Stretching Doesn't Work For You? Here's Some Things to Think About

15 min read.


My gorgeous little boy woke me up at 2am this morning… and I now cannot get back to sleep. My lovely brain has decided to whizz around 30 blog ideas in my head so I just had to pick one…


Of which! I want to address the statement:

 
“Stretching doesn’t work for me”

 
As with most things, this is a multi-layered conversation, like a burger with many topping choices. Keep reading the menu (blog) until you choose the ones you like (relate to), and don’t abandon me for a McDonalds drive-through too soon!

 
Without getting into a needlessly long, complicated, inconclusive conversation of “what is stretching”, I think it’s important to make clear: you have no idea what / why / when or how to do it and never fully will!

 
People dedicate their lives to learning how the body “works” and still cannot give empirical answers, most of the time it’s just very informed opinions. Everyone who tries to take theory and apply it to real life people immediately learn new things and applications based on who they are working with and the challenges they face. People, very rudely, tend to not always follow the rules we try and set.

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After working with people for so many years now, I’ve discovered that it’s actually the mental aspects of what people perceive to be true about their own body, and its ability to adapt/change, is one of the hardest things to overcome.

 
Massive obstacles I face on a weekly basis are people’s beliefs that:

   - Something hurts, that means I should completely rest it.

   - I have an old injury, so I need to be careful with it and not aggravate it for the rest of my life.

   - I’m just not flexible, no one in my family is flexible either.
 
   - My mate Jimmy is a PT and he says stretching is a waste of time.

   - I don’t want to do the splits.

   - I’m too sore/in pain to stretch.

   - I don’t have time to stretch.

   - I’ve tried it all before and it didn’t work.

 

None of that is helpful or true! In fact, in the time of saying any of those statements, you could have already been doing something beneficial towards your mobility. The trick is to know that ANY movement you do, if done with good intention, makes you stronger, move better and feel better - and that’s a lifelong process that you can ALWAYS get better at!

 
So, let’s see where you went wrong that might have led you to believe these things!

 
1. You pushed too far with advanced yoga-type stretches and think that’s what stretching is.
 
2. You did a couple of shit hamstring stretches once while holding your breath and it didn’t immediately take away your tightness, so you think all stretching is crap.
 
3. You Googled “stretches for back pain” and got the same ineffective 5 exercises that everyone else in the world gets regardless of their current movement or restrictions.
 
4. You actually have all the flexibility you need, but you are majorly lacking stability… so stretching just makes you feel worse/no better. 
 
5. You read or heard the term “impingement” and think that it can’t be fixed through improving how you move, because it’s a scary word that means your body is broken.

 
(If I seem a bit blunt in this blog, it’s because I’m imaging talking to my old self... who used to believe all these things! Knowing what I know now I just wished someone had given it to me straight!)

 
So, let’s deep dive into some of these scenarios!

 


1. You pushed too far with advanced yoga-type stretches and think that’s what stretching is


 

This is so common it’s insane! I want to get flexible, who’s flexible? Yoga people!! I’ll do yoga!

 
…. By myself…… with no instruction whatsoever.
 

Yoga teachers spend thousands of hours training and learning how to hone their craft and help people from any level… but you, are gonna skip that and just hit it up yourself?

Gimme two secs, I’m just gonna take a spaceship up to the moon for some coffee, I watched a video about Neil Armstrong once!


That’s what it sounds like when you say it out loud! Really!!

 
And it’s not some kind of subtle hint that you should “get a coach”, it’s just simply that Yoga is not just a quick way to get flexible, it deserves to be respected.  It can be incredible if you do it right! And surely if you’re going to do something you should do it right?!
 

Right???

 
If you’re limited with your flexibility and you try and jump into a long held static pose and keep pushing that position, your body will have an absolute meltdown! You’ll hurt, you’ll not enjoy it, and you’ll associate stretching with pain, which is so counterproductive it hurts! (See what I did there)

 
You will not stick at it, and even your brain will help you out by giving you thoughts of “that’s too hard” or “that’s dangerous” to actually demotivate you from doing it again. Imagine if you’d never drank alcohol before and down an entire bottle of tequila, your brain is going to be pretty efficient at giving you flashbacks to make sure you never do it again! It’s job is to protect you from bad experiences.

 
In my Stretches for the Inflexible blog I cover some of the absolute basic places you should start when working on your flexibility and it involves holding on to things to assist you everywhere, only going as far as you physically can and gently moving in that position. Also, they’re exercises which are multi-joint focused, and not just stretching one specific muscle –

 
Which brings me nicely into point number 2!

 
 

2. You did a couple of shit hamstring stretches once while holding your breath and it didn’t immediately take away your tightness, so you think all stretching is crap.


 
Often people go after the hamstrings as they commonly just feel “tight”. Problem is, if you overstretch them, your knees will probably hurt and your lower back too, and in my experience, I see many more people who have WEAK hamstrings and have no idea how to engage them, compared to those who genuinely have overly tight ones.

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Think about how your hips/legs can move, they can:

Flex, extend, rotate inwards, rotate outwards, swing side to side, swing front and back.

