Lower back pain? Do you sit at a desk all day? Speak to any Fascial Stretch Therapist and they’ll be quick to point out that prolonged sitting acts as a physical stressor to the glutes, external rotators and hamstring muscle, causing the body to lay down additional collagen to strengthen and support the areas under stress.
Consider the following excerpt from Ann and Chris Frederick’s excellent book Stretch to Win:
“When you sit or lay down, your body adapts to the surface of the furniture or the floor. But if you sit or stay in a position too long, your fascial system accumulates stress and strain from the summation of forces on the body…if you do not change position often, as is the case with many who sit at work, then your fascia thickens in the areas that are under prolonged or repetitive stress and strain.”
Collagen fibers, possessing only a slight level of stretch capabilities, can significantly reduce flexibility.
The Figure Four Stretch
While it’s the most prescribed stretch for the glutes and external rotators, it’s also the most poorly executed stretch, possessing a high risk of injury for those with an extremely limited range of motion.
For this stretch, the closer the torso and lower body are brought together, the greater the stretch placed on the glutes and external rotators. Here are the most common errors in its execution:
Flexion of the Cervical Spine
Due to their limited range of motion, some people will “turtle neck” their head towards their lower body, providing the illusion of an increase in their range of motion.
Flexion of the Thoracic Spine & Pulling on the Knee
Mostly executed by those with the least amount of flexibility, this compensation pattern possesses the highest risk of injury due to the pulling of knee to help maintain their seated position. While the previous compensation pattern concentrated on the cervical spine, in this version, the thoracic spine is flexed and the knee is pulled towards the body, serving as a “handle” for the athlete to maintain their balance. The pulling of the knee combined with limited external rotation, places a high level of forces on the ligaments of the knee.
There’s a Better Mousetrap
When working on improving a client’s flexibility, there are two classification of stretches we utilize:
- Those performed under our instruction
- Those performed away from our training facilities
Using floors and/or walls as barriers, provides immediate feedback to your clients about their body mechanics, making it considerably easier to maintain proper form. Barriers should be utilized by your clients whenever away from your watchful eye.
- Client lies flat on the ground, legs are straight out against the wall
- Glutes should be as close to the wall as their hamstrings’ flexibility allows
- A “soft bend” in the knees should be maintained
- Once in position, toes should be slowly dorsiflexed
- Head, back and hips should maintain contact with the floor at all times
- Slowly lower the knee towards the ground
- Using both hands, lightly hold the sole of the foot to maintain the stretch
- The non-stretched leg should maintain its soft bend, if not, slide glutes away from the wall
- Client should ensure their head, back and hips maintain contact with the floor
- Maintain the stretched position for 45-75 seconds
- Perform 2-3 stretches per leg, alternating back and forth between both legs
As coaches, you’re well aware of the numerous benefits of proper stretching; improved performance, decreased injury potential and an increased sense of well-being. However, by having your clients utilize barriers, they receive vital feedback about their stretching mechanics, allowing them to relax and focus on the stretch.