomplish all that much, but it puts pressure in side the knee into the meniscus, can cause the knee cap to slip out of alignment and it can overstretch the medial knee ligaments. Once this happens, good luck ever having healthy knees again.


For some reason this is a popular stretch with female club soccer teams which is abhorrent because this population is a prime target for ACL tears and knee injuries as it is.



"Awesome" spinal flexion here!
2) Standing Hamstring Stretch
When you do this stretch, you are putting pressure on the low back, hip adductors, TFL in front of the hip, and rear thigh muscles. All of this tension makes it difficult to relax the hamstring intended to be stretched.


Plus, in the elevated position, the leg being "stretched" is actually acting as a stabilizing force in a state of eccentric contraction making it damn near impossible to get a lengthening response in the hamstrings. Your erector spinae (low back muscle), sacrospinalis (location), glute maximus and hamstrings are all in a state of contraction. Good luck getting them to relax so you can lengthen them.


3) Standing Calf Stretch
Augh yes, the standing calf stretch. As you do this the muscles you are actually intending to stretch (gastrocs, soleus and plantaris muscles of the calf) are in a lengthened contracted state. Your glutes and hamstrings are also in a hip extension position as they contract to stabilize your body with the leg behind you.


So as you contract these muscles to keep the knee and ankle from collapsing, you are somehow supposed to be able to magically stretch the calves.


4) Standing Forward Bend
Where to start with this one.Unless your name is Michael Phelps, and you are about to hurl yourself into a pool to chase an Olympic medal, there is no conceivable reason as to why why you'd want to put your spinal column in this position. Well, if you want to eventually stretch out some ligaments in the low back and herniate a disc, then its a good idea, but if you don't want to do that....


If you've got low back or hamstring issues, this stretch WON'T help. All of the muscles of your posterior chain contract to some extent to keep you from falling over. Not to mention the way you compressing the discs in your spinal column literally pushing them toward the nerve canal.


There's a reason this stretch will never be done at INTEGRATE: we want you to have healthy spines.

5) Reverse Trunk Flexion Stretch
Every time this stretch is done, you can hear orthopedic specialists and physical therapists across the country rejoice because they know they will have a new patient soon. In this position not only is the spinal column flexed, your erector spinae and hamstrings are in contracted lengthened states.


You are also putting very necessary forces into your cervical spine and thoracic spine which can result in irritation to these areas and an eventual injury.


If you want to know the best ways to stretch, and don't want to wait to see them here, "Active Isolated Stretching: The Mattes Method" is by far the best book written about increasing flexibility you can pick up. I high recommend it.




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Al Painter is National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) and Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES) who specializes in working with baseball players and endurance athletes.

He is also the President and Founder of INTEGRATE Performance Fitness. CitySports Magazine named Al the "Bay Area's Best Personal Trainer," and he has also received a "People's Choice Award" from the Palo Alto Daily News. Al is also the Fitness Editor for VeloReviews.com.


INTEGRATE Performance Fitness has also been named "Northern California's Best Fitness Facility" by Competitor Magazine, "Best Mountain View Training Facility" by the U.S. Commerce Association, "Excellence in Customer Satisfaction Award" winner by Talk of the Town as well as a "Top 5 Bay Area Fitness Facility" by the SFGate.com.

You can contact him via email at [email protected], or send him a note on facebook or follow him on Twitter.
 

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Two skinny J's
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I've heard so much contradictory information about stretching lately -- with probably a majority of it saying how stretching can hurt you -- that I've just about given up stretching.
I learned a long time ago that stretching hurt;)

Actually this is something I have been hearing a lot lately. I have been interested in alternative stretching exercises that reduce pain in the lower back area from standing/walking for long periods of time.
 
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