You can run, walk, jump, land, hop, go side to side, climb mountains, squat, do the dad dance…. and you're just going to stretch a group of 3 muscles in the backs of your legs to compensate for all that?

 
Your idea of what stretching is….. is disapproved!

 
Usually what I’ll see is someone holding their breath and breaking a sweat, bouncing, or throwing themselves down towards their toes trying to force themselves to feel a hamstring lengthen. More often than not, their leg is also fully locked out, so they are stretching the back of their knee rather than the meat of the muscle. This pure, unadulterated tension is just making their body stiffen up even further!

 
How you breathe when trying to make a change to a muscle is incredibly important. Holding your breath and straining promotes an unsafe feeling in your brain which will totally hinder any progress you might like to have. In contrast, using deep, relaxed breathing while moving in and out of a lengthened position is the best way to do things - especially as a beginner. Over time you can build up to tolerate longer stretches and even advance your use of breathing, it’s something you can actually get better at and get more from stretches in a shorter time just because you’re more able to relax your body - and that’s pretty cool.

 
 

If you tried this a few times and then didn’t bother again that is the equivalent of you telling your friend about this great, amazing TV show… and they watch 10 minutes of the pilot and say they didn’t like it… and we all know how much that hurts our feelings right? So don’t do that to me!!
 

 

You Googled “stretches for back pain” and got the same ineffective 5 exercises that everyone else in the world gets regardless of their current movement or restrictions.


 

Does anyone else have a love/hate relationship with the ability to search online for anything now?

 
The worst thing I think is that unless you’re willing to really go through at least 2 full search pages of information, take notes, compare opinions and arguments for a few days, and then try both for yourself and make your mind up over an 8-week period…. Then you’re probably just going to go with site number 3 because it has the highest quality images, and the girl is smiling while doing the stretches so clearly they will make your life better….

 
The FIVE stretches you will most commonly see for back pain are:

Pigeon pose
Child’s pose
Figure-4 stretch
Cat/Cow or Cat/Camel
Lying back extension
 

The FIVE stretches I find massively underwhelming and very rarely use for back pain are:
 
Pigeon pose
Child’s pose
Figure-4 stretch
Cat/Cow or Cat/Camel
Lying back extension



Yeah, you heard me…

I'm just gonna try and roll with this one and hope Jenni doesn’t edit my rants (lolz)

Those movements are either stretch your glutes in external rotation or your spine in saggital flexion and extension!

 How LIMITED IS THAT! Don’t you remember the list of movements of your hips earlier in the blog?!
 

In fact, let’s look a little deeper, shall we??

 
Do a pigeon stretch:

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Now do a pigeon that has been shot and fall over!

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OH LOOK!! It’s the figure 4 position that’s stretching the exact same muscle in the exact same way, you’re just upside down now!!

 
Now, think about your spine when you do child’s pose…

And now what it does in cat/cow…

Now think about what it does in a lying back extension…


 
Forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards.

 
Ok, now stand up… Stand up, nice and tall for me... and lean to one side, then lean to the other side...


 

It is CRAZY how limited those stretches are, even when combined. They probably will feel like they temporarily relieve symptoms if your only other task throughout the day is sitting or standing… but temporary is all your relief will be.

 
Your spine is able to bend and flex and rotate in multiple ways and when you deprive it of that, you’re going to be stiff. If you have a past disc injury or history of tightness that leaves you more sensitive than others, so it’s even more important to move your spine regularly in all the ways it can, not to mention making sure your hips move well and are both strong and flexible (or Flong & Sexible as we like to say).

 
I have lost count of the amount of people over the years with lower back and hip problems that I’ve significantly reduced the external rotation and abduction exercises they were doing, and just added in some internal rotation & adduction work with some attention to balancing on one leg at a time, plus actually activating their glutes and hamstrings.

 
People that have struggled for YEARS with pain, and that were stretching ALL the time starting to feel totally fine and way more confident after just a few weeks.

 
One part of me enjoys that I can be facilitator of that positive change in someone’s life, but there’s another part of me that’s so angry/frustrated/upset that people sometimes give up years of physical training or things they loved to do… when it really was incredibly simple to overcome with some attention to little things.

 
If you really want to change how your body feels, a Google search and just grabbing the first thing that pops up is not going to do the trick. As easy as I try to keep my explanations in this blog, there is so much to how about how your body works and how different elements interact with each other… yet even though I do give you an incredibly simple and effective way to build a strong and mobile body… if you just don’t know it exists or that complete, full body mobility is even important (just as I didn’t at one point) then how are you going to recover?

 
No one just wakes up one day and understands how it all works. You have to take an active interest in it and go through a trial-and-error phase, knowing that you probably won’t get it right the first time.

 

 

You actually have all the flexibility you need, but you are majorly lacking stability… so stretching just makes you feel worse/no better. 


 
Why are you stretching? What do you want to achieve? Do you want to be able to do the splits? That’s fine, it takes a lot of work, but how does that position benefit you? Will the splits make you feel flexible? Probably, especially if your upper body is just as bendy as your lower body. But will it help your pain? Probably not.

 
More than anything, your body wants to feel stable. It wants to feel like your joints are being supported by your muscles and that it won’t injure itself if you misjudge a step or trip over your 3-year-olds toy dinosaur…
 

For the average person, who wants to enjoy training, go for a run, or lift some weights, to look good and be active, then advanced flexibility isn’t essential. As cool as it looks, being “extra flexible” can come with its own drawbacks which we talk about in our should you stretch if you are already flexible blog.

 
The range of motion in a lot of people I work with actually isn’t “that bad” … it’s usually that they have very little body awareness and a major lack of stability which is why they feel so stiff and sore all of the time.

 
Before even worrying about how flexible you are, it’s incredibly important to ask yourself:

 
Do you have good balance?
Can you balance on one leg for at least 30 seconds each side?

 
Do you have good foot strength?
Can you lift your big toe & little toes up and down independently?

 
Do you know how to hinge your hips correctly?
Can you bend at the hips, without rounding your back, and actively engage your hamstrings while doing so?

 
Does your upper back move well?
Can you rotate and move your upper back without needing to involve your lower back?

 
Out of those, the two most important are Hinging & Balance. 

Knowing how to bend over from the hips compared to bending over from the spine is essential, everyone should know how to “load” their hamstrings if they want their body to not feel totally scared of picking things up. That will serve you way more in life than any amount of stretching. It’s also the basis of one of the most epic lifts in the gym: the Deadlift.

 
One of the other things I regularly hear is “I have bad balance”, this is incredibly dangerous to believe as balance is a trainable skill and if you never accept that and get practice, then you may never be free of long term pains.

 
Prolonged periods of balance gives you better stability in your hips, knees and ankles, which in turn makes them all feel healthier, stronger and more supported. If your body feels like you couldn’t cope if you started to fall, then it will shut you down - make you slower, make you stiffer to try and replicate that stability artificially by reducing your range of motion and making you walk in more of a shuffle.

 
I can improve someone’s flexibility by making them balance, because when they succeed at it, that means the stabilising muscles in their legs and core MUST be working, otherwise they would just fall. When everything feels like it’s working, you effectively take away your body’s need for hesitation, so it will let you have access to the ranges that were probably already there.
 
Some of the people I have worked with I have made massive changes to their flexibility within 15 minutes just from making them do balance or strength stuff and really, I didn’t do anything, it was already there, I just put them in a situation that let them use it… which we could then apply to what they were struggling with… my secret is out!!

 

 

You read or heard the term “impingement” and think that it can’t be fixed through improving how you move, because it’s a scary word that means your body is broken.


 
One final thing I want to leave you with is the diagnosis problem… there are phrases and terms that while they may be medically correct, they are often only an explanation of a current position or restriction that is totally changeable….

 
But people don’t hear that.

 
They hear the phrase and their ears close, and they believe they are doomed.

 
If someone is told they have Shoulder Impingement, yet they’ve never done an exercise to open their upper back, ribs, and lats, and just try to rub their pecs and do face pulls to make it go away then they won’t get anywhere. 9 times out of 10, their shoulder blades can’t move freely because of a restricted thoracic spine, and that’s why they are feeling a nip in the shoulder. There’s also the potential that they’ve never done a rotational shoulder movement before in their life, which leaves shoulders feeling very, very grumpy - stabilising muscles hate when a joint doesn’t get its full movement. This nip or impingement sensation can be completely gotten rid of by doing those things.

 
Same for the hips, if someone is experiencing a nip when they squat, almost certainly they never fully open up their hip flexors or get deep into their most flexed position and work on their hip rotation… so yeah, things will feel “sticky”.

 
Often times “impingement” problems are actually bad habit problems from a lack of overall joint movement, once you add that in, you can see dramatic results within weeks and in some cases just a single session.

 
I’m not one to use blanket prescriptions but common issues and their causes/fixes can basically look like this:

 
Piriformis Syndrome: lack of overall hip movement

Sciatica: lack of overall hip movement

Back pain: lack of overall hip movement

Knee pain: lack of overall hip movement

Hamstring tendonitis: lack of overall hip movement 

Golfers Elbow/Tennis Elbow: lack of overall shoulder movement

Shoulder Tendonitis: lack of overall shoulder movement

Neck pain: lack of overall shoulder movement (and I just want to throw in here that this has included people having serious recurring headache problems which go away with shoulder movement too!)

 
When you latch on to a descriptive term, don’t assess your movement habits, and just expect it to go away on its own or expect someone else to fix it for you, you’re going nowhere fast!

You are the best person to fix you!

A few weeks of the right exercises could see you totally restriction free and training away happily again… compared to not doing anything and waiting to see if you can get a surgery or injection that might actually be totally unnecessary!




Have you ever thought or still thinking any of these things? I really hope this blog was helpful for you in some way or if you know someone that’s stuck in any of these loops and want to forward it to them that would be awesome!
 

If you want to know the way that we teach people how to best build their strength and flexibility foundation, then definitely check out The Simplistic Mobility Method here!

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